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Inception & Timeline

Blue Sax

Blue Sax

It all started when Tom McHugh, our director, retired (early) from his career position as a Professor of Education and American Culture at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY. He returned to Rock Hall and Kent County, the place where he started his teaching career. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of music and his background as a semi-professional musician, he began to stage informal concerts. A local real estate mogul offered him the free use of a crumbling building in 1997, and The Mainstay was born. The name refers to that stay on a sailing vessel which supports the whole superstructure, holds things together..that is what The Mainstay wanted to do…  to support, buttress and hold together the great arts community of Rock Hall, Md.


  • The first “pre-Mainstay” concert is held at the America’s Cup Café, adjacent to the current Mainstay.


  • The first floor of a storefront building on Main Street in Rock Hall is rented as concert space and name The Mainstay. There is no stage at first.
  • Charlie Byrd performs at The Mainstay, the first of several concerts there before his death. The relationship with Charlie Byrd is the beginning of an enduring Mainstay jazz legacy.
  • The first annual FallFest, “A Celebration of Family and Community”, is held in Rock Hall, featuring music and crafts and organized by Mainstay volunteers.


  • The Mainstay is organized as a 501(c)3 corporation to facilitate fundraising.
  • The Mainstay joins the North American Folk Alliance.
  • Volunteers build a stage with lights and a basic sound system.



  • The “Charlie Byrd Jazz Series” is established at The Mainstay.


  • The Mainstay building is purchased after a fundraising campaign.


  • The Mainstay receives an NEA grant for nonprofit administrative study.
  • Maryland Citizens for the Arts recognizes The Mainstay for community development.


The Byrd Room

The Byrd Room

  • The “Kids Are First” grant program is established to support local children’s programs and activities.
  • The first of several forums about Rock Hall History is held.
  • Tom McHugh, Mainstay Executive Director, accepts the Kent County Volunteer of the Year award.
  • Volunteers raise $40,000 in a single dinner and auction event for The Mainstay and its community programs.
  • A lounge/refreshment area (The Byrd Room) and a deck are added to The Mainstay.


  • A “Burn the Mortgage” concert is held to celebrate payoff of the entire mortgage on The Mainstay building.
  • The “Hedgelawn Classical Music Series” is established.


  • "Max n' Friends" Thursday night jazz series begins.


  • Hire contract staff to assist with booking and marketing.


  • Received significant bequest from Lillian B. Fairall Foundation.
  • Celebrated 10th annnual Rock Hall FallFest.
  • Made a major investment in improved stage lighting and sound system.


  • Received first annual Maryland State Arts Council Operations Grant.
  • Began a free outdoor summer concert series "Music in Oyster Court."


  • Received first grant from The Mid-Shore Community Foundation.


  • Received grant from The John Ben Snow Foundation for youth jazz programs at Kent County High School and Washington College.
  • Volunteers hold a major fundraising gala, the second in 13 years.
  • Provided college scholarship to a Kent County High School graduate majoring in music.


  • Provided an arts administration internship for a Washington College senior.
  • Celebrated the 20,000th visitor to the Tolchester Beach Revisited Museum.
  • Inaugurated The Charlie Byrd Society to recognize major donors to The Mainstay.
  • Presented 60 events with a total attendance of 5,000, a new record.


  • And the beat goes on...!









“Thanks primarily to The Mainstay, this working watermen’s village is now a household name in the world of music.”

Ann Hennessy
Lillian E. Fairall Foundation

“It’s appropriate that The Mainstay should be nominated for the Maryland Arts Council Award.”

Becky Byrd

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