Outdoor concert series returns to NJPAC Thursday evening

Forgive John Schreiber, the CEO of NJPAC, if he’s a little excited. Thursday night, the arts center is hosting its first outdoor concert since before the pandemic.

“It’s live, it’s outdoors, it’s going to be fun,” he said. “We’re really excited about this. We hope it will bring a sense of energy – and a sense of normalcy – to Newark.”

The Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City returns tonight at 6 with Felix Hernandez’ Rhythm Revue Dance Party. The concerts are scheduled from 6-8:30 p.m. each Thursday, from July 15-Aug. 26 and will take place in Chambers Plaza, directly outside NJPAC’s theaters.

The series will spotlight a diverse array of musicians and genres, including hip hop legends Eric B. & Rakim, salsa star Tony Vega, reggae headliners Third World and gospel songstress Le’Andria Johnson. (see full list below)
The concerts will be presented with an array of new safety protocols, to allow audience members to enjoy the music, mingling and dancing that’s made this annual event so popular, while keeping patrons, artists and Arts Center staff healthy.
Sounds of the City is a legacy series in Newark; for more than 20 years, this is how the city has celebrated summer,” NJPAC Executive Vice President and Executive Producer David Rodriguez said. “This year, what we’re celebrating is not just the season but also the return of live performances to Newark. It’s our intention to ensure these events are not only fun, but safe.”

Schreiber said there’s nothing like live music.

“While all of us at NJPAC are incredibly proud of the range of virtual events we’ve been able to offer this past year, we know that there’s nothing like the energy and excitement of a live performance,” he said. “We cannot wait to welcome our audiences back to NJPAC in person, and especially to this wonderful series, which has always been a joyful way for us to connect with and celebrate our Greater Newark community.”
This year, as New Jersey residents have adhered to health guidelines and COVID-19 transmission rates are down, the series will return as a live, in-person outdoor event, with several new safety measures in place, including:

Concerts will be held within a gated outdoor enclosure. Capacity within the enclosure will be significantly limited, to ensure that attendees are able to remain socially distanced, with six feet between each group;

  • Access to the concert area will be offered on a first-come basis;
  • All concert-goers must be masked throughout the event;
  • Attendees will have their temperature checked (with contactless thermometers) at the concert area entry gate;
  • All attendees must complete a questionnaire on NJPAC’s health screening app before accessing the concert area;
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the Plaza.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase in specially designated areas, where patrons will be allowed to remove masks. Bags and backpacks will not be allowed in the concert area.
The series’ title sponsor, Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, is the charitable arm of Newark-based Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Horizon CEO Gary St. Hilaire said the company is thrilled to participate.

“We all know that part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes relaxing, socializing and getting up on our feet — and there’s no better way to do all those things than by moving to the music at a Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City concert,” he said. “We’re so glad that this series will be a part of how Newark enjoys the summer season once again, and we are all committed to ensuring that everyone can take part in this fantastic event safely.”

The Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City concert series is made possible through a special collaboration of NJPAC, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and generous sponsors RWJBarnabas Health and Mars Wrigley.

Here’s a look at the acts:

JULY 15: Felix Hernandez’ ‘Rhythm Revue Dance Party’
NJPAC welcomes back a Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City stalwart, Feliz Hernandez, with his popular live version of the metro area’s first and longest-running radio show dedicated to spinning classic soul and R&B. DJ Felix Hernandez and his “Rhythm Revue” have been broadcast by WBGO Jazz 88.3FM, WBLS-FM, 98.7 KISS-FM, and Sirius XM.
JULY 22: Eric B. & Rakim
Golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim first exploded onto the scene with the release of the iconic “Eric B. is President” in 1986. Their classic album Paid in Full, full of funk- and soul-driven tracks, was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by MTV, and Eric B. & Rakim have been called “the most influential DJ/MC combo in contemporary pop music.” After a decades-long split, the two reunited and returned to touring in 2017.
JULY 29: Syleena Johnson
Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Syleena Johnson, daughter of the legendary blues and soul singer Syl Johnson, combines classic soul and R&B style with a uniquely sultry voice. The Chicago-based songstress has collaborated with everyone from Kanye West and Common to Anthony Hamilton. Her 11th studio album, Woman, dropped in 2020.
AUGUST 5: Tony Vega
Born in the town of Salinas, Puerto Rico, salsa master Vegas grew up in New York City, where he began his musical career playing bongo in an all-children’s band. He soon began singing as well as drumming and went on to perform alongside salsa stars Gilberto Santa Rosa, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente before striking out on his own, recording several hit albums including Yo me Quedo and Lo Mio es Amor.
AUGUST 12: Le’Andria Johnson
Grammy award-winning gospel singer-songwriterJohnson was the season three winner of the BET gospel singing competition show Sunday Best. Her first album, The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson, led not only to her Grammy win for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance but to a career on the stage, a continuing ministry as a pastor, and an appearance on the hit Oxygen series Preachers of Atlanta.
AUGUST 19: Brass Against
A New York based collective of dozens of artists, led by Brad Hammonds, Brass Against is devoted to creating brass-forward political songs that inspire fans to action. Recreating hits by Tool, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine and more with a super-sized brass section and fiery vocals, Brass Against has redefined protest music, garnered a huge online fan base, and created a whole new sound for speaking truth to power.
AUGUST 26: Third World

The grand finale of the 2021 Sounds of the City season is an appearance by one of the longest-lived reggae bands of all time, Third World. Combining reggae with elements of R&B, funk, pop, rock, dancehall and rap, Third World’s style has been described as “reggae-fusion.” With nine Grammy nominations and a catalog of charted smash hits including “Now That We Found Love”, ”96 Degrees in the Shade” and “Try Jah Love,” the band has toured six continents,and performed with Bob Marley, Santana and Stevie Wonder, among many others.