Havre de Grace plans concert with alcohol sales as part of Independence Day activities

Amid all the back-and-forth about public safety during Havre de Grace's annual Independence Day celebration activities, the city commission planning the event has received approval to hold a concert, at which alcohol will be sold, in Hutchins Park.

The Amish Outlaws, who originally were scheduled to perform live on Washington Street on Sunday, July 2, will perform in the park at the foot of Congress Avenue instead, after the City Council unanimously approved the event earlier this week.

The concert will be the same day as the annual parade and fireworks show, plus a First Fridays-style event planned downtown before the concert.

Admission to the concert, which begins at 7 p.m., is free; food and alcoholic beverages will be sold by American Legion Post 47 during the event, according to Jason Robertson, the commission's treasurer.

"We're figuring people will be able to hang out, listen to music, drink and eat out in the park just prior to the fireworks going off," Robertson said Wednesday, the day after he won election to the city council in Havre de Grace's annual municipal election.

According to the band's website, the Amish Outlaws "constantly surprise the audience and keep them guessing as to what they could possibly play next, from Johnny Cash to Jay Z, Lady Gaga to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Bon Jovi to Elvis Presley, The Foo Fighters to Dropkick Murphys, to theme songs from the TV shows they have come to know."

The band, based in Lancaster, Pa., is scheduled to play at Looney's Pub in Bel Air Friday night.

The Hutchins Park concert is a new addition to the annual Havre de Grace Independence Day celebrations, which are being organized this year by the commission, members of which were appointed by Mayor Bill Martin, after the long-time members of the nonprofit Independence Day Celebration Committee resigned en masse following the 2016 celebration.

The former committee had been at odds with Martin and other city officials over locations for some traditional events – namely a carnival and fireworks – which had been held in Tydings Park for decades. City officials raised questions about security during last July's carnival and fireworks after the events ended.

There will not be a week-long carnival prior to the Independence Day parade. The new commission had intended to hold a carnival in Hutchins Park during the five days after the parade, but couldn't make suitable arrangements with an operator. Instead, a carnival will be held in Hutchins Park during the week leading up to Labor Day, as a fundraiser for the commission.

No carnival the week of Independence Day meant Hutchins Park was free, so organizers sought approval from the city to move the Amish Outlaws from Washington Street to the park.

Having the concert in the park means there is more space for crowds, spectators can watch the fireworks from the waterfront park, plus "we can have a beer garden and some food sponsored by the American Legion," according to Robertson.

He noted the Legion usually sells food such as pit beef during the carnival to raise money, and now they can do that during the Amish Outlaws concert.

"Being able to do this will help bridge that gap and also make for a good event," Robertson said.

Martin and Councilman David Glenn noted Wednesday that there is only one way in and out from Hutchins Park, and the setup would be similar to the city-run Oktoberfest, which was held in the park in 2015 and 2016 and is planned again this year.

"Given it is one way in and one way out, this will help immensely with crowd control (much like the Octoberfest where there were no safety concerns)," Glenn, who chairs the city's public safety committee, wrote in an email, adding that "we also plan to have police presence on site to enhance overall safety."

Martin said about 3,200 people have attended Oktoberfest each year, and there have not been any problems.

"That's a free, open to the public event that sells beer and food," he said.

He said the single park entrance makes it much easier to control alcohol service, as patrons cannot leave the park with their drinks.

"It's a lot better control than at the corner of Washington and Pennington," Martin said of where the concert was originally planned.

Charlie Mike, the former head of the previous committe, declined to comment on the new commission's plans.

A full slate of Independence Day events is scheduled for July 2, starting with the parade along Union Avenue at 2 p.m.

The downtown First Fridays type event is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Washington Street will be closed from Congress Avenue to St. John Street. Downtown restaurants and shops will be open, plus there will be live music and street vendors.

Organizers considered either having a beer garden during the downtown event, or asking different restaurants to host beer gardens.

"We just realized that it would be too chaotic and hectic and congested" to do that, though, Robertson said.

"We're hoping to encourage a lot of folks to come into town," he said.

Washington Street is expected to reopen to traffic after the downtown event, so concert-goers will be able to park downtown and walk to the park for the concert and fireworks, according to Robertson.

Fireworks are scheduled to go off after sunset, around 9:30 p.m. A rain date has been scheduled for Monday, July 3.

The fireworks will be shot off from a barge moored in the Susquehanna River off Concord Point, instead of the traditional location of Tydings Island. Organizers expect people will be able to see fireworks all along the city's riverfront.

The projected cost to the city for the events is $4,910 for police and $5,805 for public works, Shyla Scott, executive assistant to the mayor, told city council members at their meeting Monday night.

Public Works Director Tim Whittie confirmed, when questioned by council members, that the cost figures cover all events scheduled for July 2, not just the concert.

Visit http://www.havredegracejuly4.org for more information about the festivities.

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