Couples of all ages glide and weave around the floor of the dance pavilion at Pen Mar Park in Cascade, Maryland, just south of Waynesboro on High Rock Road at the Mason-Dixon Line. At an elevation of about 1,400 feet, the park's multi-level overlook pavilion offers one of the best views in the region.
Some of the dancers have taken lessons and are quite talented, others may be untrained but display their own unique flair. People come dressed in any style, from formal to casual; stories are even told of one couple who used to come to the dances dressed in homemade matching costumes. Even hiking boots are acceptable attire on the dance floor, as the Appalachian Trail passes right by the dance pavilion. This variety is typical of the Sunday Music Series at the Park.
The summer Sunday concerts have been ongoing for close to 30 years and are one of the biggest attractions in the area. People come with lawn chairs and picnic baskets to enjoy a Sunday afternoon listening to the strains of a musical group, sit with friends around the pavilion, or just enjoy the sweeping view and the sylvan setting.
"People come because this is one of the most beautiful parks in Washington County," said Fay Powers, who with her late husband, Jim, organized the annual concert series for so long - 25 years - that it is now named for the couple. Powers, now 75, does a little bit of everything. from booking the bands to collecting the donations to setting out the chairs for the musicians.
The locale draws visitors from as far away as Michigan. One couple comes from there every summer and always leaves a donation in honor of their parents who lived locally and faithfully attended in the summers.
Shirley Rienks has been attending the dance concerts since she retired nine years ago. "I dance with whomever asks me," she said, "and I do everything from line dancing to the cha cha and the polka." She and others have formed friendships on the dance floor that are renewed every summer.
The concerts run for 19 weeks and about that many different sorts of dance bands participate. The Dave Winter Group which will perform on July 17, for instance, is a three-man combo of keyboard, drums, and guitar or electric violin. They perform throughout the area for dance groups with a large repertoire of music styles, from ballroom favorites to old standards to pop music, said Linda Winter.
The Ray Birely Orchestra still performs on the key date in the calendar - Everybody's Day - which falls on August 28 this year. Bierly's son Rocky has his own combo and has been scheduled for two dates this summer - the next will be Sept. 25.
Pen Mar Park came into being as an amusement park built by the Western Maryland Railroad, which sought a destination to draw visitors to the area. After it opened in 1877, a number of fashionable hotels and comfortable inns soon arose to serve the summer guests escaping the heat of the cities.
However, as beach-going became more popular, the area dwindled to a close in 1943. In 1977, the park was re-opened by Washington County and has enjoyed a receptive audience.
The amusement park is long gone, but Pen Mar still offers a broad view of the valley and access to the Appalachian Trail, and now features a snack bar with great hot dogs, a charming octagonal interpretive center and all kinds of slides in lively primary colors for young visitors to climb on. Benches line the main paved path, each with a plaque bearing the name of an individual or family. Indeed, so few are now available that the county is considering attaching similar plaques to the trees.
Weddings, family reunions and other functions can be scheduled, for a fee, through the Washington County Parks and Facilities Department.
WHEN YOU GO:
Jim and Fay Powers Music Series
Pen Mar Park
14600 Pen Mar High Rock Road
Dances are Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.
Open through Oct. 2
There is no fee, but donations are accepted
For Information on rentals, call 240-313-2807
The concert schedule for the rest of the 2016 season is as follows:
June 19 - Headliners
June 26 - Back to Back
July 3 - Connie Guy Band
July 10 - Arrow Trio
July 17 - Dave Winters Group
July 24 - Jay and the Jingos
July 31 - Spectrum
Aug. 7 - Joe Borzellino Combo
Aug. 14 - Andy Angel Quartet
Aug. 21 - Music by Just Us
Aug. 28 - Ray Birely Orchestra (Everybody’s Day)
Sept. 4 - Détente
Sept. 11 - The Holders
Sept. 18 - George Tindall Combo
Sept. 25 - Rocky Birely Combo
Oct. 2 - The Bill Krantz Combo