THE TIME is right for dancing in our village centers. Summer is here, and Columbia merchant associations are sponsoring free summer concerts.
From music to magic to puppet shows, families can enjoy entertainment as well as alfresco dining in their neighborhood shopping center.
Most of the acts rotate through the village courtyards. All are professional, many from our area.
"I was looking forward to it this year," said Mike Mesa, 51, as he listened to the American roots music of the Dave Chappell Band while eating lunch on a shady bench in the village center earlier this month. "I come here every Friday that I can."
Mesa, an engineer, works in a Kings Contrivance office park.
He says he prefers country music, but he was clearly enjoying the polished rock 'n' roll guitar style of band members Chappell, John Previty of Hyattsville and Jim Stephanson of Camp Springs. Chappell is a resident of Long Reach.
The three are full-time musicians who perform regularly in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"It's beautiful. Wish we could play more gigs like this," said Stephanson, surveying the crowd.
Kids swayed to the music in front of the stage. Senior citizens enjoyed a toe-tapping lunch at the tables. Escapees from nearby offices blended in easily.
No jackets are required. Shirt-sleeves were the order of the day.
Dottie Copley, 34, says she tries to make it to all the Kings Contrivance lunchtime shows.
"Music is a very important part of living," she says. She loves music of all kinds, "except for modern country," she said, between bites of a Blimpie sub.
Columbia newcomer Lisa Godkin was having lunch with her son, Beau, 3. She said she likes the concerts because they give her "a chance to mingle and make new friends in the neighborhood."
Mable Gowie, 77, a native of Jamaica, rode the bus from Oakland Mills to see Annapolis resident Orlando Phillips play in the courtyard at Kings Contrivance on Friday.
Phillips plays Caribbean music.
"Last year, I saw his daughter dancing at the village center," Gowie said. "It's music from my home. Now I am on his mailing list."
Gowie keeps a postcard with the dates and times of Phillips' appearances in her purse.
A solo act, Phillips uses modern technology to make the sound of a whole reggae band come alive. Backed up on electronic drum and rhythm machine, Phillips sings and plays saxophone, steel drum, keyboards or bass guitar.
Sitting at a table front and center with Gowie on Friday were seniors Ed Joell, Mildred Spinks and Delores Mosely -- all residents of Oakland Mills.
They joined Kings Contrivance resident Carolyn Brown, 42, at her table. She had recently fled the erupting volcano on Montserrat.
Now Gowie will keep them all up to date on Phillips' appearances.
"I felt like I was in the Bahamas," said Irene Black, who was buying a copy of Phillips' CD "RastAmerican" from the musician's daughter Ana, 9.
The Hunters Creek resident came for the music with daughter Christine, 2.
The mother and daughter first had lunch at Trattoria E Pizzeria, then danced away the noon hour until Christine signaled with a yawn that it was time for a nap.
At other east-side villages, the concerts are held in the evenings.
In Long Reach on Thursday, the popular Baltimore group The Satyr Hill Band played bluegrass tunes to a comfortable dinner-time crowd.
The five-member group is led by veteran violinist Judd "The Hawk" Hawkins -- an original member of the 27-year-old group, which got its start at a club in the Satyr Hill shopping center in Baltimore.
The group set up on an elevated concrete platform in front of Stonehouse, the Long Reach community center. Listeners sat on benches, lawn chairs or in the "bowl area" -- an amphitheater of broad curving steps.
Others sat around tables under green umbrellas. Many brought picnic dinners.
Domino's offers a discount on carryout orders during the concerts. "I love this," said Steve Wells, who has managed the Long Reach pizza franchise for the past 10 years. "I wish everybody could come out and see the bands."
On Thursday, the Swinging Daves -- also featuring Dave Chappell -- will play at Long Reach. The concerts are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The Oakland Mills village concert series will begin July 9, starting at 6 p.m.
"Kinderman" John Taylor of Oakland Mills -- known for his "Get Loose with Mother Goose" nursery rap -- will kick off the season with his lively show for children.
The idea of summer entertainment was first tried six years ago when the Hammond High School Band played a few times at Kings Contrivance in the spring. The performances brought residents into the village center and merchants were pleased.
Columbia Management Inc. (CMI) -- the company that oversees the operation and upkeep of the village centers -- books the talent.
But the lineup of acts is driven by the shopkeepers, who suggest performers they think will appeal to their customers.