Higher-profile acts on tap as WTMD's First Thursdays moves

Since last June, Towson University radio station WTMD has upgraded its studio, its satellite reception and now adds the headliners of First Thursdays, its free outdoor concert series that takes place between May and September, to the list.

Rock stalwarts The Hold Steady (Sept. 4), blues brothers Los Lonely Boys (June 5), "One of Us" singer Joan Osborne (May 1) and sunny pop-folkers The Mowgli's (Aug. 7) are scheduled to take the First Thursdays stage this year, Scott Mullins, the station's program director, told The Baltimore Sun. A headliner for the July 3 event is still to be determined.

First Thursdays' move from Mount Vernon Place to Canton Waterfront Park on Boston Street was made official Wednesday when the city's Department of Recreation and Parks approved the special events permit, said the department's chief of communications, Gwendolyn Chambers. The move was prompted by repairs underway to the Washington Monument.

WTMD General Manager Stephen Yasko said the public radio station is committed to maintaining the fun, easy-going spirit the Mount Vernon version cultivated from 2005 to 2013.

"We're going to do everything that we possibly can to make sure this event at Canton Waterfront Park has the same good reputation that it did in Mount Vernon," Yasko said.

Other acts scheduled to perform include Joseph Arthur and Marah in May, Spanish Gold in June, Strand of Oaks in July and JD McPherson in August. More performers will be announced soon, Mullins said.

In previous years, concertgoers could buy beer on-site or bring their own; this year, no outside alcohol will be allowed, Mullins said. Beer will be able to be purchased from The Brewer's Art, who will once again be the series' beer vendor. Attendees will still be able to bring in food and non-alcoholic drinks, Mullins said.

The station expects about 2,500 people per event this year, Yasko said, calling it "an average crowd at Mount Vernon." That would not follow the growth trend that occurred between 2010 and 2012, when attendance rose from 2,500 to 7,500 per event, Mullins told The Baltimore Sun in 2013.

Chambers said WTMD listed an expected crowd of 2,500 on its permit application. Yasko said the Canton site could handle more than that, but declined to give a maximum figure. He said the station has never properly counted attendance.

In previous years, Yasko said, "we would go and try and count density ourselves. We've never had an official aerial photograph and done it the proper way for a crowd estimate."

In Canton, WTMD's initial announcement of the move prompted concerns about parking and increased congestion.

Sean Patrick Flanagan, president of the Canton Community Association, said those concerns were lessened by the station's commitment "to making this a positive event."

"They've been incredibly proactive and sensitive toward those specific concerns," Flanagan said Wednesday. He said he and WTMD organizers have spoken with the Canton Square Homeowners Association, the operators of Canton Cove condominiums, Du Burns Arena owner Coppermine Fieldhouse and other neighborhood groups about First Thursdays. He said there was no opposition from the groups, aside from a "cautionary tone related to parking and congestion."

"I think the responsibility is on us now — now that we got the approval — to communicate this and get awareness within the community," Flanagan said.

WTMD came to the Canton Community Association with solutions for parking, Yasko said. The station has secured 500 spaces across from 1st Mariner Tower and 500 behind shops at Brewers Hill for concertgoers, he said. The station will provide parking information to "keep people going north of Boston Street," Yasko said, and instead push travelers toward street parking on South Clinton Street.

"We've made a comprehensive parking plan to minimize the impact on the community," Yasko said. "We're going to have folks making sure they aren't running across the street like ding-dongs in the middle of rush hour, disrupting traffic on Boston Street."

Lisa Hansen, a Canton resident for 15 years and former WTMD member, said she is excited for First Thursdays' arrival because the events are "great for the city."

"Everything changes when you move locations, so I don't think that can be helped," Hansen said. "I don't think — but I don't know for sure — that the core experience will change."

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