Starting tomorrow, Charles Center will be really jumping ever Thursday night.
On a stage at Hopkins Plaza, near the Morris Mechanic Theater, Winston Grennan's Ska-Rocks Band will be playing reggae from 7 to 10 o'clock.
Meanwhile, Sonny Fortune will blow his jazz saxophone from 6:30 to 8:30 at Center Plaza, a circular space between Fayette Street and the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. building.
These free concerts launch a weekly bandstand rivalry of different artists that will continue every Thursday night until July 29. There will be more free music in Baltimore than in years.
This is exciting news.
In the 1970s, Charles Center used to be the venue of many Baltimore happenings. Anti-war demonstrations were held there. So were the earliest ethnic festivals. And when the first City Fair ,, came in 1970, it, too, was held on the neighboring twin plazas. When Harborplace opened a decade later, however, most of downtown's people events migrated to sites closer to the water.
During the past few summers, night life has been gradually returning to Charles Center. On many Thursday nights Hopkins Plaza has packed a capacity crowd as hundreds of young people have come to listen to reggae and rhythm and blues.
The new Center Plaza concerts will broaden the repertoire by adding such jazz artists as flutist Herbie Mann (May 27), saxophonist Gary Bartz (June 3), Junior Walker and the All Stars (July 8) and the Scott Cunningham Blues Band (July 15) to the lineup. Will this piggy-backing of concerts prove popular? We are sure it will.
In recent years, Thursdays have become special nights downtown the year around. That is due to the smashing success of the first Thursdays of each month, when many downtown galleries, shops and museums stay open at night and put on a festive air to greet throngs of visitors. Some shops add to that party atmosphere by serving refreshments. Some offer live entertainment.
One of the tragedies of America's declining downtowns is that in most cases they become deserted soon after 5 p.m. That is both a cause and consequence of suburbanization. Yet if downtowns are to be made livable again, more life must be injected into them.
The new music series is a step in the right direction. Another step that is now needed is some lunchtime entertainment to realize the potential of the Charles Center plazas as people magnets.