The free Sunset Serenade concerts, in their 17th year, are held Wednesday nights in the amphitheater at Centennial Park South.

The Baltimore Sun

The first time Nichole Hickey heard the Millers play, she knew she wanted the hard-charging blues and rock band to appear in the Sunset Serenade series at Centennial Park. And that is exactly what is happening.

The group from Indiana, consisting of three brothers and their father, will kick off the annual summertime music series tonight. The 7 p.m. performance is free, though a $3 parking donation is requested.

Hickey, executive director of Columbia Festival of the Arts, first saw the band strut its stuff at a talent showcase in Memphis, Tenn., two years ago. The youngest member, L.D. Miller, was 11 at the time. "He was just wailing away on the harmonica," said Hickey. "We were just amazed."

Since then, the Millers have gained national recognition by placing second in the America's Got Talent television show last season. "That was making them even more appealing in terms of recognition," Hickey said.

On the television show, which just started its second season, L.D. wowed the audience and judges with harmonica playing that seemed to involve his entire body. Even the usually negative David Hasselhoff dubbed him and his brother Cole "absolutely awesome."

"You are a harmonica superstar," said judge Piers Morgan after one performance. But he made L.D. cry when he said, "I think you've got to sack your brother," referring to Cole, who played guitar and sang a rousing version of the Bill Withers classic "Use Me."

Tammy Miller, mother of the brothers and public relations manager for the band, said the group used to travel to colleges and other venues year-round but is scaling back and focusing on higher-profile venues such as the Centennial concert.

"We kind of wanted L.D. to come home and go to school," she said. Besides, the oldest brother, Clayton, now 24, now has two children, she said.

Tammy Miller said she is not musical, although her husband, Larry, is. The group has been together since 2001, when Clayton was 18, Cole was 14 and L.D. was 6, she said. That's when she bought her youngest son a harmonica so he could play with his brothers and dad, she said.

"Once he got that harmonica, it was like another soul channeled through," she said. "It's amazing."

The Sunset Serenade series, in its 17th year, is sponsored by Comcast and organized by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. Performances by regional bands such as the zydeco-playing Junkyard Saints and Jimmy Buffet tribute band Sons of Pirates are held Wednesday nights through Aug. 15, starting at 7 p.m.

The shows are held in the amphitheater at Centennial Park South.

For several years, the first show of the series has been sponsored by Columbia Festival of the Arts. While the other concerts feature local artists, the festival committee casts a wider net, said Hickey.

"We can bring in someone from outside the region," she said.

The goal is to find family-friendly performers who will appeal to a broad range of people, she said.

Hickey said she receives hundreds of compact discs each year from groups that want to perform at the park. But only the very best, like the Millers, can succeed. Two years ago, Gaelic Storm attracted 6,000 visitors, she said. And she expects tonight's concert to be just as big.

Typically, the show is canceled if the weather is bad, but for the Millers, a back-up venue has been established at Jim Rouse Theatre. Because the theater is much smaller than the park, Hickey said the first 739 people in line will get seats for the show, which would start at 7:45 p.m.

L.D., now 13, said that one goal of his music is to show that blues don't have to be sad. He promised a good time.

"I like getting the crowd all riled up," he said by telephone from his home in Lafayette, Ind. "I love making the people happy. That's fun. If you come to the show, you'll have fun."

On stage

Who: the Millers

What: Blues and rock concert

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Centennial Park South

Weather: In case of inclement weather, this event will be moved to Jim Rouse Theatre for a 7:45 p.m. performance, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. 410-715-3089, or www.columbia on the day of the performance for updated weather information.

Serenade series

Here is the schedule for the Sunset Serenade series at Centennial Park South, off Route 108. Concerts are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Today: The Millers (as seen on America's Got Talent) in partnership with Columbia Festival of the Arts.

June 20: Junkyard Saints / zydeco

June 27: Kinderman / children's music

July 11: The Rumba Club / Latin-jazz

July 18: On the Edge / r&b-pop;

July 25: Melanie Mason / blues-rock

Aug. 1: Damon Foreman / funk-rock

Aug. 8: David Bach / jazz

Aug. 15: Sons of Pirates / Jimmy Buffet tribute band

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