Music Moves Me in Kent County, Maryland

Mariya Filippova Music Life Storefront“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything,” said Plato. And those words are still true today. Music is one of those universal forces that perseveres no matter what is happening in the world. Music is soothing to our souls and can be reflective of everything we’re going through individually and collectively—something we need more than ever at this moment.

We’ve gathered some of the best melodic happenings and music-filled venues around Kent County that can help one get back to a feeling of normalcy through song and sound. Large music festivals are an incredible way to celebrate artists, music and talented musicians every year. But all over the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and specifically in Kent County, music is celebrated more frequently, in smaller ways and every day in new forms as people have had to become creative during these times. The spotlight is on four local venues that have done their part to bring music to the community, as well as annual festivals we all love that have been postponed or rescheduled. Some venues have had to reimagine their music programming (virtual concerts anyone?). These events all prove that melody and music live on in Kent County.

National Music Festival

Concert at DeckerEach summer, Kent County lights up with the sounds of the National Music Festival in historic Chestertown. In a typical June, musical apprentices come from all over to live, work together and rehearse with world-class mentors for two weeks. They present over 35 concerts and include 200 open rehearsals for music lovers to enjoy for free or low-cost ticket prices. But with the Covid-19 pandemic, it has not been a typical year.

“We moved this 10th anniversary season back to August 8 - 15, 2020, with the hopes that would be enough time,” said Caitlin Patton, Executive Director of the National Music Festival. “We will know by July 7, 2020, if the festival can go on as planned, be a smaller event or if we may do something virtual.”

As of now, the organizers plan to go forward, but they are awaiting information from the State to allow for groups of more than 50 people to gather and weighing safety measures for musicians and guests. “So much depends on the Governor’s decisions and phases of reopening,” says Patton.   

If the show goes on, musical delights will include a performance of “Pianomania” with piano mentor David Brooks and apprentices, a performance of “Brass Quintet No.1,”a piano quartet playing Mozart, four trombones playing Beethoven and many other exciting performances, including a free lunchtime program of a suite for two pianos in F#. On the docket as well are free talks with National Music Festival Artistic Director Richard Rosenberg.  


Rock Hall FallFest

FallFest 20171014 Rock Hall FallFest2471 steve atkinson 2018 08 20 croppedIf you like to shuck oysters while listening to live music, Rock Hall Fall Fest is held each year in October. The one-day oyster and music festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Throngs of music lovers flock to this seaside hamlet to hear all genres of bands and entertainers. But guests also love partaking in local oysters, dozens of other food vendors and letting their children have fun with all the captivating and free activities.

When guests aren’t listening to the likes of Catonsville Steel Drum Band, honky-tonk and western swing group Blue Yonder, hot jazz band Tongue in Cheek Jazz, blues guitarist Mamie Minch or New Orleans zydeco from Lost Northern Tribe, they’re shopping unique wares from the 40 handcraft vendors.

Chestertown Jazz Festival

CGT 2165Wynton Marsalis said that “jazz music is the power of now. There is no script. It’s conversation.” In a time when people want to talk to one another more than ever, this annual music festival is still on for Sept. 12, 2020. In years past, the all-star Chestertown Jazz Festival has included headliner Alicia Olatuja, as well as locals such as The 100 Voice Choir, Washington College Jazz Combo, Greg Thompkins Quarter and Gregor Huebner, among others.

The festival was originally developed as a collaboration between Chestertown’s Garfield Center for the Arts, Rock Hall’s Mainstay Theater and other local influencers who believe in the power of jazz and blues to soothe souls. The performances usually take place at venues around Kent County including The Mainstay, Garfield Center for the Arts and Sumner Hall with the closing night extravaganza at the beautiful and scenic waterfront park, Wilmer Park.

Legacy Day

Legacy Day 2 (copy)African American heritage and culture is filled with a history rooted in music. Legacy Day was created to celebrate that rich tradition among Kent County’s African American population. This free event will transition from it’s original in-person event to several livestream events on Aug. 15, 2020. Legacy Day provides an opportunity for all participants to have a great time recognizing their shared history through musical performances, a geneaology workshop and a virtual street party on Saturday evening. Virtual events can be viewed via Facebook or YouTube.

Garfield Center for the Arts

The music can’t be stopped at this historic Chestertown venue on High Street. Every week since Covid-19 pandemic has shut the venue’s doors, the Garfield Center for the Arts has been streaming art performances on Wednesday nights with local talent on GCTV (Garfield Center TV).

“Just like every other performance venue across the country, it made us realize how business has to change or we won’t have one,” says Executive Director Steven J. Arnold. “We knew we were going to have to rethink what we’re producing and who is producing it.”

Since the team at Garfield Center for the Arts has all been in the business of live events on stage and not in broadcasting entertainment, they have had to learn fast. “We wanted to continue to present diverse programming, so we go up live in some fashion every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on Facebook.” The livestreams provides guests an opportunity to preview the rich arts culture and entertainment that Kent County has to offer.

Garfield singerThe Garfield Center for the Arts encourages viewers to watch it live or go to the center’s YouTube channel to view it on demand. Each weekly program has a diverse set of performances. Think singer-songwriters, actors on the local theater scene, comedians and more.

