Havre de Grace's new Independence Day Commission had a high standard to meet for its first year of coordinating the community's annual holiday festivities — especially with two new events and no carnival — but they pulled it off, based on reactions of longtime and new visitors Sunday.
"I would definitely come back next year," Stephanie Merson, of Port Deposit, said as she held her 4-year-old son, Hunter.
They stood a short distance from where The Amish Outlaws were rocking out before a cheering and dancing crowd under a tent at Hutchins Park.
This year was the first Merson attended any Independence Day festivities in Havre de Grace. Nor has she seen the Amish Outlaws before.
They had spent the afternoon watching the annual downtown parade along Union Avenue and checked out the inaugural First Fridays-style block party on Washington Street.
The Amish Outlaws were a new feature this year, in addition to the block party.
Fireworks were shot off at dusk Sunday from a barge in the Susquehanna River off Concord Point, instead of their usual spot on Tydings Island.
All 1,500 tickets for the free concert had been claimed before the weekend, according to organizers.
Merson, along with other fans, noted the family-friendly nature of The Amish Outlaws show.
"They're playing a lot of good stuff for everybody," she said.
The six-man band, dressed in Amish-style outfits, played covers of rock, hip-hop and pop songs — four of the six members grew up in Amish communities in Lancaster, Pa., according to the band's website.
Their members have stage names that combine Biblical with hip-hop. Lead vocalists Brother Hezekiah X and Brother Big Daddy Abel made their way through the crowd, dancing with members of the audience and posing for selfies.
Bel Air resident Rick Armiger, who has seen The Amish Outlaws before, posed for a selfie with Brother Big Daddy Abel.
"We came down here tonight to see them and take in the fireworks," he said of the band.
Mindy Johnson, of Havre de Grace, who has seen The Amish Outlaws before, also reported enjoying the show.
"To me, it's better than the carnival, and hopefully they'll be back next year," Johnson said.
People could experience the show up close in the tent, and they gathered on either side of the tent and behind it, closer to the water. They were relaxing on chairs and blankets — organizers expected the people would be able to see the fireworks from Hutchins Park and many other places along the waterfront.
Abel, The Amish Outlaws vocalist, said his band has not played in Havre de Grace before, although they have played in Bel Air, the annual Harford County wine festival and in Chesapeake City in Cecil County.
"I love [Havre de Grace]," Abel said during a break. "It's a beautiful town."
He said he took a panoramic photo of the river and posted it on the band's Facebook page, noting their view for the evening.
Abel also remarked on how people brought their families out.
"I really like when we have an all-ages show," he said.
Abel talked with members of the Grode family, of Havre de Grace, including father Sean, mother Jessica, and daughters Avery and Rylee, during the break.
Jessica Grode said later that her husband has seen the band before, but it was the first time for her and the girls.
"When we heard that they were playing tonight, we just had to come," she said.
Grode said the concert was "an absolutely good alternative" to the carnival. She described the parade and block party as "wonderful."
"I honestly prefer this over the carnival," she said of Sunday's events lineup. "It was so much less congested."
The carnival had been a staple of Independence Day festivities in Havre de Grace for years. It was held in Tydings Park during the week leading up to the parade and fireworks, and the final day of the carnival coincided with the other events.
People in the park could watch the fireworks being shot from nearby Tydings Island, at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Last year was the final one for the carnival, though, after larger-than-normal crowds surged through the city streets after the fireworks. Police also had to break up a fight among juveniles during the carnival.
City officials expressed a number of concerns about safety at the carnival.
The Havre de Grace Independence Celebration Committee, which had coordinated the events since the late 1980s and depended on the carnival as a major fundraiser for events such as the parade and fireworks, quit en masse last year.
The members of the new commission, who were appointed by Mayor Bill Martin with the approval of the City Council, took over after they were sworn in last September.
They planned to hold a carnival, but the longtime operator, Jolly Shows, bowed out during the planning process. Commission members later secured Sherwood Amusements, but the company owner retired because of health issues.
The commission then pivoted to the post-parade block party and concert.
Union Avenue parade
The sidewalks along Union Avenue were packed with spectators for the parade.
People watched from blankets and chairs on the sidewalk, or they gathered on the porches of Union Avenue houses, the parking deck across from University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital and at the front entrance to the new Havre de Grace Library.
