Ijams cancels ‘Symphony in the Park’ after 35 years; KSO seeks new outdoor partner for September event

KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian conducting “The Star Spangled Banner” to open Symphony in the Park in 2016, his first year with the KSO.

From the “All Good Things Must Come to an End” Department, comes word that Ijams Nature Center is pulling the plug on one of my all-time favorite fundraising events, “Symphony in the Park.”

The fun outdoor evening — which has managed to avoid being rained on every year except one — was held on the first Sunday after Labor Day each year. It featured the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra playing at the Ijams park in South Knoxville and it marked a wonderful way to kick off the KSO’s season.

“We want to showcase new talent,” said Amber Parker, executive director of Ijams Nature Center in explaining the change. “So, no KSO this year.” She said the new event will be called “Twilight at Ijams” and will feature a variety of styles of entertainment centering around outdoor themes.

The cancellation caught the KSO by surprise. “I am disappointed because it’s always been the unofficial start of our season,” KSO Executive Director Rachel Ford said.

Tickets to the event have cost $175 each and proceeds have benefited Ijams. The nature center, in turn, paid the KSO about $8,000 to perform. Parker says the move was not a cost-saving effort and that she expects to pay about the same amount for the new entertainment. She said the Symphony may come back in a rotation of entertainers over the next several years.

The motivation for the move has KSO officials scratching their heads a bit. “The Knoxville Symphony can play any kind of music — and we have over the years,” Ford said. “We have had all kinds of guest artists from Americana to jazz.”

Ford said the KSO hopes to align with a new outdoor venue hopefully starting this year. Please contact her if you have any ideas. Or, post suggestions in the comments section here.

R.B. Morris, center, performing with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra at Symphony in the Park in 2018 — the first time the event had to be moved under a tent due to rain. At left, is Greg Horne; at right, Daniel Kimbro.

Pouring down rain at Symphony in the Park in 2018.

Ijams Nature Center Executive Director Amber Parker, right, and Development Director Cindy Hassil at the beginning of Symphony in the Park in 2018 — before the rain started!

Caterer Nancy Kendrick and server Jason Grahl at Symphony in the Park 2018. Kendrick has catered the event for years and does a fantastic job.

Naturalist Lyn Bales of Ijams Nature Center holding Olivia the opossum at Symphony in the Park 2018. Olivia has a deformed paw and can’t survive in nature.

The KSO playing under the tent in 2018.

There was no Symphony in the Park in 2020 due to the pandemic. This was a nighttime view of the 2019 event. Pretty.

Lynne Fugate, left, and Janet Testerman, right, were running for City Council in 2019 when they joined us at Symphony in the Park. Joey Creswell, Janet’s husband, is in center. Yay — they both won! Symphony in the Park provides a great location to mingle.

Rocker Christina Horn was the guest artist in 2019.

John Niceley and Martha Kern. She’s related to the Ijams family, which provided the original property for Ijams Nature Center.

Knox County Commissioner Larsen Jay and his wife, Adrian, at Symphony in the Park in 2019. He’s chair of Commission today.

Symphony in the Park also makes folks get romantic! Here are Angela Howard and Rick Stone at the event in 2017.

Lawyer Nathan Rowell and Gwen McKenzie at the Moxley Carmichael table in 2017. Today, McKenzie is vice mayor of Knoxville. Rowell is the city attorney of Pigeon Forge.

Stephen and April Harris, pictured at the event in 2017, are often presenting sponsors of Symphony in the Park.

Concertmaster William Shaub performing in 2017.

It was a beautiful sunset that night.

Here’s the audience in 2016.

Mintha Roach, CEO of KUB at the time, trying to decide among the many delicious options at the dinner table.

Paul James, who was executive director of Ijams at the time, with then Mayor Madeline Rogero in 2016.

Becky Hancock and Kellye Coleman in 2016.

The KSO’s Rachel Ford with Alan Carmichael in 2016 toasting with the two most important fluids at Symphony in the Park: wine and insect repellent spray!

In 2015, Symphony in the Park featured Scottish music! That’s Jenny Boyd, second from right, the owner of Boyd’s Jig & Reel, with her band that night.

Back in 2013, we were delighted to see opera star Mary Costa at Symphony in the Park. She was accompanied by Marilyn and Chris Burkhart.

