WTMD's First Thursdays concert last night -- the first of the season -- could be described in many ways, but "damp" comes to mind first. At 5:30 p.m., 90 minutes before the concert began at its new home (Canton Waterfront Park), rain interrupted what had been a picturesque spring day.
Rain came in spurts for the next few hours until it stopped for good, roughly halfway through the show. Like many other attendees, a dozen of us found relief when necessary under one of the various tents around the park. (Thanks, Zipcar!)
The show was never in danger of getting canceled, according to WTMD general manager Steve Yasko. He explained the events are scheduled to happen, rain or shine, because the artists are typically only in town for one night. ("The only time we will stop the show is when we see lightning or the artist feels unsafe," Yasko said.)
Conditions were less than ideal, but they did not kill the event's vibe. Yasko described the scene as "magical" on Friday morning.
"In the middle of the show, I realized, 'This is a new level,'" Yasko said. "This is different than Mount Vernon [shows] in a much bigger way than just which neighborhood the show happens to be in."
The Canton concert felt more like a typical outdoor music experience than the Mount Vernon version. Yasko said the turnout was "larger than the average show in Mount Vernon," and yet there was plenty of space to roam and enjoy the music. At the old setup by the Washington Monument, it took strategic planning and a little luck to get a good view of the stage. At Canton, the wide-open layout of the park allowed fans to sit on blankets and even play games like bocce.
The music — from Marah, Joseph Arthur and headliner Joan Osborne — sounded seasoned, but not overpowering. Osborne played her 1995 quotable single,"One of Us," but her set of likable folk-inspired rock songs was livelier than expected. Her encore took the event a little past 10 p.m.; Yasko said the station will work harder moving forward to wrap things up by 10.
There were "no major catastrophes" last night, Yasko said. The biggest challenge was long lines to purchase beer from The Brewer's Art. He said a meeting next week with the city's Recreation and Parks department will address how to cut down on wait times and other minor issues. (Don't be surprised if there are more beer booths next month.)
The other problem was trash. There was a miscommunication with the sanitation department, Yasko said, and the park was left "very messy overnight." He learned of the issue at 6:45 this morning, and the park had been fully cleaned by 8:30 a.m., Yasko said.
“No one wants a dirty park,” he said. “That will not happen again.”
Still, Yasko could not hide his excitement over how well the concert went. He believes this version of First Thursdays will become the signature outdoor concert series for Baltimore.
"People were well behaved, and it was just an amazing sense of community and spirit," Yasko said.
Was it better than the Mount Vernon version? From my perspective, the answer is yes, because the park is more conducive to enjoying live music. The extra space, easy vantage points of the stage and views of the water all worked in the location's favor. The later start-time (7 p.m. instead of 5:30) also made it easier to see the entire show. Yasko is confident the move to Canton Waterfront Park was the right one.
"There's just something about the water," he said with a laugh.
(Photo by Kaitlin Newman)