The theme of the parade was "Hometown Heroes," to honor veterans and active-duty military who live in Havre de Grace.
Amber Priddy, an Elkton resident who grew up in Havre de Grace, watched the parade go by.
"I was just disappointed about the carnival, so I at least wanted to come to the parade," she said.
She sat on bleachers set up across from the reviewing stand at Union and Pennington Avenues with her 10-year-old son, Wyatt Johnson, and father, David Meade.
"I think it's wonderful," she said as she and her family watched a stream of marching bands, floats, military vehicles, motorcycles and fire trucks go by. "It seems to be more of a production, more of a turnout."
Priddy said she enjoyed the marching bands, which included local high schools, the Baltimore Ravens marching band and groups from other parts of Maryland and even out of state.
She noted the Carolina Gold band, of Raleigh, N.C., as the marchers went by.
"So many different areas have come out to support Havre de Grace," she said.
Many people threw candy from the floats, which children eagerly grabbed. Children were also happy to take more nutritious offerings, such as pineapple lollipops, from marchers from Edible Arrangements.
Priddy said her son "gobbled" his pineapple pop, which she said was "ice cold," a welcome treat on the hot and sunny afternoon.
Marching bands from Bel Air High School, Edgewood High School, Patterson Mill High School, Aberdeen High School, plus the hometown "Warrior Pride" Havre de Grace High School band, marching along the street.
"It's great to see the Havre de Grace band leading the parade," Jim Reynolds, principal of HHS and a 25-year Havre de Grace resident, said as he watched the procession. "It's just great to see Harford County Public Schools represented like this."
Rose Hamilton, the former owner of the Bel Air Bakery, watched the parade with her husband, Jim.
The couple, who lives in Churchville, ran the Bond Street bakery for 60 years until they closed in December 2015 when they retired. Rose Hamilton grew up in Havre de Grace.
"I love this Fourth of July parade, always have since I was a kid," she said. "I look forward to it every year."
Thomas Ragan and his mother-in-law, Marie Bell, watched the parade from the porch of their Union Avenue duplex — Ragan and his wife live on one side, and Bell and her husband live on the other.
Bell operates a stained glass business out of the duplex, selling stained glass supplies online.
Ragan has been watching the parade each year for nearly 30 years.
"I like all of it — what's not to like about a parade?" he asked. "This is a big deal for this town, and they put a lot of effort into it."
Ragan said the only bad part was that his late father, Albert, could not see the parade. Albert Ragan died in September 2015.
Mr. Ragan, who resided in Churchville, was known as the "unofficial mayor of Churchville," according to his obituary on the McComas Funeral Home website.
"He knew about half the people in [the parade], or more," Thomas Ragan said. "He looked forward to coming over here all the time."
People began filtering over to Washington Street as the parade, which lasted about two hours, ended. The street was closed between Congress Avenue and St. John Street — people could walk over to Hutchins Park at the foot of Congress Avenue for the concert.
Visitors could check out downtown shops and restaurants, or vendors set up along Washington. Live music was playing, and restaurants were offering drink specials.
Ebony Russaw, of Baltimore, set up her face-painting booth, Fab Faces by Ebony. She had been a vendor at the carnival last year.
"I was successful last year, so I'm hoping that I get some business this year," Russaw said.
Ava Riehel, 7, of Fallston, was one of her first customers. Her older sister, Genevieve, brought Ava over to get her face painted like a cat.
The Riehel sisters' grandparents and aunt own the Vintage Cafe on Washington Street, within the block party area.
Genevieve noted the restaurant has been open for First Fridays, which are held downtown each month between April and October, and it has been busy during those events.
"It's just cool to see everybody in Havre de Grace, [to] just see everybody coming in and having fun and coming together," she said.
Fred Posadas, a retired Army command sergeant major and a retired civilian worker at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was part of the American Legion honor guard that marched in the parade.
He could be found later in the day, volunteering with the Legion to sell food and drink during the concert.
Posadas is also part of the Legion honor guard when it takes part in local Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances.
He said the "Hometown Heroes" honor was "awesome," and he enjoyed the celebration of heroes Saturday.
"I love it," he said, giving two thumbs up.