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Ronnie Milsap delights fans of 'classic country' at Havre de Grace Seafood Festival Friday

Scott Placzek grew up listening to Ronnie Milsap's albums, but Friday night's concert, held during the annual Havre de Grace Seafood Festival, was the first time Placzek heard the Grammy-winning country singer play live.

Placzek, who lives in Havre de Grace, was not disappointed.

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"I've never seen him in concert," Placzek said of Milsap. "This is my one and only chance, I said, 'I've got to go see him.' "

Placzek attended the concert with his girlfriend, Bobbie Workman, also of Havre de Grace. The couple, who said they are fans of Milsap's style of old-school country music, relaxed after the 90-minute show in lawn chairs at the top of the swale of the City Yacht Basin in Tydings Park.

"He kept the crowd going," Placzek said. "He didn't have a long pause, it was just one song after the other, very enjoyable."

They talked with Eric Johnston, who grew up in Havre de Grace and lives in Rising Sun, and Johnston's son, Brandon.

"He is real country music, and when I was younger, Ronnie Milsap was what you grew up with," Eric Johnston said. "That's who you listened to on the radio."

Milsap, who is touring the U.S., headlined the Friday night concert, the highlight of the first day of the three-day 35th annual Seafood Festival.

He sat at a piano on stage, supported by a six-person backup band. The crowd cheered as he went through a roster of his hits and several cover songs.

The 72-year-old singer and musician, who has been influenced by music legends such as Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, released his first album in 1971.

His most recent album, Summer Number Seventeen, was released in early 2014.

Milsap was born blind in the town of Robbinsville, N.C., near the Smoky Mountains in the western part of the state.

He talked about attending The Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, N.C., as a child and learning to read Braille and later play music.

"They taught me Braille at 6, violin at 7 and piano at 8," Milsap said.

"And girls at 13?" one bandmate joked.

Milsap said he told his teachers and counselors at the Morehead School that he wanted to be a musician, but they encouraged him to become a teacher or a lawyer.

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He was undaunted, though, and he talked about meeting the late Ray Charles when he discovered Milsap playing his piano backstage at one of Charles' concerts.

Milsap said Charles encouraged the young musician, which Milsap relayed to his counselors when he returned to school.

"He shares his life story with you," Workman said. "Not a lot of artists do that."

He played "Your Cheatin' Heart," which was originally recorded by Hank Williams and covered by Charles and a slew of other singers, in his mentor's honor.

"Wherever you are, I love you, Ray," Milsap said.

Milsap played his hit "Smoky Mountain Rain," which became Tennessee's state song in 2010.

He closed the show with a rendition of "America the Beautiful" in honor of nation and members of the military.

"It hasn't taken us very long to figure out America is a very exceptional place to be," Milsap said.

The song drew a standing ovation from the crowd, which sang along with Milsap.

Mark Barczewski, 57, of Newark Del., attended the show with his 25-year-old son, Devin, and girlfriend Tara Duffy, 43, of Wilmington, Del.

"I love classic country," Duffy said.

Devin said he skipped his summer graduation ceremony at the University of Virginia and traveled from Charlottesville, Va., to attend the Milsap concert.

"My dad played plenty of Ronnie Milsap tunes throughout my youth, and I knew it was not a concert to miss," he said.

His father, Barczewski, said he saw Milsap as a teenager when the singer played the former Country Lounge near Smyrna, Del., during the 1970s.

"We shook hands and got autographs, and my mother kissed him, and I've been a fan ever since," Barczewski said.

Barczewski said he had been to Havre de Grace before – another son, Rory Sullivan, used to perform at the Tidewater Grille – but Friday was his first visit to the Seafood Festival.

"Now that we're here, we've probably going to come back tomorrow or Sunday to see the rest of it," he said.

The festival continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and admission is free.

Lori Maslin, coordinator of the festival, said next year's headliner has not been determined, but she expects it will be a classic rock act similar to bands that have headlined the show in past years, such as Three Dog Night.

She said the selection depends on who is touring, where their tour route is and the cost of bringing them to the festival.

Maslin said she thought Milsap "put on a wonderful show," and she said his staff had been "terrific people to work with."

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