For more than a decade, First Thursdays, the popular free concert series organized by Towson University's public radio station WTMD, has regularly filled West Mount Vernon Park with thousands of music fans during the summer.
The soundtrack will be similar this year, but the location will not, as WTMD is in the process of moving First Thursdays from Mount Vernon to Canton, according to the station's general manager Stephen Yasko.
The deal to make Canton Waterfront Park on Boston Street First Thursdays' new home has not been finalized, Yasko said during a Tuesday morning phone call, but it is making progress. He hopes to submit the special events permit application in February and to receive a final answer from the city in late March.
"We're optimistic we're going to make this move, but we have to go through all of the community consultations and city permitting processes," Yasko said.
The series is leaving Mount Vernon because the $5 million in repairs planned this year for the Washington Monument "would make having First Thursdays in Mount Vernon not possible," Yasko said. The station knew the renovations, and thus the move, were coming soon.
"We knew it was coming and we've been thinking about this," he said. "It's been a great 10 years in Mount Vernon, and we're very sad to say goodbye to our first home, but we're also very excited about the future."
Should the community of Canton, a neighborhood with its share of parking woes, be as excited? Yasko says the station is working very closely with the Canton Community Association to avoid any negative impact on residents. (Yasko believes that, after meeting with the association, the group is "incredibley enthusiastic about the event coming to Canton.")
"I lived in Canton for a few years. I know firsthand what it's like in the neighborhood when you come home and there's an event going on at Du Burns [Arena] or somewhere, and you just can't find parking," Yasko said. "So we are working with a number of the surface lots and people who have parking lots south of Boston Street."
Yasko says WTMD has spent more than a year "itemizing all the elements that made First Thursdays in Mount Vernon a success." He believes moving to Canton makes the most sense.
"We've been looking at a venue that would match the physical beauty, the accessibility and the technical logistics that we had in Mount Vernon," he said.
Canton Waterfront Park is larger than West Mount Vernon Park, but the additional size is not the only reason Canton will likely play host. Canton's zip code, 21224, has the second highest concentration of WTMD members, only behind 21201, he said.
For those asking the important question — "What about the music, man?" — there are no lineup details or dates to report yet, but Yasko believes the move will lead to booking higher-profile acts than before.
"We're looking at bands that are extremely popular that might be playing the 9:30 Club [in Washington] on Wednesday and playing on Philly on Friday, and hopefully we can get them on Thursday," he said. "We're hoping that Canton Waterfront Park, being a bit bigger than Mount Vernon and being on the water, will help attract bands that we have previously not been able to attract to First Thursdays."
"Bigger" could also describe the cost of putting together First Thursdays in Canton. As the station continues to work out new logistics (How many portable toilets will there be? Where does the stage go? Where do the food and beer vendors set up?), the costs increase, too.
"I'm figuring they're going to at least triple from the Mount Vernon costs," Yasko said. WTMD is actively looking for business sponsors in Canton because "this is going to be an extremely expensive proposition."
Change is inevitable, he says, when a relocation is involved, but he hopes moving to Canton will only elevate the concert series.
"I think anytime you make a significant change in a long-standing successful event, it's going to change. You just can't prevent that," Yasko said before reassuring the laid-back spirit of First Thursdays would remain in tact. "But we are committed to that vibe that was created in Mount Vernon and carrying it forward."