The alternative/ Americana musical marriage known as The Mastersons inaugurates a new summer slate of free Songwriters in the Park concerts, Friday night at Riverside Gardens.  

The dog-day nights of July and August are that time of year when the waterfront walkways and terraces of Riverside Gardens take center stage in local life — with this Thursday seeing the return of the long-running Jazz in the Park concerts, and the weeks to come offering a packed schedule of free family-friendly movies, free evening Zumba sessions, even a free Comedy in the Park event on August 1.

All welcome diversions for a midsummer’s night, to be sure. But tonight, Friday the 13th, marks the long-awaited return of a series that you’ll find nowhere else but Red Bank — Songwriters in the Park, a slate of top-shelf artist showcases presented for a seventh season by Brookdale Community College listener-supported radio station 90.5 The Night.

While there have always been such things as songwriters busking for beer money in city parks, this songwriters series is an altogether different animal than most beach-towel-and-lawnchair community events —  a format that pairs a genuinely buzzworthy, national-profile act with likeminded local/regional artists. Previous outings have spotlighted such well-known performers as Dramarama, Steve Forbert, Jeffrey Gaines, John Wesley Harding, Bongos frontman Richard Barone and the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio.

In other words, this is a free concert series that music snobs can really sink their teeth into. And when all the stars in the Sirius sky align — superior sound, great sight lines from anywhere in the park, a gentle breeze off the river and those complimentary Navesink sunsets — it’s as listener-friendly an experience as any you’ll encounter up and down the Jersey Shore. Even the sounds of a busy downtown Friday night (including the occasional ambulance) add to the unique character of the concerts, making for a welcome alternative to the chirp of suburban crickets.

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Clockwise from top left: A Cool Blues Duo, Jeff & Elaine, The Al Wright Unit and Peas & Carrots are among the acts taking it to the streets for Red Bank Street Life, the 2012 slate of which kicks off this Saturday evening.

It happens right about the time that Riverfest sounds the keynote to summertime in Red Bank. The sidewalks, storefronts and greens of the Shore’s favorite beach-free destination town ring out with great evening music every Saturday night in the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Other towns may stake a claim to being Where Music Lives, but when Red Bank StreetLife returns on June 2, it will transform the Borough of Basie into that place where Music greets visitors who arrive by rail; where Music provides an eclectic soundtrack to shopping and dining; and where Music gets mobile on the streets of the downtown and West Side business districts.

Presented by Red Bank Rivercenter (with funding assistance from the Monmouth County Arts Council), Street Life offers up a shuffle-mix that ranges from acoustic Americana to ethnic, and from sweet-Adeline harmonies to a little bit of harmonic dissonance.

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