Town music man not ready to pass baton

NEIGHBORS

August 09, 2002|By Lesa Jansen | Lesa Jansen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DRIFT AWAY TO a different era, when the pace was slow, the only talk of growth was about the year's farm crops, and Mount Airy was a picture postcard of small-town America.

On Sunday in the town's century-old Wildwood Park, music once again will fill the air as it did at the start of the 20th century as the concerts in the park series continues.

"It just makes me feel like old times, sitting under a group of trees, gazing up and listening to a band play," said C. Oscar Baker, a lifelong Mount Airy resident and the driving force behind the concerts in the park series.

"The tradition goes way back," said Baker, 80. "Ever since I can remember, there were band concerts here."

But by the 1990s, the park was neglected and overgrown with weeds, and all activities were memories. Three years ago, Baker stepped in.

After talking with then-mayor Gerald Johnson, he organized a revived concert series.

"The town had just put the gazebo in the park and I said it would be great to bring in music again," said Baker.

Mount Airy businessman Bob Blackert, owner of Twin Arch Self Storage, put up $1,000 to sponsor the project its first year.

"I saw that the town was trying to put this project together," said Blackert, "and I thought to myself, `This is crazy, it ought to be businesses, not the town, to pay for something like this.'"

Each year since, the series has presented six concerts during the summer, the second and fourth Sundays of each month.

The music is diverse, from traditional marching band music to big-band sounds, country and a seven-piece professional jazz group from Baltimore.

"We want to appeal to everyone," said Baker. "People from as far away as Hagerstown and York, Pa., have called me to ask, `What's the story on this concert in the park?'"

This year, Blackert doubled his contribution.

"We don't do it too big," he said. "Then it might lose some of its hometown flavor."

Up to 200 people have shown up for concerts. Blackert has recruited other local business owners to donate gift certificates that are given at a drawing at the end of each concert.

"I think this is a way for the businesses to give back to the community," said Blackert.

Love Mountain, which plays bluegrass, gospel and country-western music, will be featured Sunday. The concert will begin at 6:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to take chairs or blankets for seating.

The final concert this summer is scheduled for Aug. 25, featuring the Browningsville Band, one of the oldest marching bands in the state.

The band is based in Browningsville, a small town near Damascus, and has been playing at events at Wildwood Park since the 1920s.

The man behind the music in the park is not slowing down. Baker is looking to next year's series.

He knows that to book the best bands, one has to start making calls in midwinter, which he plans to do.

He wants to see the concerts continue for many years, but knows someone else eventually will have to take the lead.

"When you're 80, you can't keep on doing this forever - you have to pass it on to someone else," he said. "Somebody just has to take the ball and go with it."

Veggie stories

Wednesday nights in August will be Veggie Tales night at Mount Airy's Wildwood Park.

Faith Tabernacle Assembly of God in Mount Airy is sponsoring family activities at the park featuring the Christian-based series "Veggie Tales."

Singing, puppets, balloon sculptures, face-painting, free prizes and snacks are scheduled.

A youth drama will be presented.

The activities will run from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Aug. 21 at the park.

Information: 301-829-1255 or www.thecaringchurch.org.

Lesa Jansen's Southwest neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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