Mayor Madeline Rogero was there, as was Patrick Birmingham, who was the publisher of the News Sentinel and Dr. Joe DiPietro, then president of the University of Tennessee.

Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis enjoying the fried chicken at our table in 2013.

Beautiful night view in 2013.

I loved this shot of Maestro Lucas Richman that evening.

In 2012, Kelle Jolly and the Soul Sax Trio brought their jazz sound to Symphony in the Park.

Then Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and his director of parks and recreation, Doug Bataille, were there. Today, he’s Congressman Burchett.

Former mayors Dan Brown, left, and Victor Ashe were there in 2012. Pictured here with Cathy Brown.

Here’s the KSO at the 2012 Symphony in the Park.

Here were newlyweds Cathy and Mayor Daniel Brown at Symphony in the Park the previous year — 2011.

The catering setup in 2011.

The silent auction is an important part of the event. Here’s the packed silent auction tent in 2010.

Carrie Niceley was the soloist in 2010.

The KSO was in the middle of a two-week commitment to performing “Amadeus” with the Clarence Brown Theatre, but that didn’t keep them from Symphony in the Park in 2010!

2009 was the first year of The Blue Streak and Symphony in the Park was covered that year.

Symphony in the Park 2009.

It was a beautiful night.

Damn, I’m going to miss it.


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16 Responses to Ijams cancels ‘Symphony in the Park’ after 35 years; KSO seeks new outdoor partner for September event

  1. Holly Hambright, on June 14th, 2021 at 11:48 am said:

    Lakeshore Park!!!!!!

  2. Allyn Schwartz, on June 14th, 2021 at 12:10 pm said:

    I echo Holly! Lakeshore Park!!

  3. Dino, on June 14th, 2021 at 12:10 pm said:

    A new home for Symphony in the Park could be the NEW River Breeze Event Center along the Holston. Aaron Snukals is the contact.

  4. Kristy Altman, on June 14th, 2021 at 12:54 pm said:

    I love the idea of Lakeshore Park!

  5. Ron Feinbaum, on June 14th, 2021 at 12:54 pm said:

    Botanical Gardens!

  6. Melinda Meador, on June 14th, 2021 at 1:17 pm said:

    What a shame! This was always one of our favorite events. Fortunately, there are more venue options than there used to be!

  7. Barbara Apking, on June 14th, 2021 at 2:32 pm said:

    Lakeshore for sure!
    BIG mistake for Ijams fund raising efforts!!!

  8. Steven Smith, on June 14th, 2021 at 3:31 pm said:

    Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum! A gem that is not frequently thought of, but has 47 acres and just hosted a Big Ears event!

  9. Katie Kline, on June 14th, 2021 at 4:29 pm said:

    Botanical Gardens or Lakeshore Park – either location would be great.

  10. Gay Lyons, on June 14th, 2021 at 5:23 pm said:

    I love this event. So sad to hear. I echo suggestions of Botanical Garden or Lakeshore Park.

  11. Sandra Butler, on June 14th, 2021 at 6:32 pm said:

    Ijams seemed perfect, but now there are at least two other outdoor options: KBGA and Lakeshore Park. Parking easier, too!

  12. Sandi Swilley, on June 14th, 2021 at 8:11 pm said:

    Agree with all — Lakeshore Park or Botanical Gardens immediately came to mind!

  13. Monique A, on June 14th, 2021 at 8:36 pm said:

    I loved when we attended with you a couple of years ago. Lakeshore Park is a great idea!

  14. Nathan McGhee, on June 14th, 2021 at 9:07 pm said:

    Bit of a biased article, eh? Symphony in the Park is an Ijams fundraiser. And its not being cancelled…they grew it and changed directions and rebranded it. KSO was a contracted party… Repetition in events for nonprofits is dreadful. They did the same event last year without the KSO. Don’t recall an upset article about it then?

  15. Harriet Hodge, on June 14th, 2021 at 9:26 pm said:

    Lakeshore Park and Knoxville Botanical Gardens are two great suggestions for a new location. KSO “Under the Stars” is wonderful.

  16. Barbara Pelot, on June 15th, 2021 at 7:59 pm said:

    Lakeshore Park #1 and Knoxville Botanical Gardens #2.

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