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The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra featuring Marcel Smith performed in Rudney Plaza at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on July 1, marking the first of the four Thursdays of the Summer Sounds Concert Series 2021.

The series, organized by Lesher Center for the Arts, offers free outdoor live music on select Thursdays every summer. The concert series was canceled in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig Hagelin dances with his wife, Christine, during the Summer Sessions concert. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

According to pianist Tony Lufrano, it was the band’s first gig back. “After a year and a half of not playing, it’s nice to be back,” added Bill Ortiz, the trumpet player. Ortiz and Lufrano, who play regularly with the band, are also with other groups and have performed other gigs since the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on June 15.

“This is my fourth gig since COVID,” Ortiz said. “At first, they weren’t letting horn players play because it spreads [the virus]. But I’m playing since most people are vaccinated, and now, we are outside.”

During the one-and-a-half-hour-long event, the band performed various songs such as “Kiss Me Like You Mean It,” “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do,” “If You Missed Me,” etc.

Bay Area blues guitarist Anthony Paule formed the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra as a backing band for singer Wee Willie Walker in 2017.

Marcel Smith performs with the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

The concert marked singer Marcel Smith’s first time performing with Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra. Describing his experience performing in front of a live audience after the pandemic break, Smith said, “I needed that shot in the arm. I mean, performing in front of a live audience like that, reaching them and them reaching me — it was just amazing.”

With about 100 attendees, the audience consisted of both Walnut Creek residents and nonresidents.

Derek James smiles as everyone at the concert sings “Happy Birthday” to him. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

Bambi Lynn Ware, a Palo Alto resident and blues fan, attended the Walnut Creek concert for the first time with her friend and blues singer Marina Crouse. Ware said, “There are a lot of people here that are part of the blues community in Northern California. So the fact that Walnut Creek hired [the band] to do this is fantastic.”

Ware, whose children live in the East Bay, has considered moving to the city. She said that the event was helping her “decide maybe this would be a place to live.”

Upcoming free outdoor Summer Sounds concerts

The last three Summer Sounds concerts will take place 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m Thursdays through July 22 at Rudney Plaza, 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek.

Thursday: San Jose blues guitarist Chris Cain

July 15: Fairfield-born Broadway star Taylor Iman Jones

July 22: Bay Area Cajun/zydeco band Tom Rigney and Flambeau

The seating area opens at 4:45 p.m. each Thursday. For more information, visit https://www.lesherartscenter.org/.

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