Concert spirit unbeatable

Rain didn't stop 150 attending Bel Air Summer Concert series, a longstanding tradition

July 16, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Even with a light rain falling, an enthusiastic crowd turned out for the show, as children danced and grown-ups jammed along with the sounds of a bluegrass band.

The weather may have hampered attendance. But when the music is hot, and the show is a longstanding tradition, it's hard to quell the spirit of the crowd, and that was the case during a recent performance that was part of the 39th annual Bel Air Summer Concert series.

"What's a little rain when your favorite band is playing?" Stephen Ferragama said during the concert by the five-member Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition.

The crowd of about 150 at Shamrock Park in Bel Air was a far cry from the typical turnout for the twice-weekly summer shows - which can range from several hundred to a couple of thousand - but the Bel Air concert series continues to thrive and grow.

Marilou McGuire remembers the event from the early days in the late 1960s, when Bel Air's population was about 12,000.

"But even then, this park filled up for the summer concert series," the 68-year-old Bel Air resident said.

For some people, the performances - held on Thursdays and Sundays from June through August at the William A. Humbert Amphitheater - have become a family tradition.

"These concerts are a part of Bel Air that we need to hang onto," she said.

Summer concert series also are a fixture in other Harford communities. Havre de Grace offers shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays from June through the end of July in Tydings Park, and Aberdeen presents concerts at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at Aberdeen Festival Park through the end of August.

In Bel Air, McGuire has attended the concerts since they started and helped William A. Humbert, a charter member of the Bel Air Community Band, to get the amphitheater built in 1967.

Once the amphitheater was completed, the Bel Air band was the first to play in the series, which draws crowds from Harford, Baltimore and Cecil counties, as well as people from Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Funded through the Bel Air Recreation Council and the Harford County Arts Council, the concert series has flourished so much that after 25 years of successful seasons, the amphitheater was named in Humbert's honor.

Humbert became ill in 2000, but he continued to coordinate the concerts until 2001.

But despite losing the founder of the program, who had become a music icon in the county, the growth of concert attendance has coincided with the county's booming population. McGuire attributes the growth to the small-town ambience.

"I hope it doesn't get too big and lose its small-town charm," McGuire said.

Terry Carmody, a recreation specialist for county parks and recreation, agreed.

"People move to Bel Air to get away from the city," said Carmody. "They go to the concerts to enjoy the tranquillity of a small town."

The family atmosphere has even the bands clamoring to come back, Carmody said.

"They get such a show of appreciation from the spectators they want to come back and perform year after year," Carmody said.

And as if on cue, Jim O'Brien and his sons - Macklan, 2, and Conor, 8 - applauded vigorously after the band finished a song.

The Bel Air resident and his sons play the banjo, and after listening to the band play for a while, Conor said he aspires to be on the stage.

"I want to play the banjo like they do someday," Conor said.

John Beilfuss, who succeeded Humbert as coordinator of the program, said the concerts attract an eclectic mix of people because of the variety of the performers.

His favorite is the annual performance by the Bel Air High School Re-Union Band.

"People representing 30 years of the band play in that concert," Beilfuss said. "It's one of my favorites because it brings people in that are playing in the current band and some who have become professional musicians. It's great to see the generations of people play together."

But the most popular performers are the military bands, he said.

"People come from Annapolis and all over to hear them play," Beilfuss said.

Suzanne Procell attributes that to the military presence in Harford and Maryland. She and her husband attend about half the shows and try to make as many of the military band performances as they can.

Lazy, hazy days

Summer Concert Series

The concerts take place on Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. at the in Shamrock Park or, in case of inclement weather, at Fallston High School.

The following are the remaining concerts:

Sundays

July 16 - Peabody Ragtime Ensemble

July 23 -- U.S. Navy Band

July 30 -- 389th Army Band

August 6 -- Re-Union Concert, Bel Air High School

August 13 -- Bay City Seven

August 20 -- U.S. Naval Academy Jazz Ensemble

Wednesdays

July 19 -- Chuck Baker

July 26 -- Sounding Brass

August 2 -- Bel Air Jazz Ensemble

August 9 -- Bourbon Street Ramblers

August 16 -- Field Band Jazz Ambassadors

August 23 -- U.S. Army Field Band

Free Summer Movies

Free Bel Air Movie Nights are being offered at Shamrock Park.

All outdoor movies begin at dusk. Information: 410-638-1023

The following movies are scheduled for the remainder of the summer:

August 4 -- Dreamer, entertainment by Dance Connection

Rain Date: August 5

August 18 -- Madagascar, entertainment by Dance Conservatory of Maryland

Rain date: August 19

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