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First Thursdays, an event that's become one of Baltimore's quintessential summer evening experiences, is returning to Mount Vernon.

The summer concert series, which is off to a late start after being canceled in May and again in June, debuts, weather permitting, at 5:30 p.m. today at West Mount Vernon Park.

Annapolis band Pressing Strings will open for the Guggenheim Grotto, a pop folk band from Ireland.

"In a time when being connected means tapping at your keyboard or PDA, First Thursday provides people the opportunity to interact with their friends," says Steve Yasko, general manager of WTMD, the radio station that's sponsored the shows for the last five years after inheriting the responsibility from Baltimore's City Paper.

"I think that brings a great amount of creativity and a sense of community that cities can often pull away from."

WTMD invests about $20,000 in the series each year, which runs every first Thursday from May through October. The bands donate their time.

In May, the concert was canceled because of landscaping concerns at the park. The show was rained out in June.

Mother Nature permitting, Yasko expects people to start arriving at about 4:30 p.m. to claim a good vantage point. The headline act plays for about an hour, with the concert usually wrapping up about 8:30 p.m.

On warm summer evenings, young professionals head to the park after work. Families bring children. There are always a lot of dogs.

Yasko estimates about 3,000 people attend each show, though because the shows are free, people usually hang out a while and then move on.

It's unlikely to find thousands of folks there at any one time. It's more of an intimate experience, he says.

Pressing Strings is an acoustic trio recently featured on WTMD's Baltimore Unsigned show, and recently released an album, Where We Are.

Guggenheim Grotto has developed something of a cult following in the United States. Yasko describes the band's sound as "very rhythmic and engaging." "You'll be singing along with them by the end of the tune," he promises. The band's sophomore album is called Happy the Man.

In August, young blues rock talent Evan Watson will be the main attraction. Though September's headliner is still up in the air, the October show, as always, will be sponsored by the Baltimore Unsigned program and feature three area bands.

"We want to send the season out with people really knowing how many talented and creative musicians are here who are worthy of their attention," Yasko says.

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