One of Richmond’s best entertainment venues is Dogwood Dell, in the shadow of the Carillon. This outdoor stage offers the best of all talents: drama, music, dance and more. From salsa to big band, Irish to rock, opera to country, each presentation is a delight. And it’s FREE. The summer season is ending this coming weekend so you’ve missed some great shows but you can still see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat August 3-4 at 8:30 PM. The breeze off the James River lifts the oppressive dog-days heat and there’s no better place to be on a summer’s night.

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The Dell is completing its 56th year but the Carillon’s history is even longer. After the Great War (World War I), the city voted to build a memorial to those who died in battle. The original plan was for a simple monument in Byrd Park but the idea of a carillon, a bell tower, caught on and plans were revised.  John Taylor Bell Founders of England created the bells, originally 66 of them, (the higher ones doubled for better sound), now restored to 53 bells pealing out 53 glorious notes. Performances on military holidays and other times are well worth a visit.

My family’s connection to the Carillon is as old as its history. My great-grandmother, Mary Stilson, was a Gold Star Mother, the designation given those who lost a son in the war, and was active in the memorial’s dedication.  My father assisted in the sale of commemorative pins and I suspect that my great-grandfather, Harris Stilson, took the photo for the lithograph on those pins.

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Harry’s note on the back of one photo states that “there will be a “big blow out” in October 1932” to dedicate the Great War Memorial.  He’d appreciate the “big blow out” every July 4th with the best concert and fireworks display in Richmond.

I’ve volunteered at Dogwood Dell for several years and I grew up there. Our family packed picnics and went to performances and I just never stopped going. In 1968, I sang on the stage with Sing Out South, Richmond’s first integrated young performers and I have tapes to prove it.  I’ve painted sets and handed out schedules. I’ve danced in ‘the pit’ and carried sleeping children to cars parked in the shade of massive trees. Style Magazine once featured the band, Mermaid Skelton, which included my daughter Anne, photographed in the Dell. Some of the area’s best art has been displayed in the Carillon’s shows and children have thrilled to magicians, puppets and more at the Ha’Penny Stage. There’s something for everyone and I thank Richmond Parks and Recreation for providing this amazing array of entertainment for us all. Come to the Dell.

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