Music for the Ages

Frederick County Public Libraries’ Music on the Terrace Brings Eclectic, Lunchtime Sounds to Downtown

By Kate Mcdermott | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 09.20.13 – Diversions, Lifestyles

A visit to the C. Burr Artz branch of the Frederick County Public Library on Fridays this month offers an interesting study in contrasts. Inside the library, hushed voices and silenced cell phones provide a welcome respite from the general cacophony of life. Yet outside the building, just a few feet away, drums bang, saxophones blare and guitars break into frenzied riffs as fans young and old alike stomp their feet and clap their hands at the library’s annual Music on the Terrace concerts at the Carroll Creek Linear Park Amphitheater.

The lunchtime concerts have become a highly anticipated rite of fall, yet in the beginning organizers weren’t sure how well the muted silence of the library and amplified guitar strums would co-exist. “It was a complete open book as to where this idea could go,” says Elizabeth Cromwell, corporate and community partnerships manager for the library. “We started when the [Downtown branch] building was brand new and most people didn’t know we had a terrace.” But once the public discovered the outdoor space that overlooks Carroll Creek and the lunchtime concerts, the crowds quickly outgrew the terrace and organizers decided to move the events to the creek.

The move was also a reflection of the challenge facing libraries in the 21st century. “Our busiest branch is now our website, so we are doing more and more things outside of our walls,” Cromwell says, citing the library’s community outreach events such as the Frederick Speaker Series at the Weinberg Center for the Arts and summer First Friday Fun Fests at Westview Promenade.

Ageless and Timeless

When the concert series was launched in 2002, Cromwell expected the audience to be primarily Downtown business people on their lunch breaks. “But that hasn’t turned out to be our core audience,” she says. Because the concerts are held on school days, the majority of the attendees are either preschoolers or seniors.

Willie Gardner is a retiree from Frederick who has been attending the concerts since the inaugural season. She is usually joined by five or six friends. “That’s our thing to do,” she says. “We get out our floppy hats, pack a lunch or sometimes we go to a restaurant.”

As the widow of a military retiree, Gardner has lived all over the world and appreciates the diversity of the tunes showcased at the concerts. “The music is just outstanding. I look forward to the different artists that they have. I have a wide taste in music so I appreciate it whether it is country, jazz or blues,” she says, admitting however, that she does have her limits.

“No heavy metal.”

Valerie Atmonavage, the library’s community partnerships specialist, remembers that back when the concerts were held on the terrace it wasn’t uncommon for the more senior members of the audience to arrive an hour early to secure their seats. “There was a lot of dodging, bobbing and stink-eye if you took a seat that someone had been saving,” she recalls.

Now that the concerts are held at the amphitheater, there is more room to spread out, which is especially important for the younger members of the audience. Last September, Betsy Collings was on maternity leave and able to attend the concerts with her daughters, Caroline (who was 2 at the time), and her newborn, Josephine. “There was such a wide range of ages,” Collings says. “You had old-timers in their chairs and little kids dancing. To see the dynamic between the two was really fun.”

Everyone agrees that the best part of the concerts is that they are free. “Our city does an amazing job of offering free cultural events, so you don’t have to pinch your pennies to attend,” Collings says.

Talent Search

Cromwell has been able to attract some acts that tour nationally, often performing at venues in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, and on the evenings of their Friday afternoon concerts in Frederick. But the most important factor in selecting acts is finding those that reflect the library’s mission of providing people with new experiences. “People know they will see something they haven’t seen before and I think that’s part of the appeal,” says Atmonavage. “They wonder what kind of band they will hear today.”

The artists appreciate being given a chance to showcase their styles. “We have received so much positive feedback,” Cromwell says. “They love the idea of coming to a library instead of a dirty, dark bar. Plus, we provide a nice lunch.”

Karla Chisholm certainly feels that way. Her band played one of the concerts last summer and she hopes they will get the chance to play again. “It’s thrilling to see everyone come together—people on their lunch breaks, seniors, kids. It’s pretty cool to see everyone united in the experience,” she says.

Cromwell admits finding music that can appeal to an audience that includes toddlers and octogenarians can be tricky. She recalls one year inviting a band whose music, in addition to being very loud, was also, in her words, “quite edgy.” One of the senior members of the audience motioned to Cromwell and asked to speak to her inside, away from the noise. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Get the complaint form ready,’” Cromwell recalls. “Then the woman said to me, ‘Thank God, you finally got some rock ‘n’ roll!’”