Nate Allan sat on a four-legged stool, knees bent showing the tear in his gray skinny jeans, naked feet perched on the rungs of the stool. He leaned forward into the microphone.
"Thanks guys for coming out today," he said to the handful of teens sitting on the metal bleachers in front of the stage set up at the Harford County Farm Fair in Bel Air Friday afternoon. "It's real hot out here so I'm gonna make this my last song."
He began strumming the open notes of Imagine by John Lennon, fingers moving instinctively through the chord changes. His face was blank as he began to sing, his eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, as if all his emotion was being channeled through his voice.
The audience remained silent as the last notes fade away, then stood and applauded. Allan smiled and walked offstage.
"[He was] so good," gushed Samantha Welshch. She and her friends, Nicole Sexton and Devin Warbington, were all at the Farm Fair as members of 4-H. During a lull in 4-H activities, they had wandered over to the Showmobile, the fair's portable stage from parks and recreation.
Nicole agreed with Samantha. "He had, like, a really great voice," she said.
"It was pretty badass," added Devin.
Nate Allan said he found the opportunity to play at the fair through an advertisement posted on Harford County's Facebook page. He was originally scheduled to play on Thursday with his bandmates, Keith Tuttle and Tyler Pietruska, but he was rescheduled for a solo show on Friday after a thunderstorm shut the fair down early Thursday night.
Nate acknowledged that his audience was small but described them as "friendly and supportive." The intense summer heat may have been one reason why people were reluctant to stop and sit on unshaded metal bleachers.
"It's rough," he said about the temperature, which reached well into the 90s during the afternoon Friday. "I've been drinking lots of water. The [Farm Fair] people are supplying me with it; it's really lovely."
Living in Harford County has clearly affected Nate's musical development. He spoke of how he played his first show at the Fallston Bash, run by Gerry Muccioli, and the importance of the open-mike nights organized by Pat Redman at The Main Street Tower Restaurant in Bel Air.
"We used to hang out there and learned our chops," Nate said. "There's a really big blues and folk scene in Harford. Before I lived here, I never listened to folk music. But now it's a big influence on me, and one that we've taken into the studio," he added referring to his recently-recorded album, "When the Sun Comes Around," which will be released in September.
Nate, who is a rising senior at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, plans to audition for music conservatories including the Berklee College of Music in Boston, with the intention of becoming a professional musician. A risky move in the current economy, for sure, but he doesn't seem concerned.
"I'm a dreamer," he said, echoing the lyrics of the song he sang fifteen minutes earlier. "I have a certain faith that we'll all survive."
Nate's parents, Dara and Daron Ryan, said they are "totally behind" their son.
"I don't think there's any way to keep Nate from music," Dara Ryan said. "He's always had a passion for it."
Meanwhile, the members of the band One 3 Six and their parents were setting up amplifiers, electric guitars, and a drum kit on stage.
To the side of the stage, Tim Strawbridge, from Forest Hill, adjusted the settings on the soundboard. Strawbridge, who has been a sound engineer for over 30 years, currently works at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. This weekend, however, he's handling the sound for the entire Farm Fair, everything from announcers' microphones for the pig races to the performances on the Showmobile.
"I've been doing this for six years now." Strawbridge said, explaining that he first began working sound at the Farm Fair because his high school friend and member of the Farm Fair staff, Sam Fielder, "just wouldn't stop calling."
The Harford County Farm Fair is a completely different atmosphere from Strawbridge's previous gigs, which have included mixing sound for Metallica and AC/DC's live shows. But Strawbridge said he "loves it."