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At The Big Gig

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The night air on Saturday, July 10 was hot and muggy. It alternatingly rained and drizzled. But this didn't keep thousands of folks of all ages from pouring onto Brown's Island for opening night of The Big Gig. The Downtown Presents ... event bills itself as "Richmond's Summer Musicfest."

Tito Puente, in his 70s and still going strong after 50 years of performing Latin hits, was the headliner. Many music lovers at the free concert set up camp in folding chairs. Others found spots and spread blankets under trees as the James River flowed by. There were many picnickers. Vendors did a brisk business. Target, a major corporate sponsor, wisely distributed thousands of round-shaped red-and-white bullseye fans that got vigorous workouts. The colors blended nicely with dozens of red, white and blue Puerto Rican flags that some fans waved feverishly in salute to Puente's roots.

As the evening wore on, the band played such hits as "Oye Como Va" and "Para Los Rumberos." Spotted in the distance, and dancing as if every move were choreographed, two teen-agers on the narrow granite lip of the Haxall Canal danced a perfect samba. Children, young lovers and grandparents alike swayed less formally. Bottom line: Puente and his musicians were a big hit. Chatting up his audience, Puente, who was visibly impressed with the crowd's enthusiasm, admitted that he figured this stop on his tour would be tame: "I thought it was going to be different in Richmond," he laughed. "And I'm not Ricky Martin." The concertgoers cheered loudly, enjoying every word from the master and every note of the mellow performance. Other Big Gig events included Plunky & Oneness for Kids, big band Swing Plus and Walter Bell and his Latin Jazz Unit. "We dig the gig!" gushed a smiling Richmonder, Katherine Eason, as she exited Brown's Island with a group of pals and disappeared into the night.

And where were you?

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