PRINCETON — If you thought you heard live music coming from Palmer Square last Sunday, you weren't imagining a time when the pairing of nice weather and an outdoor concert seemed to be natural and normal around New Jersey.

It was actually happening, and it will be happening every Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. through June 20, courtesy of McCarter Theatre Center, which is offering a series of free shows as its staff plans for an indoor, in-person reopening either in the fall or in 2022.

Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen said the idea was to "give people a gift," and not just theatergoers — those who work in the industry and the Princeton business community, too.

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"We really wanted to partner with Palmer Square and lift up our local businesses. It was hopping all around the Square (last Sunday), people getting ice cream, people getting a drink, and food," Rasmussen said. "It was just really joyful, people of all ages, kids dancing, a great brass band, it was super fun. This was a great way to kick off being back together again, and back for live music."

Even though the concerts are not ticketed, meaning there are no crowd limits, Rasmussen said the Square provides a large enough space for plenty of people to come, spread out, and still social distance.

She said Sunday's crowd was respectful, and a good test for how the next eight weekends will go.

"I think that's really encouraging moving forward," Rasmussen said. "It didn't feel like something we had to police. I think we're all really pretty used to it at this point."

Each weekend's featured act is regionally-based, from either New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania, and according to Rasmussen, all are making their McCarter debuts.

"They really span genres: R&B, rock, pop, jazz, swing, reggae, Latin, and country music," she said. "So it's different every week."

Rasmussen said an announcement will be made in the coming weeks about McCarter's next season. Its educational efforts continue, online right now, but with an in-person, outdoor youth camp planned for the summer.

The theatre's staff is thankful to the state for the financial support it has provided to McCarter, and many other theatres and performance venues around New Jersey, in the past year.

For the full schedule of Palmer Square concerts, go to mccarter.org.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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