Harlan: The fair, Fairview Park concerts mean summertime for Costa Mesa

I like to think of Costa Mesa as a great place for all seasons, but I believe our community hits its sweet spot in the summer.

My daughters look forward to the long break from school and start the season with limitless expectations and energy. My friends who are teachers, particularly those whose children have grown up and left home, take on a certain, enviable lightness once that final school bell rings in June.

I, on the other hand, seem to be busier than ever, shuttling kids to activities and trying to take advantage of what our city has to offer in the summer.

The Orange County Fair receives, justifiably, most of the attention in Costa Mesa as the quintessential summer event. The variety of activities, food, entertainment and people are remarkable, and I’m proud that Costa Mesa provides a warm and welcoming invitation to the rest of county’s residents.

Costa Mesa also hosts the Chamber of Commerce’s charity golf tournament at our well-regarded municipal course, the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction at the fairgrounds, a restaurant week in August, and evening movie screenings outdoors at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

One activity near and dear to my heart is the annual Concerts in the Park series at Fairview Park in July. Produced by the nonprofit Costa Mesa Foundation (of which I am a board member), the five concerts present an easy way to spend an evening with friends and neighbors in one of Costa Mesa’s best venues for music, a picnic and spectacular sunset views.

We at the foundation, all 13 volunteer board members, spend about eight months organizing the concert series. From soliciting sponsorships and booking bands to identifying and coordinating volunteers to developing marketing materials and securing permits and approvals, we undertake a truly collaborative effort. Our goal is simply to bring the community together to enjoy a free, family-friendly event.

This year was our biggest series yet, with crowds numbering near 1,500 people at each concert. We added more activities for kids, improved the stage and sound system, expanded the beer and wine garden, and provided more bathrooms (a vital component of the concert experience).

More importantly, we raised almost $12,000, all of which will be reinvested in Costa Mesa through the foundation’s community grants program.

But what I love most about the concerts is that they truly bring out the best in our community. Producing the event requires constant collaboration with city staff, financial support from our sponsors and the gracious contributions of our community volunteers.

We are fortunate to have so many talented and dedicated individuals and organizations in Costa Mesa who help us simply because they appreciate the value of such an event. And like my fellow board members and me, they want to be part of something special.

Whether you’re there for the band, the gourmet food trucks, the kids’ art activities or just the convivial atmosphere, the concerts are a place where you’ll see everyone smiling. That may sound simple (and even somewhat trivial), but how often are we, as a community, experiencing joy together? Over the years, I’ve learned to cherish these seemingly ordinary, but soul-satisfying occasions.

In fact, after one of this year’s concerts, my neighbors and I had such a good time that we continued the festivities back on our block. Our kids played late into the evening while we continued our conversations, enjoyed a few drinks and dessert, made some new friends and simply savored the moment.

As the new school year approaches, I realize how quickly the summer passes and how all of the activities, neighborhood barbecues and family trips blend together into a delightful memory. Now when we drive by Fairview Park and my kids ask which band is playing at the next concert, I smile again knowing that our Costa Mesa summer tradition is firmly rooted.

And while I’ll fondly remember this summer, I’m also looking forward to what will surely be an interesting fall in our community.

JEFFREY HARLAN is an urban planner who lives on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.