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Get Down with the Wind Down
by Pepper Van Tassell & photos by Melissa Fountain
Wind Down Friday expands its appeal with hopes for the biggest season yet.
When Michael Weiss was watching live music at a Wind Down Friday event with his young daughter a few years ago, the Hagerstown businessman wondered why the event couldn’t offer something for kids, and why it couldn’t fill the entire Arts & Entertainment District with people.
At the same time, attendance was dwindling at the events, which were intended to raise money for The Maryland Theatre and draw residents to downtown. As Jessica Green, executive director of The Maryland Theatre, worked to recoup costs, a Wind Down Committee — including Jessica and Michael — was formed in collaboration with The Maryland Theatre, the City of Hagerstown, Greater Hagerstown, and What’s NXT, to give the program a facelift.
“We wanted it to be a family event, and what we saw with the (Maryland Theatre) courtyard was that it was nice listening to the band, but there was nothing else for a family to do there…we wanted things for kids, and saw a bigger vision for what it could be,” says Michael.
In 2014 — the first year the program moved to family-friendly events filling the first block of South Potomac Street — attendance tripled, Jessica says. And the block — as Michael imagined — was filled with about 500 people for each event. “The most exciting part is that you just see downtown filled with people,” Jessica says.
Each monthly event in 2015 will carry a theme, and feature live music, children’s activities, vendors, and artists. Themes for this year include “Brews, Blues, and BBQ” on May 8, highlighting the 20th anniversary of The Blues Fest in downtown Hagerstown; and “Celebrating 100 Years” on June 5, highlighting the 100th anniversary of The Maryland Theatre — and there will be cakes, lots of birthday cakes. The July theme is all about motorcycles and skateboards; and the August event will be a pet-friendly one referred to as “The Dog Days of Summer.”
Under the revamped Wind Down Hagerstown, attendees over 21 can buy a souvenir cup, beer, and wristband at The Maryland Theatre and roam the first block of South Potomac Street with their cup. Refills can be purchased for $5 at the theater. “If you’re not drinking, it’s free,” Jessica says.
Jessica says that when Wind Down was started by theater volunteers seven years ago, attendance was at first high, but due to some confusion over the spacing of the events (many believed that they were held every Friday), people started to forget about them, and the theater wasn’t covering the costs to host them. The theater charged a $5 cover, but it kept some people from attending, she adds. “I like that we are now attracting all different types of people,” Jessica says.
Getting the Word Out
Melissa Fountain, a member of the Wind Down Committee and director of events at What’s NXT, says she became involved because of the publication’s goals to revitalize downtown, and she is hopeful that the program will grow even more this year. She facilitates Wind Down Hagerstown’s Facebook page, and solicits feedback from the community about what they would like to see. The Downtown Movement — the community organization whose purpose is to inspire the people of Hagerstown to move the community back to its central business district — has also been offering resources and volunteers to help.
“Last year, we were just getting the word out about the changes being made. This year, people are aware of the changes. They are following social media more. I’m excited to see what happens,” Melissa says.
Tweaking the Program
The committee, which meets monthly, is learning from past successes too. Each recalled how much they loved watching the children using sidewalk chalk to draw on the streets. Also successful were a petting zoo held last year as part of an “Agventures” event — tying to the Washington County Ag Expo & Fair — and a pumpkin-carving contest among local celebrities for an added October event. “I enjoy most seeing people’s excitement over activities that we have come up with that maybe we didn’t know would be successful,” Melissa says.
Michael says that the big focus this year has been working on ways to attract more business to the restaurants in the Arts & Entertainment District through beer sales, and trying to get more vendors and artists involved. Mary Anne Burke, executive director of the Washington County Arts Council, says the gallery — which is in the Arts & Entertainment District — will run another art market for the June event, and began accepting artist applications in April. She has lined up chalk artist Suzee White to draw on the sidewalks for children.
“It’s very exciting to see large groups of people of all ages up and down the street,” Mary Anne says. The gallery is also open later on Wind Down nights, and Mary Anne appreciates the added traffic. The Arts Council has made a few sales, and appreciates the exposure, she says. Michael adds, “We appreciate the community support and hope it gets better, and bigger.” He imagines future events where more than one block is shut down for activities, but admits, “We have to start small.”
Jessica says there are still sponsorships open for 2015, and that anyone looking for updates on Wind Down Hagerstown events can find out more on the Wind Down Friday Facebook page as well as their website, www.winddownhagerstown.com.
2015 Wind Down Friday Themes and Bands:
May 8: “Blues, Brews & BBQs” featuring Moondog Medicine Show
June 5: “Celebrating 100 Years” featuring Staff Infection
July 17: “Rev it Up...Bikes, Boards & Beers” featuring River Knot
Aug. 21: “Dog Days of Summer” featuring Prophets of the Abstract Truth
Sept. 25: “Thunder in the Square” featuring The Cruisers
Oct. 16: “Freaky Friday” featuring The Tone Hounds