Country concert planned for Balto. Co. Event meant to boost economy of Eastside


Hoping to give southeast Baltimore County something to sing about, a group of business and community leaders is planning a country music festival on Memorial Day weekend to boost the area's economy.

The two-day show could draw 30,000 people, said Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a state delegate from the Perry Hall area and chairman of the new nonprofit Chesapeake Country Music Festival.

Organizers hope to emulate Cumberland's Rocky Gap Music Festival and Crisfield's Tangier Sound Country Music Festival, which bring millions of dollars to their economies.

"We think it's going to reintroduce Maryland to east Baltimore County," Mr. Redmer said.

The festival, scheduled for May 25 and 26 at Martin State Airport, is the latest effort to revive the southeast area. The county has been working for more than a year to promote redevelopment of older neighborhoods, and the state recently approved an enterprise zone to encourage business expansion along North Point Boulevard.

Mr. Redmer said the music festival would boost hotel, restaurant and convenience store business in the area, while publicizing Essex-Middle River as a place for investment. It will feature performers Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sammy Kershaw, Sawyer Brown, Martina McBride, Blackhawk, Marty Stuart and others.

"When you bring in 30,000 people in a weekend, some of them are in private sector positions and they might be" influenced to locate their businesses in the Essex-Middle River area, said Mr. Redmer.

Eventually, the festival might be linked with the Rocky Gap and Tangier Sound shows in a Maryland country music tour, he said.

Officials in Crisfield and Cumberland say the festivals have been a boon to their hospitality industries, filling hotels and restaurants for miles around.

David Williams, president of the McClarran & Williams public relations agency, which handled publicity for the Rocky Gap festival for seven years, said the event poured $5 million to $6 million into the local economy. "It's absolutely the biggest commercial weekend in Western Maryland," he said.

But Mr. Williams, who no longer provides the public relations services for Rocky Gap, warned that festivals are becoming difficult to produce as the cost and competition for country music stars increases.

"The event business is very, very risky right now," he said, adding that the Rocky Gap festival has lost money in recent years.

So far, organizers of the Chesapeake Festival have raised about $125,000 in cash and in-kind services toward a budget of about $500,000, Mr. Redmer said.

While acknowledging the difficulties in staging such an event, he said, organizers hope to avoid the pitfalls other festivals have experienced. For one thing, there will be no free beer.

At Rocky Gap, attendees could bring beer into the park, but the Chesapeake Festival will require fans who want beer to buy it at the show -- a tactic designed to bring as much as $50,000 in revenue.

Organizers also are counting on the festival's location -- in the heart of the metropolitan area and within easy access of Interstate 95 -- to draw crowds.

"It's an ideal location," said Mary Emerick, who coordinates revitalization programs for the county in the southeast area. "We think it will be an overwhelming success."

Festival producer Gary Jackson, who produced the state's other country music festivals, said preliminary interest is encouraging. Although tickets don't go on sale until today, several hundred people already have called seeking information.

For ticket information, call 410-481-7328. For festival information, call 410-574-2204.

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