As a college student in Norfolk, Doug Downer used to attend TGIF events on the waterfront, listening to great music and meeting those living around him. Decades later, while living in Herndon, serving as vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, Downer had an idea to recapture the fun and magic of those events.
“I felt like we needed to have something like that around here, but there was no logical place to do it,” he said. “When the town built the new municipal center, they built an open green area and a stage for concerts for the Herndon Festival. When I saw those plans, I immediately thought it would be the perfect place to do it.”
In 1995, the first Friday Night Live was held, and over the last 18 years, the Herndon concert series has been a huge success, attracting thousands of people each Friday
“It started as a low-key event and has really grown from there,” Downer said. “Over 18 years, we have tried all types of things and fallen into a formula that works for us. What we do is play music that people like and we know if they like it or not by whether they come.”
With the help of Pat Barton, president of Party DC Events, Downer has been able to offer a very popular lineup of musicians year after year.
“We try to bring in the highest quality acts that we can considering we don’t charge,” he said. “We bring a lot of bands into the area that don’t get to play a lot here.”
Friday Night Live offers a family-friendly, neighborhood atmosphere, with people bringing blankets and picnic baskets. Last year, a craft beer of the month was introduced and proved to be very popular, so that will return. There are plenty of other food and beverage choices as well.
“On a typical night, we get 2,000 to 3,000 people,” Downer said. “We have a real cool grass green space specifically built for concerts. It is weather dependent, but we try not to cancel, unless we get rained on hard enough so we can’t do it.”
This year’s series kicks off on May 4 with Laura Lea and Tripp Fabulous, a hard-hitting, female-fronted band based out of Philadelphia with an array of original and cover songs.
Drop Dead Sexy and South Bay are up next on May 11, followed by Delaware-based rockers Love Seed Mama Jump on May 18, and the ’80s tribute band The Reagan Years on May 25.
“We’ve been doing this long enough now that we have bands that play year after year,” Downer said. “We bring back popular bands and we always try to bring in some new ones.”
On Aug. 3, the Richmond, Va.-based Jimmy Buffett tribute band, B2B will be hitting the Herndon stage for its eighth-straight year.
“Our feeling is that it’s definitely the most popular outdoor concert series in this area for free. It’s been very successful and works,” said Gary Snead, lead singer of B2B. “We try to put on a high energy performance that delivers the essence of a Jimmy Buffett concert with faithful interpretations of his music, without resorting to costumes or props attempting to mimic his shows.”
The band looks forward to returning every year to celebrate the summer with “our most loyal fan base in the entire mid-Atlantic.”
“In our second year, a storm brought a deluge that soaked the sound company’s mixing board, and they pulled the plug because of equipment damage,” Snead said. “The audience was so cool, and so much wanted to keep going, that we pulled our own PA from our trailer, set it up in under an hour, and finished the show, to the crowd’s delight.”
Local rock band JunkFood will be playing on June 22, returning for the ninth time.
“JunkFood is all about crowd interaction, fun and forgetting about the real world for a few hours,” said the band’s frontman, Bart Harris. “It’s always a relaxing fun gig and the honesty of the crowd is great. There always seems to be a diverse crowd there too and it’s refreshing. It’s like playing in your best friend’s backyard.”
A longtime favorite to the series is party cover band Gonzo’s Nose, back for a HFNL-record 14th time. The band has a massive play list of hundreds of songs and tailors the Herndon show to upbeat and danceable songs, which generally means a mix of ’80s hits together with more recent music, including songs that are on the charts right now.
“We love Friday Night Live and have looked forward to it each of the 14 years we’ve played it,” said frontman Steven Spishak. “There’s nothing like it in the area: we start playing while the sun is up, and the lawn is filled with kids playing with their parents. As the sun goes down, the crowd gets closer to the stage and the glow sticks come out.”
Money for the free concerts comes from more than 40 corporate sponsors, with the Volkswagen Group of America serving as title sponsor.
All events begin at approximately 6:30 p.m. For a complete schedule, visit http://www.herndonrocks.com/schedule.php.