When the Potomac Jazz & Seafood Festival rolls around again in July, you can bet Annie Young of Waldorf, Md., will get there early to set up her chair near the stage for a close view of the musicians and, if the spirit moves her, get up and dance.
This is the 20th anniversary of the festival in Southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s County, and Young has attended all but one of the events.
“It’s different every year,” said the jazz fan, a retired federal government employee. “It’s relaxing, calm to the mind and the heart. And I love the water.”
The water is the Potomac River, which is the pleasant backdrop for the festival on the lawn of St. Clement’s Island Museum at 38370 Point Breeze Road, Coltons Point. For the anniversary, the festival has been expanded from one to three days, July 12-14, with activities in Leonardtown serving as bookends to the main event on Saturday, July 13.
The event has been named one of the top five music festivals in Maryland by Chesapeake Bay magazine. This year’s theme is “A Soulful Summer Serenade.”
Festival headliner is world-renowned saxophonist Mike Phillips, who has toured with Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Prince and made news playing the National Anthem at important sporting events. The lineup also includes acclaimed jazz acts Art Sherrod Jr., and Brian Simpson and Paula Atherton.
Volunteer Joan Waters said musicians selected for the festival often tour internationally and are “among the best.”
“They’re passionate about what they do,” she said. “You can hear that. They love the feedback of the audience.”
Waters said past performers have commented they like that the festival is purposely kept small (1,000 limit). She said the artists enjoy the hometown family feel; bigger concerts, in contrast, are “very mechanical — you’re in and you’re out.”
At the Potomac festival, artists hang around after concerts for autographs, pictures and CD sales.
The mood is laid back, with attendees bringing their own lawn chairs or reclining on blankets facing the tented stage. Many cluster in groups, as if at a family reunion. Children play, and folks socialize at picnic tables under the trees. Last year, a woman in a wheelchair didn’t let the cast on her leg keep her from the fun.
With contented looks on their faces, attendees nod their heads, tap their feet, sway or dance to the music, which ranges from slow and sultry to lively and upbeat.
“I was looking for something interesting, new. I thought I’d do something different this weekend,” said first-timer Donna Skibbe of Washington, D.C., who attended last year’s festival on a friend’s recommendation.
Longtime festival-goer Diane Crandall of California, Md., said you see some of the same people year after year.
“Look at the location,” she said. “The music is great. The venue is great. Everybody’s pleasant. It’s [the festival] the best-kept secret anywhere.”
Enjoy free admission to St. Clement’s Island Museum, an 1820 red schoolhouse, and water taxi tours around historic St. Clement’s Island, a state park whose 40-foot cross commemorates the landing of the first Maryland colonists in 1634.
Choose among many food and drink vendors. A major emphasis will be on seafood specialties, including oysters, shrimp, catfish, salmon, rockfish and crab cakes, plus options for non-seafood eaters.
A new twist
For the anniversary year, activities have been added in Leonardtown, 20 minutes away from the festival site.
On Friday night, the Chesapeake Swingband will perform a free concert in Leonardtown Square, with jazz music from different eras. Attendees are encouraged to wear period costume. After-parties will be held at local restaurants.
On Sunday, jazz-themed activities will be held all over town: restaurant brunches; a jazz-age film screening; fitness studio jazz classes; tastings at Port of Leonardtown Winery Cooperative; and an afternoon event featuring local jazz artists at Shepherds Old Field Market.
In addition, jazz-flavored events will be held throughout the month, including art gallery shows and jazz-themed cocktails.
The festival is sponsored by the Friends of St. Clement’s Island and Piney Point Lighthouse Museums and St. Mary’s County Museum Division, joined this year by the Town of Leonardtown and Visit St. Mary’s, Md.
The goal, according to the museum division’s Karen Stone, is to entice festival attendees to stay longer than a day and enjoy what the area has to offer.
Fairfield Inn Lexington Park Patuxent River Naval Air Station and Home2 Suites are offering hotel packages for the weekend and other hotels may have discounts.
Dale Springer of the Friends group said the festival is the organization’s principle fundraiser for museum projects. Preliminary studies have been undertaken to remodel St. Clement’s Island Museum, adding a second floor and a third-floor tower.
Waters said the legacy of the late Kim Cullins, festival founder and longtime organizer, still inspires the event.
What if it rains?
“We don’t care, ‘cuz the music is that good!” Waters said.
What: Potomac Jazz & Seafood Festival
When: July 12-14
Where: St. Clement’s Island Museum and Leonardtown, Md.