Thousands of people gathered Saturday afternoon along Calvert Street in downtown Annapolis beneath the long-missing sun for the “Annapolis Rising” music festival.
The all-day event honored the five victims of last month’s shooting at The Capital Gazette newsroom, freedom of the press and first responders.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley opened the event, which featured about 10 bands interspersed with several journalists, elected officials, Capital journalists and the families of the victims — Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman and Rebecca Smith.
“We want people to come to Annapolis and see that this massacre did not break this city,” Buckley said. “It made us stronger. It brought people together.”
The festival was headlined by Good Charlotte, a pop-punk band with Maryland roots. The band contacted Buckley shortly after the shooting and offered to headline the concert and raise money for the family fund.
In an editorial essay published the day before in The Capital, Buckley explained his motivation for the music festival exactly one month after the shooting: “There is a healing power in music and free speech. That is the driving force behind this benefit.”
Buckley said that he intends to make the festival an annual event.
Several attendees wore T-shirts with expressions supporting the press and the Annapolis including “Press On,” “Journalism Matters,” “Annapolis Rising,” “I back the First Amendment” and “Annapolis Strong.”
Deputy Secretary of State for Maryland Luis E. Borunda presented state flags that had been flown over the State House to the families of the victims.
“Thank you for coming here and supporting victims’ families,” said Saran Erdenebat, wife of the late Gerald Fischman, who was the editorial page editor at The Capital. “I feel stronger now.”
U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes and State Delegate Herb McMillan all spoke in support of freedom of the press, with some calling out recent aggression against journalists.
“We honor The Capital continuing under very difficult circumstances to make clear the freedom of press will live on here in Annapolis,” Cardin said.
“It is a great stain on all of our country that we have not done more to prevent these senseless tragedies,” Van Hollen said.
Editors from The Capital, The New York Times and The Washington Post were among several journalists who spoke.
Washington Post editor Marty Baron spoke of each of the five killed that day, and said they should be seen as regular, decent people, just like everybody else in the community.
“Not one of them deserved to be seen as the enemy because of the profession they chose, or the place they worked,” he said. “To demean, to demonize them, to dehumanize them is to debase yourself.”
Baron said it was important not just to reflect on the “horror of June 28th,” but also to reflect on what the country’s founders gave future generations: free expression and freedom of the press — “what James Madison called the only effectual guardian of every other right.”
“These are different times,” said Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, referring to the animosity and sometimes violent action against journalists in the United States and in several countries around the world.
He specifically called out President Donald Trump for his twitter posting last year when he called journalists the “enemy of the American people.”
Speaking to the crowd, Andrea Chamblee, the wife of fallen Capital sports editor and news writer John McNamara, said she “became a member of a very special club” last month.
“It’s one that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Just the United States,” she said, referring to victims of gun violence.
She urged the audience to join another club — one of registered voters.
“I implore you. I invite you. I beg you. I welcome you to this club,” she said.
Many festival attendees knew the Capital journalists who were killed and came to support their families and others in journalism.
Sarah Cahalan, 47, said she came to support the city, her husband who works for the City of Annapolis, and the newspaper.
“We also knew a lot of the reporters so we’re here to support and honor them,” she said.
Zena Saunders came with fellow Annapolis resident Venus Branford. Both said they knew and appreciated Winters, especially her coverage of the Robin Wood community.
“We came to support the cause of anti-violence and press freedom.” Saunders said.
Danielle Gaines, a reporter of Bethesda Magazine, stood in the audience wearing a “Journalism Matters” T-shirt. She was a State House reporter working for the Frederick News-Post when the shooting happened. It shook her and she has tried since to do what she can to support other journalists.
“I bought T-shirts and came to the concert,” Gaines said. “Everybody wants to help in whatever way they can.”
Her husband, Vasanth Sridharan, said, “I have a vested interest in protecting journalists — my wife is one. We want newsrooms to be open places and it’s a tragedy when they can’t be.”
8:30 p.m. This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Vasanth Sridharan. The Sun regrets the error.