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Flower and Jazz Festival draws thousands to Westminster's Main Street

Westminster High School's Jazz Ensemble plays at the 2015 Westminster Flower and Jazz Festival held Saturday, May 9.

Despite an overcast sky and some drizzling rain, thousands meandered along Westminster's Main Street to hear jazz musicians play and to shop for Mother's Day gifts Saturday at the city's 2015 Flower and Jazz Festival.

This year the festival was expanded one block, up to the Jiffy Mart near Carroll Street. The city booked the nationally recognized children's rock band Milkshake, based in Baltimore, to draw people to the block, said Abby Gruber, director of the city of Westminster's Recreation and Parks Department, which organized the event.

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Also new this year, the 5K Fun Run/Walk was moved from Wakefield Valley Community Trail to downtown, and it started before vendors opened for business and bands began playing at 10 a.m., Gruber said.

The Westminster High School Jazz Ensemble was one of nine acts at the festival that played on three stages. Nineteen students played songs such as "Uptown Funk", "Witchcraft", "Spinning Wheel" and "Morning Dance" before a crowd of listeners who tapped their feet to the jazzy sounds of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, drums and guitars.

Blake Ruby, 16, a junior at Westminster High who plays drums in the band, said after the set that it was his first time playing at the festival.

"It's a really cool environment — I've never seen Westminster's main street this lively with vendors and people — it really brings a different culture to this area that I've never seen before," Ruby said. "It's really cool to be able to listen to jazz because you don't get to do it that often."

Brian Frazier, a music teacher at Westminster High who played the bass during the performance, said students look forward every year to playing the event, which gives them the opportunity to perform before an audience, rather than practicing during class.

"It's a really neat event where they get an excellent chance to get out on the town and hear good music," Frazier said.

Other acts included the Manchester Valley High School Jazz Ensemble, the Mount Airy Middle School Jazz Ensemble, The Herb Shell Ensemble, Chris Vadala, The Eric Byrd Trio, the Sunday Night Big Band, the Steve Swan Quartet and Milkshake.

Bob Coffey, owner of the Coffey Music shop, was responsible for booking the bands and for providing sound equipment for the musicians, duties he has fulfilled for the past four years, he said.

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"I love employing the high school and middle school bands — this is a wonderful experience for them," Coffey said.

Coffey said he found acts for this year's festival by word of mouth and by taking suggestions from customers at his store.

As the Mount Airy Middle School Jazz Ensemble played, Rob Zirkle was among the crowd watching his son Drew Zirkle, 14, play in the band.

Zirkle said it was his fifth or sixth year at the event. His other son Eric Zirkle, 16, a student at South Carroll High School, also played at the event when he was in middle school, he said.

"I'm here of course to watch my son, but it's always a nice place to get Mother's Day gifts," Zirkle said.

Nearly 125 vendors sold plants and flowers, including Boy Scout Troop 2007, God Scent Herbs, Richfield Farm, Tierra Blooms and Wakefield Valley Nursery. Other vendors sold art and crafts. The event also brought additional business to shops on or near the city's main street.

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"One of the main reasons we host events like this is to draw people into our downtown, and the goal always is that people discover a new place to shop and dine that maybe they weren't aware of prior to visiting our downtown festival," Gruber said.

In past years, the event has drawn about 7,000 people. "We expect to meet or exceed that number," Gruber said.

Business partners Lisa Martin and Clare Hoerl had a tent in front of their soon-to-open shop, Create Outside of the Box COB51, which will offer art lessons, art parties, art camps for kids, bring your own beverage sip-and-paint events for fundraisers and art gallery space. They took advantage of the crowd, offering kids the opportunity to create their own Mother's Day gifts, to get the message out about their business, scheduled to open June 6.

"We've been really busy all day, so it's been wonderful," Martin said.

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