News Column

Turnout for Catonsville's Frederick Road Fridays concert series grows

August 12, 2014

By Lauren Loricchio, Catonsville Times, Ellicott City, Md.

Aug. 12--With a lower turnout due to the threat of rain, a crowd just shy of 1,000 packed the parking lot at the Mews on Mellor for a recent Frederick Road Fridays event, which has seen its greatest attendance since it began in 2008.

That a count of more than 950 was a dip in attendance shows just how popular the summer outdoor concert series has grown in popularity among Catonsville music lovers.

Begun by the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce as an every other week event, the event has become a Friday night tradition for many in the area, one that embodies the spirit of Catonsville.

"I think it's indicative of the kind of renaissance Catonsville has been having for the past 10 years," said Teal Cary, executive director of the chamber. "It's a very family friendly event."

In addition to free music, the event features kid-friendly activities, room for little ones and four-legged members of the family to run, and a casual atmosphere that attracts the young and the not-so-young. It's a formula that seems to be working this summer.

The Chamber of Commerce began counting the number of attendees this year, with the largest audience of 1,676 attending the June 27 Appaloosa concert. The concert series took a break for the July Fourth celebration, when Frederick Road was filled with Catonsville Fourth of July Parade goers.

It resumed July 11, when 1,122 came to watch D'Vibe & Conga. On the following Friday, 1,311 showed up for the Players Band.

The month closed out with 1,529 turning out for Against the Grain, Cary said.

"I thought it would drop off because of vacation, but a lot of young families were there who say this is what they do every Friday," Cary said.

The chamber hopes that the event will encourage concertgoers to patronize local businesses in the commercial corridor of Catonsville. The concerts run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., which means that people can walk over afterward to one of the restaurants or bars along Frederick Road, rather than traveling farther away, Cary said.

The first concert of August attracted people of all ages, along with their four-legged friends. As the sun set, more trickled into the parking lot to take part in the fun.

Many young families said they can socialize with friends and unwind after a long work week while their kids run around and play with their friends.

"I like that we can bring our son with us. It starts early enough that we can get home before bedtime," said John Long, a Catonsville resident who sat in a lawn chair next to his wife, Megan, and their 11-month-old son, Ryan.

"It's family friendly and a good community event," Megan said.

Julia Showalter, 31, was watching her blonde 4-year-old daughter, Julia, run around the parking lot in a pair of purple glitter cowboy boots.

"What we like about it is that it does have a small town feel, even though it's near Baltimore," said Showalter, who has lived in Catonsville for eight years. "You see a lot of the same families doing things together."

Face painting provided by the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland is a way for the organization to raise money, said Lauren Elliott, 40, who manned the table as Scouts painted young faces.

There are times that the lines are so long for face painting that it's hard to manage, Elliott said.

The chamber acquired a liquor license to sell beer and wine at the event. The lack of alcoholic beverages available for purchase had been a disappointment to some who used to buy beverages at Jennings Cafe near the concert series' former home on Egges Lane near the Catonsville Fire Station.

Forty percent of net profits raised from beer and wine sales are donated to a rotation of local nonprofits, while the rest goes to the chamber.

The Rotary Club of Catonsville, a nonprofit organization of community leaders who seek to provide humanitarian service and encourage ethical standards in vocations, received money from the Aug. 1 event.

Bill Lorenz, the club's president, lamented that the chance of rain meant less money for the organization because turnout was lower than expected.

Still, the event raised $763 for the organization.

"It's great for the community -- it brings people into Catonsville and it's great for business," said Lorenz, the owner of a locksmith business.

"It means that the good work that we do in the community can be spread further," said Many Anne Rishebarger, area governor for the Rotary Club of Baltimore.

The event moved the short block from the former location last year to accommodate a larger crowd.

One of the founding members of the event, Catonsville business owner and funeral director Craig Witzke, said he hasn't been to the event since it moved.

Witzke called the decision to relocate the event a "disappointment."

"Our focus was entirely about the community -- not about making it bigger," Witzke said. "The vision has been taken away and the soul has been taken out."

Witzke, who implemented the concert series with former chamber President George Brookhart, said their focus was on bringing business to businesses along Frederick Road.

"The entire point of it was that the local businesses benefited from it. It was not meant to generate income," Brookhart said.

Each week, a different band is invited to play music on a stage set up in the parking lot, located on Mellor Avenue, right off Frederick Road. In addition to Appaloosa, a longtime area favorite that usually draws a large crowd, many of the acts have a connection to the area.

On Aug. 1, event-goers tapped their sandaled feet to the beat of the Jeremy Gilless Trio, which was making its first-ever appearance at the concert series.

"Playing outside is always a lot of fun," said Jeremy Gilless, the band's singer who teaches guitar lessons at Bill's Music on Frederick Road.

"It's a town that I love," he said, "so I'll do anything I can to help out."

Chris Owens, an Arnold resident and bassist in the band, said, "We got invited and gladly took it because it's a great community event. Music has a way of bringing communities together, so we're happy to be here."

Among those in the crowd was Conor Aylsworth, 28, a Catonsville native and lead singer of Against the Grain, the band that played at the venue on July 25.

"It's great -- you can tell everyone is a music fan," said Aylsworth, as she sat next to her fiance Brian Arellano, 29, lead guitarist in the band.

"It's a nice centralized location where everyone can come and sit down, relax and watch live music at the end of the week," she said.

Mary Ann Simmons, 39, said her family are fans of Appaloosa and Against the Grain.

She was seated with her husband, Edward Simmons, 46, and son, Colin, 9. The family has attended almost every Friday this summer, she said.

"It's nice that the kids can run around and play, and we don't really have to worry about them," Simmons said.

That gives her and her husband more time to enjoy the music, she said.

"It's a nice family event and a free, fun time," Simmons said.

___

(c)2014 the Catonsville Times (Ellicott City, Md.)

Visit the Catonsville Times (Ellicott City, Md.) at www.baltimoresun.com/explore/baltimorecounty/publications/catonsville-times/

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Source: Catonsville Times (Ellicott City, MD)


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