Kathy Davis of Ellicott City brought her daughters, 12-year-old Eryn and 10-year-old Brittany, so that they could celebrate the start of summer with three of their friends.
"Today was the last day of school," said Davis. "So this is kind of a celebration. We're eating dinner here, enjoying the music, then heading back home for movies and a sleepover."
The Davis entourage was among the hundreds of people attending Wednesday evening's Sunset Serenade concert at Ellicott City's Centennial Park. The lakefront setting was peppered with lawn chairs, blankets and dogs.
"It's a really good way to hang out," said Eryn. "It's relaxing."
Sponsored by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and Comcast, the family-friendly series runs through Aug. 15. The season's opening performance by the Millers was canceled last week when inclement weather prevented two of the group members from making the trip from Charlotte, N.C., to Howard County.
The weather was perfect Wednesday as 3-year-old Anya Rosenstein danced barefoot in a sandbox near the F. Leonard Dunn amphitheater, where Baltimore-based band Junkyard Saints entertained the crowd.
"She likes coming," said Anya's father, David Rosenstein. "Getting her home is the hard part."
The Ellicott City resident added that the Sunset Serenades program is "perfect for families with kids. ... The park is nice because there are more things for [Anya] to do than just sit still and listen to music."
But make no mistake, the band's self-described "New Orleanian party music" sound was a hit with the crowd.
Bandmates Brian Simms, Sterling Patterson, Andy Hamburger, John Aversa, Trevor Specht, Todd Butler and Jeff Chiaverini combine funk, swing, Latin, r&b;, and zydeco influences.
C.C. Cirezz and friends had seen the group play before.
"I get the show schedule from work and saw the Junkyard Saints were playing. We knew we definitely wanted to see them," the Columbia resident said.
Becky Zimmerman of Ellicott City made the night a family affair. The 13-year-old spent part of the night salsa and swing dancing with her mother, Lynn Steer.
"It's my mom's idea to come," Zimmerman said.
"The best part is being with them," she said with a nod toward her parents. "I like dancing, too."
"It's a great time to be with family," Steer chimed in. "We look forward to this every year."
Though the music was geared toward dancing, many people just enjoyed the atmosphere, including a group of women from Sunrise Assisted Living of Columbia.
"We love seeing the kids," said Diana Knoll, a Sunrise employee. "It's a real treat."
"We truly enjoy all the scenery, all the people. It's beautiful," said Sunrise resident June Kanez.
"It's just something inexpensive and fun," Knoll said of the Sunset Serenades. "Usually a group of four or five of us will take a bus down on Wednesday nights."
Vendors sold ice cream and smoothies. Nevertheless, many individuals opted instead to bring a picnic or prepare dinner on the grills scattered around the park.
"Sometimes we bring dinner, a picnic," said Annie Macheel of Ellicott City. "We just brought cookies tonight."
Under a twilight sky, Simms, the lead vocalist and accordion player, addressed the crowd as the band neared the end of its 90-minute show.
"Y'all having a good time, Howard County? Are you enjoying the last of the good weather? 'Cause it's going to get HOT!" he shouted. The band launched into its final song, "Hot Tamale Baby."
After the show, fans lined up in front of the stage with pens and crayons in hopes of getting an autograph from band members.
J.J. Badesha, 8, of Columbia gave Simms a picture she had drawn during the concert and asked him to autograph it for her.
"This crowd was great, and it's great because it's all ages," Simms said after the show. "If we play something like a wine fest, then the crowd will just be older people and teenagers. But the whole family can come to something like this."
He added: "The crowd was very receptive and warm. A lot of us are from the area, so we're seeing a lot of people we know, so that's nice."
Simms is a Glenelg High School alumni and bass player John Aversa graduated from Wilde Lake High School.
Trumpet player Todd Butler is originally from Pennsylvania, and teaches at Howard Community College.
"The majority of the band met at Towson University," said Butler. "Most of us went to school there."
He said the band, which has been together for 10 years, has played five or six times at Sunset Serenades, which is now in its 17th season. Earlier in the day, Butler catered to a smaller audience when his jazz band, The Todd Butler Group, performed at Columbia's Lakefront Wednesdays Concert Series at Lake Kittamaqundi.
"I love playing here. It's always enjoyable," Butler said of Centennial Park. "It's got nice scenery, a great crowd. People will get up and dance. And we're playing in front of a lake, so, yeah, that's cool."
As a crescent moon began to rise, Butler's wife, Paula, and infant daughter approached the stage.
"It's way past her bedtime, but we come to all of his shows," Paula said as Sophie hugs her father.
"We have to be here."
The Kinderman will perform children's music at next week's show, which will be held at 7 p.m. June 27 at Centennial Park South, at 10000 Route 108, Ellicott City. Though the show is free, a $3 parking fee is requested. Information: the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks at 410-313-7275.
Here are the remaining dates for the Sunset Serenade series at Centennial Park South, off Route 108. Concerts are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
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