With the longer days and warmer nights comes the return of the Somerville Sunsetters, a traveling troop of teenagers that spreads song on Somerville’s streets.
A historical Somerville relic revived by Mayor Joseph Curatone in 2004, the Sunsetters dedicate their summer to street performances and will be making appearances throughout the city.
The Sunsetters began in the ’70s and ’80s, performing show tunes on street corners and in parks as the sun went down—that’s how they got their name. The performers have always been young locals; this year, the group is made up of 12 high school and middle school students from the city.
The Sunsetters will perform by request on residential streets, at businesses, at celebrations, and at various other locations throughout the summer. Jackie Rossetti, deputy director of communications for the city, says neighbors request a Sunsetters performance for a variety of reasons.
“Some people remember when the Sunsetters performed in their original group back in the ’70s, and ’80s, if they’ve been living here that long, and they are just really interested in having a group for sort of nostalgia,” Rossetti says. “Most of the time, I just find that people are really interested in having community gathering and getting to know their neighbors a little better.”
The Sunsetters’ summer kicked off this week at the Somerville Arts Council’s Fourth of July celebration, which was the group’s first performance under its new director, Charles Jabour. Jabour teaches at Somerville High School and has worked in the local performing arts scene for the past five years.
When it comes to developing the programs—choosing which songs to feature, crafting the styles of the performances—Jabour likes to encourage student involvement and feature students’ strengths.
“It starts with honoring what’s being brought into the room just by the nature of having different people in the room, different young people with different passions,” Jabour says. “The students are bringing in pieces that connect with them on a certain level or feel powerful to them. And it’s a really great opportunity for us, as teachers to say, ‘OK, you got that first part, which was the passion. Let’s talk about, now, how to develop that.”
Another change to the program this year is that the Sunsetters will move away from using pre-recorded tracks, option for live piano accompaniment, a guitar, or a three-piece band.
Jabour says that in a way, the Sunsetters’ history and their mission is reflective of the city, therefore making them a positive addition to the summer culture of the city.
“One of the things I’ve always really admired about this community is its ability to honor tradition at the same time as being really, I think, forward thinking and inclusive,” he says. “And I think that’s represented in the group of students that we have this year. I’m always just very overwhelmed with the amount of empathy and the amount of passion that young people bring to the table.”