Music lovers with tastes from pop to bluegrass, from big band to gospel and from jazz to reggae have the opportunity this summer to experience the music they enjoy at a free, scenic and local venue at the 13th annual Catonsville Lurman Woodland Theatre Summer Concert Series.
"We like to call it Catonsville's best-kept secret," said Al Loyd, chairman of Friends of Lurman Woodland Theatre.
From June to August, often both Saturday and Sunday nights, returning bands and groups new to the series grace the concrete Lurman stage, which is surrounded by tall trees. This year, some performances are coupled with daytime events, including a car show and a World War II re-enactment.
More than half the groups performing this year have never performed in the series. However, some old favorites return, including series openers the Catonsville High School Steel Band.
The band has opened the series since 1999. Lurman Woodland Theatre is on the Catonsville High School grounds, so the concert has become a tradition for the group.
"I was looking for opportunities to bring alumni from steel band back after they'd finished college, but I didn't want to do it in the school auditorium," band director Jim Wharton said of this year's June 4 opening.
Wharton said the band that performs at the series is the largest of the year. The band has about 20 regular members and one year had 12 alumni join the show.
Wharton describes the band's sound as "car-driving music," with calypso and soca influences from Trinidad to Tobago. It also incorporates popular, jazz and classical music for steel drums.
Darren Beachley and the Maryland Line - a five-piece bluegrass and Southern gospel group that includes a mandolin, fiddle and banjo - performed in the series last year, but in less-than-ideal circumstances.
In poor weather, concerts are moved to one of two indoor venues, the Bloomsburg Center or Catonsville High School.
"Right before we came on stage, it started pouring down rain, and we had to be moved to an indoor gymnasium," Beachley said. "But the people that we played for were very receptive to what we were doing."
Beachley and his band, which is based in the Baltimore-Washington area, were asked back after requests from the audience.
"It's always nice to go back someplace where you're wanted," Beachley said. "They put on a class show."
This year, the band will perform two 45-minute shows June 19 with a brief intermission between. Beachley's group features mostly original material, but also performs old favorites from musicians such as Tom T. Hall.
Another series favorite, the Bayside Big Band, consists of 19 musicians and vocalists and has a library of more than 1,000 songs ranging from Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman to the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Steve Young, a trumpet player for the Bayside Big Band, said one of the group's members lives in the Catonsville area and introduced them to the series. This year, the group is playing June 26 after war re-enactors battle on the Lurman Woodland grounds during World War II Theme Day.
"We do a lot of the old big band stuff from the '40s," Young said.
Gene Vincentt and the Cadillac Cruisers with the Roadhouse Horns is new to the series, but familiar with playing outdoor venues.
"We do a lot of outdoor concerts," Vincentt said. "It reminds us of Oregon Ridge."
The 13-piece band, which includes a large horn section, has worked with more national acts than any band in Maryland history, Vincentt said, including the Beach Boys and Little Richard.
"We're sort of the Cal Ripken of Maryland bands," he said. "We're just plain powerful."
The band performs rock classics from the '50s to the '70s, as well as some originals.
"We're the band you call if you can't afford the Coasters," Vincentt said.
Classic rock and funk fuse to create the progressive sound of Carey Ziegler's Expensive Hobby, a seven-instrument band that features a brass section. The Annapolis-based group performs a combination of the music of Frank Zappa and Steely Dan with influences by Tower of Power and Blood, Sweat and Tears, Ziegler said.
The series first-timers plan to start the show with some of their originals before taking song requests from the audience.
Another first-time performer will be the Spindles, a Motown revue band that embodies "the sounds of Philadelphia," said band manager Michael Lipman.
The 11-piece band has five male vocalists and performs original songs, as well as covers by musicians such as the Beatles, the Temptations, Kool and the Gang and Smokey Robinson.
Local businesses help fund the series, which is free and open to the public. Sponsors include Appalachian Bluegrass and Bill's Music House Inc. Donations to the series are tax-deductible. Businesses that contribute $500 or more get a sign at every concert.
A donation bucket is sent around at each concert, but donations are optional, Loyd said.
As many as 2,500 people have attended a single concert, Loyd said, but most shows tend to draw about 300.
Friends of Lurman Woodland Theater, a volunteer committee of about a dozen people, organizes the series. Loyd said more than twice as many bands apply to perform as they can book, so deciding on the lineup can be difficult.
"We try to get a vast variety of music," he said.
For a complete list of summer concert dates and performers, go to www.lurman.com.