Story by Caroline Miller King
Ahhhh … summertime. Backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, lush gardens, long days and evenings spent enjoying the sweet sound of music in the open air. Outdoor concerts are a staple of summer in Southern Maryland. Families pack their picnic baskets and load the kids into the old red wagon. Friends meet to relax and socialize with the grass between their toes. Others prefer simply to focus on the music. However you choose to enjoy them, outdoor concerts are events not to be missed. Fortunately, our area boasts an abundance of them.
In a town that beckons residents and visitors alike to spend summer evenings on the water and under the stars, music drifts on the breeze from the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum during its annual Bay Breeze Concert Series. The free concerts, which began in 1989 when the Town of Chesapeake Beach provided a grant to the museum, take place on the porch on the second Thursdays of the summer months.
Betty MacDonald, volunteer concert coordinator for the museum, has been planning the concerts for the past eight years. Before the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa was built, the concerts were waterfront and, as MacDonald recalls, “it seemed like there was a full moon over the bay every time.” Although the view has changed since then, the concerts haven’t lost their charm – more than 200 show up for each concert and attendance is growing all the time. The museum provides some seating on the porch, but concertgoers are welcome to set up lawn chairs in the surrounding areas. So, too, are they welcome to bring picnics to supplement the complimentary refreshments provided by the museum and organized by the Chesapeake Beach Garden Club.
Although MacDonald describes the audience as a “gray-haired” one, she says that visiting children and grandchildren often attend the concerts, as well. “It’s a family time. It’s very informal.” Attendees frequently stop by to compliment her on the concerts. She adds, “People love to come and I have no trouble getting performers.”
MacDonald aims for a variety of performers – she doesn’t like to schedule a group more than two years in a row, with the exception of the ever-popular Dixie Ramblers – but tries to draw from local talent. Besides supporting Southern Maryland’s artists, she says there is a practical benefit to booking musicians from the area. “That way, they can wait out the weather and decide at the last minute whether they need to cancel.” She notes, however, that weather has rarely been an issue – concerts have been cancelled only a couple of times since she’s had the job.
In Charles County, one word describes the essence of the La Plata Summer Concert Series: community. Funded in the town budget, the concerts have been on the calendar for the past 17 years. In the beginning, they happened once a month. But because of their increasing popularity, the town has made the concerts a weekly event, with 19 scheduled from May to September this year.
Friday nights on the vast west lawn of Town Hall feature an assortment of musical genres, from military bands to country and bluegrass to rock and contemporary pop. Marcia Keeth, special events coordinator for the Town of La Plata, tries to base performances on the audience’s preferences. Last year, she conducted a survey and booked several new acts for this summer as a result.
“We have a ton of talent in the area …; we make it a priority to showcase local talent,” says Keeth. She cites Port Tobacco Pickers from Charles County, Eric Scott Band from Calvert, and 25th Hour Band from St. Mary’s as some of the more popular local groups.
Keeth explains that the town also places an emphasis on creating a family-friendly atmosphere. Attendees are welcome to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnics, and parents can enjoy the music while the kids play in a nearby area supplied with toys and games. There’s plenty of space for a family to spread out and have fun. Keeth remembers one that last year set up an elaborate meal with a full table and chairs before the concert. The family, of course, took down their al fresco dining room before the concert started so as not to block anyone’s view.
It’s that spirit that Keeth loves about the summer concerts. “The sense of community made me fall in love with this job. So many of the same faces come out each week. People get to know each other, or meet with old friends. It’s a nice feeling knowing that we’re all part of the same community.”
Most of us who’ve lived in the larger Southern Maryland community for a while are familiar with the epic concerts held on the campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland each summer as part of the River Concert Series. Now entering its thirteenth season, that series attracts thousands to the Townhouse Green overlooking the St. Mary’s River. What you may not know is that the college added a smaller concert to the lineup with the River Concert Series On Location in Leonardtown. The performance typically features a smaller ensemble, but emphasizes the same high-quality, professional and mostly classical music the River Concert Series is known for – thanks in large part to the magic touch of local maestro Jeffrey Silberschlag, who directs the River Concert Series. What used to be a lunchtime concert now takes place on a Saturday evening; this year a brass ensemble will play on July 9.