Music has been a very attractive feature on the Wednesday night program. Nevin Dawson organized a local strings performance where he looped in different recordings. Beloved local musician Phillip Dutton, of Phillip Dutton and the Alligators, performed his own set of songs on piano since he’s social distancing from his band. Local duo Pam and Bob Ortiz also performed on the show. One can expect a performance by classic Spanish guitar player Fredy Granillo coming in June.

Executive Director Arnold is also working on a performance that would be a reunion of the actors who played the orphans from the theater’s production of “Annielast fall. The former director wants to “conduct an interview with them on their experience of the show and learning through homeschool and livestream,” shares Arnold. 

For now, the Center is teaming up with organizations like Main Street Chestertown in an effort to promote patrons buying gift certificates to use when theatre doors open again.

The Garfield Center started the Wednesday night shows “so we could keep our community together through entertainment and feeling connected,” says Executive Director Arnold. “If they can watch someone local that they know, it makes the world seem a lot less dark. We want to meet that challenge right now.” Although these performances were intented to bring together the local community during the Covid-19 pandemic, future Kent County visitors can enjoy the performances as well. Check out the Garfield Center for the Arts site prior to planning your next visit.


The Mainstay

Mainstay performersThe Mainstay has been making musical magic since 1997, when someone offered founder Tom McHugh free use of an old building. He turned the building  into a venue with the intention of establishing a place where music brings together the community. All in-person shows at The Mainstay have been  cancelled through June, but the owners have been streaming an online concert series on Monday nights via Facebook Live.

A previous performance featured bassist Amy Shook and her husband, saxophonist Pat Shook to rave reviews. While Amy is a local fave, Pat also travels the nation as the lead tenor saxophonist in the US Army Jazz Ambassadors. The couple performed a jazz set from their home. If you missed the show, the concerts are on demand on The Mainstay page.

As life begins to return to some semblance of normalcy, The Mainstay will welcome concertgoers back in July 2020, for a performance by singer-songwriter Karen Somerville who is known for her gospel songs, as well as dipping into jazz, blues and folk tunes. In August, the music venue has two shows slated for The Hedgelawn Bluegrass Series. The first is with bluegrass band The Gina Furtado Project, the second with bluegrass/country band Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass. The Hedgelawn Bluegrass Series Finale in October will feature Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, bringing to town their new acoustic American roots music—i.e. a mix of bluegrass, acoustic country, blues, folk, swing and jazz.


Harbor Shack

For the past several years, this Rock Hall hangout has been serving crab cake sandwiches, ahi tuna and cowboy-crusted rib-eyes with fantastic live music each summer. Harbor Shack is mere steps away from the Chesapeake Bay. Whether it’s a cool cover band or a hot DJ, Harbor Shack has cornered the classic beach bar vibe in Kent County. The owners purposely haven’t installed Wi-Fi in order to encourage customers to talk to one another and enjoy each other’s company. In fact, this practices proports you back to a reminiscent era which urges you to “pretend it’s 1993.”

Currently, the restaurant offers take-out orders of its delicious meals and is waiting on the ability to allow for in-person dining so they can resume regular hours. Check back later in the season to view the live music schedule posted on the Harbor Shack site.

The Shanty Bar at Tolchester Marina

The Shanty Beach Bar beach deckSituated as close to the water as you can get without wearing a wet suit, The Shanty Bar opens its doors every mid-May for the spring and summer season’s flock of visitors and boat lovers. However, this year, it’s holding tight to find out when it can open up again to welcome customers and live music fans. Typically, each weekend features a full Summer Concert Series with nationally known recording artists playing to a packed house under the straw-thatched roofs with gentle breezes just as soothing as the melodious sounds of the bands.


Waterman's Crab House

This popular restaurant and dock bar named “Best Crab House on the Bay” by Chesapeake Bay Magazine has been overlooking the Eastern Shore for over 4 decades. While Waterman’s Crab House has reopened its doors to customers with a limited curbside menu and take out, it always has live music during the summer season. Depending on the night, hot local bands like Trilogy, Club Phred, The Half Moon Band, East Roc, Glass Onion, Big Daddy and The Fender Benders and Island Vibes, to name a few, are scheduled to rock the stage. Check back frequently to view the most recent rocking lineup for the season.

Jellyfish Joel’s 2.0 at Mears Great Oak

The Shanty Beach Bar sunsetHome of the beloved Tropical Beach Party, Jellyfish Joel’s 2.0  sits on a peninsula by the beach along Fairlee Creek. The venue has a long history of live entertainment from the best bands in the county. There’s plenty of open space to enjoy the music, partake in delicious cocktails. Feel free to down a bucket of peach mojitos with a date and nosh on shrimp rolls, Angus burgers and rockfish tacos. Visitors can arrive by boat, tie-up to floating docks or anchor in Fairlee Creek and dinghy over to enjoy an afternoon getaway under the palm trees.

Whatever your style of music…Kent County has it covered. Enjoy your favorite genre on a waterfront deck with a signature drink in your hand, under the starry sky on a beach, or in a waterfront park taking in a scenic vista. Kent County music will move you.

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