At the Crane Estate’s Thursday Night Picnic Concerts, there are two stars of every show: the band that performs and the beautiful grounds where the concerts are held.

When the weather is just right, breezes blow up from the ocean while live music drifts down the Grand Allée, a corridor of lawn that is lined by trees and stretches for half a mile.

Members of the audience are invited to lounge there on the grass with picnics, some of which evoke the opulent spirit of the Great House, the Ipswich mansion where the bands play on a terrace.

“We do have parties that get very elaborate and bring their own small tables and flower arrangements, but by and large, I think people come with sandwiches and salads and leave the china at home,” said Trina Schell, public events and community outreach manager for The Trustees of Reservations.

Visitors at these concerts, which begin next week, can also opt to buy a meal from one of four food vendors.

These include Kelly’s Roast Beef, which offers plenty of items along with their trademark roast beef sandwiches, and Q’s Nuts, serving roasted nuts, popcorn, candy and soda.

“In terms of new, we do have two new vendors this year,” said Victoria Sinsdown, education manager for the Trustees. “Amigos Locos food truck, with Tex-Mex favorites, and then DownRiver Ice Cream, which is a homemade local ice cream favorite.”

The menu for music at this summer’s eight concerts also has a broad appeal.

“We definitely try to have a diverse selection of bands, so we’re not always having the same thing every week, so we can appeal to slightly different audiences — although we do have regulars who come every week,” Schell said.

The series will open with The Great Escape, a tribute band that plays the music of Journey, a spirited and extremely successful rock group that formed in the 1980s.

They will be followed by the Beantown Swing Orchestra, which will not only play big band jazz but also teach people how to dance in a style from that period.

“The band does bring in some dance instructors that they work with regularly at other concerts and dance parties,” Schell said.

Disco Dream, which will play dance music from the disco era on July 25, was rained out last summer.

“Our concerts are weather-dependent, and on average, we have to cancel one concert per season,” Schell said. “When that happens, we invite the band back the next year so they’ll get their chance.”

August will feature Soul City, which plays soul, Motown and funk, and Entrain, a rock and funk jam band, while Help! will pay tribute to The Beatles and the Orville Giddings Band from Ipswich will close the season with boogie blues.

Rebel Soul Project, a Gloucester-based band that plays reggae, is appearing at the Crane Estate on Aug. 15.

“I grew up watching concerts there as a child,” said Geoff Pilkington, a Rowley native and the band’s drummer. “I used to go with my parents.”

Soul Rebel Project won best international act at the Boston Music Awards in 2018 and currently plays around 150 shows a year, he said.

Its most recent album, “Inspiration,” came out two years ago on Jamaica-based VP Records, which also distributes its digital recordings on Spotify, iTunes and other formats.

The band has been together for 10 years, and its original members include lead singer Mike Francis, lead guitarist Jay Harris and bass player Adam Saylor.

Each musician contributes something unique to the band’s sound, Pilkington said, which mixes traditional reggae with elements of hip-hop and hard rock to create what he calls East Coast reggae.

“Sometimes the genre finds you, and you find a love for it,” Pilkington said. “We cross genres pretty well.”

Schell has seen her share of Thursday night concerts, having founded the series 22 years ago.

“Those first couple of concerts, I could go up and count the bodies on the lawn and there would be 100 or 200 per night,” she said. “Now, we’re averaging about 1,700 per night.”

Jazz concerts were held at the estate in the 1950s, she said, before The Trustees organized a Castle Hill Festival that featured music, theater, Independence Day celebrations and even equestrian competitions in the summers, Schell said.

“But that was not financially viable, so that ended in the mid-’90s, and the picnic concert grew out of the demise of the festival, because we still wanted to have music here,” she said. 


If you go

What: Thursday Night Picnic Concerts

When: July 11 through Aug. 29, 7 to 9 p.m. Gates open at 5 for picnicking. Inclement weather may cancel.

Where: Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich

How much: $35 per car or $10 for walk-ins, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Tickets available at gate only.

More information:


Series lineup

July 11: The Great Escape

July 18: Beantown Swing Orchestra

July 25: Disco Dream

Aug. 1: Soul City

Aug. 8: Entrain

Aug. 15: Soul Rebel Project

Aug. 22: Help!

Aug. 29: Orville Giddings Band