Sadly, concerts are among the most beloved summer staples that were scrapped this year due to COVID-19. And WTMD’s annual concert series, First Thursdays, is one of the music festivals locals miss most.
In accordance with social-distancing guidelines, the Towson radio station made the decision to cancel the monthly shows—which are typically attended by thousands at Canton Waterfront Park.
But, on June 4, WTMD presented its first-ever virtual First Thursday festival. Viewers tuned into the radio station’s Facebook page to watch performances by soulful singer Allen Stone, multi-genre band Chicano Batman, and our own DJ Landis Expandis.
The station partnered with Baltimore-based photography and videography production company, Human Being Productions, to handle the technical side of the concert, and WTMD’s program director Scott Mullins says it went off without a hitch.
Because the event received so much positive feedback, the station has decided to continue the virtual concerts for the rest of the summer. The next livestreamed show is scheduled for July 2, featuring performances from renowned singer-songwriter Grace Potter, Americana darling Sarah Jarosz, British folk singer Laura Marling, alternative country and rock musician Katie Pruitt, Maryland native Michael Nau, and homegrown rapper and hip-hop artist Eze Jackson.
“None of us are under the illusion that this is taking the place of a real, live musical event,” Mullins says. “It’s making the best of a bad situation.”
As the series features artists from all over the country, most of the performances are pre-recorded. During the first show, WTMD’s afternoon drive host, Carrie Evans, introduced the acts while broadcasting live from the studio.
Mullins says the station modeled the virtual concerts off of the old MTV VJs, where DJs would tie broadcasts together by airing various music videos. The first show included skits, promos, and short appearances from local artists along with the musical performances.
“One of the things we decided when putting this together was that it did not need to be a straightaway concert performance,” Mullins adds.
One of the bonuses of planning a virtual series was the ease Mullins had in booking the musical acts. He’s found that performers are much more likely to commit to a virtual concert, rather than a live performance: “While the virtual First Thursdays had its limitations,” he says, “it also offered up some opportunities that you don’t have with a live event.”
Pre-coronavirus, WTMD organized a total revamp of its annual outdoor festival, planning to partner with Baltimore childcare network, Napp, to create a Saturday Morning Tunes Kids’ Corner for children to engage in themed arts and crafts while listening to the music with their parents. In collaboration with Made in Baltimore, the station also planned to create a market featuring more than 20 local makers, selling everything from apparel to personal care products. True to the festival’s musical roots, the market would also boast a DJ area for up-and-coming spinners to mix tracks.
“Our disappointment in not being able to do it is huge,” Mullins says. “We hope to be able to pursue those changes for next season.”