The Members of the D.C.-area fan-favorite band, The Nighthawks, have been busy recording a new album set to drop in 2017, but folks attending the City of Rockville’s Independence Day Celebration will get to hear some of those new songs well in advance.
Founding member Mark Wenner promises a great mix of music from the American blues and roots band that has been playing concerts in the area since the mid-1970s. “Because we have been around so long, we have a certain number of tunes that people remember from the old days that we have to get to and,
if I don’t do them by the end of the set, someone will yell for them,” he said. “It is always a balance, you know? I don’t want to just go up there and play stuff we did 40 years ago because people will go ‘They haven’t progressed at all!’ And I don’t want to just go up there and just play brand-new stuff because then they go ‘You didn’t play my favorite song!’ So I walk this funny little balance. The new stuff, the old stuff and the stuff in-between just to show we are a living organism as opposed to some relic.”
Colleen McQuitty, Rockville’s special events manager, said the city tries to book the band to at least one of their events every year. “They are just such a crowd favorite,” she said. “They bring so many people in. People really enjoy them. We thought what a great band to have at our city’s Fourth of July event.”
The group is set to take the Stars Stage at 7 p.m. July 4, and play until the Mayor and Council greet the crowd at 8:45 p.m. The Fugitive Brass Quintet and the Rockville Concert Band will perform on the Stripes Stage at 7 and 7:45 p.m. respectively. The fireworks show is scheduled to start at 9:15 p.m. “This is a great community event,” McQuitty said. “The community can have their BBQs and cookouts during the day, and then come out to listen to some great music and watch some wonderful fireworks to top off the night.”
Growing up in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, Wenner decided to start a local band after returning to the area when a New York City band apprenticeship ended. Drawing from American roots sources along with blues, and rock and roll, the band’s focus is on patrons having fun. “Our whole approach is ‘It’s a party,'” Wenner said. “Ninety-nine percent of the shows we do–be they concerts in beautiful halls or backyard BBQs–‘It’s a party’. I have gotten people up to dance in places where they told me ‘Oh, people aren’t supposed to dance in here’.”
Each show aims to take audiences through a journey. “It’s very theatrical,” Wenner said. “When you leave one of our shows, you’ve got to feel like you’ve had an experience. That you started at point A and you’ve been taken to point B comfortably and delivered to a new place.”
The group’s members have changed over the years except for Wenner, who does vocals and harmonica, but the high caliber of talent remains the same. “I get to play with really great, great musicians,” he said. “I discovered early on, the better the guys I was playing with, the better I played…so I really always try to surround myself with the best.”
After four decades on the concert circuit, the band keeps their sets fresh for audiences and themselves by having an open set list. “You and I have probably both seen many a band that if you see them two nights in a row, you are going to see exactly the same show,” Wenner said. “From the very beginning, I found that distasteful.” Instead, he said, “I have the luxury of having great musicians that I call the songs (to during the performance). As one song is ending, I go to the guy who has to start the next song and tell him what the next song is going to be. It’s like being a quarterback. You can’t script out a whole football game. You have to play each play as the situation presents itself.”
Wenner tries to get a feel for each audience’s mood in order to create the flow of music. “That keeps it really fresh because no one, even me, knows what is going to come next,” he said. “I know a few minutes before.”
So, even those who have seen The Nighthawks before should be prepared for a completely new experience during their Independence Day concert. “Fourth of July. Outdoors. On an outdoor stage preceding the fireworks. That’s just about perfect,” Wenner said. “To have these kinds of activities like Fourth of July in Rockville as a venue that I get to play more than one year in a row (is special). …I’ve played in 49 states and a dozen other countries, Montgomery County is where I grew up and went to school and where I now live. It makes it extra special for me.”
Rockville’s Fourth of July celebration will take place at King Farm’s Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park, 1800 Piccard Drive, Rockville. For information, visit www.rockvillemd.gov/index.aspx?NID=663.