Linda Shepherd, public relations and events coordinator for the Commissioners of Leonardtown, has coordinated the concerts with Barbara Bershon, executive director of the River Concert Series, for the past seven years. “It’s been a good thing,” Shepherd says, “to share the musical expression and provide another opportunity to increase the community’s awareness of arts and culture.” Shepherd encourages people to make dinner plans and spend the entire evening in Leonardtown. “Town businesses welcome the opportunity to be of service!”
And if you’re looking for a more informal evening of music in Leonardtown, check out Downtown Tunes, a series of concerts dreamed up by resident Robin Guyther. The former town administrator and current member of the band Geezer remembered popular concerts held in Leonardtown during the ‘70s and “thought it would be cool to bring that back.” Held on the fourth Saturday of the month, May through August, the concerts are supported by the Leonardtown Business Association and Town Council. Guyther sees them as an excellent way to help local bands get exposure and to bring people into the town. “Last year was our best ever. Over 400 people came to the last concert.”
Numbers like that aren’t surprising. Outdoor concerts are family-friendly, budget-friendly events that benefit artists, towns and communities across Southern Maryland. See the sidebar on page 44 for a more complete schedule of this summer’s concerts. And then relax and have fun … it’s summertime. ✦
North Beach Concerts
June 25, 6 p.m.; July 23, 6:30 p.m.; August 27, 6:30 p.m.
Some reserved seating; food and beverage available for purchase. www.ci.north-beach.md.us. FREE (Fee for reserved seating.)
Bay Breeze Concert Series, Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum
Second Thursdays: June-Sept., 7:30 p.m.
Refreshments provided; lawn chairs and picnics welcome; no alcohol permitted. 410-257-3892; www.cbrm.org
St. Leonard Volunteer Fire Department Concerts
July 23, 5 p.m.: Firehouse Rock Festival
Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: Ronnie Dunn
Sept. 4, 7 p.m.: Blake Shelton www.slvfd.com/concertinfo.html
Waterside Concerts, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons
July 30: Martina McBride
Aug. 21: ZZ TOP/Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
First Free Friday Concerts, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons
July 1, 6:30 p.m.
Lawn chairs welcome. www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/events/first-free-friday.php. FREE
Sunset Concert Festival and Farmers’ Market, O’Donnell Lake in St. Charles
Fridays: Now-Sept. 2, 7 p.m.
(Farmers’ Market begins at 4 p.m.)
Lawn chairs, blankets and picnics welcome; no alcohol or glass containers permitted. FREE
Summer Family Fun Nights on the Village Green, Indian Head
Thursdays: June 23, July 14-28, August 11 and 18; 7 p.m. (Concerts on July 21 and 28, Aug. 11; other entertainment/activities on remaining dates.)
Summer Concert Series, La Plata Town Hall
Fridays: Now-Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
Lawn chairs, blankets and picnics welcome; no alcohol permitted; food available for purchase; children’s play area. 301-934-8421; www.townoflaplata.org. FREE
St. Mary’s County
L’il Margaret’s Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Festival, Goddard Farm, Leonardtown
Aug. 11-13. Check website for details.
Downtown Tunes, Leonardtown Square
Fourth Saturdays: May-Aug., 6 p.m.
Lawn chairs and blankets welcome.
River Concert Series On Location, Leonardtown Square
July 9, 7 p.m. Lawn chairs and blankets welcome.
River Concert Series, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, St. Mary’s City
Fridays: June 17-July 29, 7 p.m.
Lawn chairs, blankets and picnics welcome; food available for purchase. www.riverconcertseries.org
Independence Day Celebration Concert (River Concert Series On Location), Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood, Md.
July 3, 1 p.m.
Concert features Chesapeake Orchestra Brass Quintet; lawn chairs, blankets and picnics welcome; food and beverages available for purchase; raffle and silent auction; activities for children. www.sotterley.org
$$ (Free with military ID.)
Twilight Performance Series, College of Southern Maryland
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays:
July 12-28, 6:45 p.m.
Tuesdays at Leonardtown Campus
Wednesdays at La Plata Campus (Also Chautauqua Series performances on July 5, 6 and 7.)
Thursdays at Prince Frederick Campus
During inclement weather, performances will move indoors. 301-934-7828; www.csmd.edu/Arts/TwilightSeries/index.html. FREE
Note: We attempted to include all outdoor concerts in Southern Maryland, but we cannot guarantee this is a complete list. Please let us know if we missed one!