In 1984, when Frederick’s 4th - An Independence Day Celebration was first held, the Smithereens were two years away from releasing their first album, “Especially for You.” The band’s subsequent single, “Blood and Roses,” propelled them into the ’80s power pop limelight, and after 32 years of playing together, they’re still going strong mostly intact for their headlining performance at the 29th annual event on Wednesday.
The day begins at noon in Baker Park, but the Smithereens don’t take the Main Stage until 4:15 p.m. From there, they’ll rock the crowd with a mix of new material, older B-sides and covers from their album tributes to the Beatles and The Who. However, the band won’t know any more than the audience the exact songs they’ll be playing.
“There’s never a written set list at my feet,” says lead singer Pat DiNizio. “I will always know what the first song of the set will be, but we never know what the second song or the last song will be, because we always want it to be fresh and never want to do the same set twice.”
The New Jersey natives have racked up 17 studio, live and tribute albums during their run, including the most recent release, “2011.” Despite the 2006 departure of original bassist Mike Mesaros, the group has no intention of stopping any time soon, and plans to have an album ready by Christmas or spring 2013.
California native Severo “the Thrilla from Manilla” Jornacion, a longtime fan, stepped up to take the place of Mesaros, bringing a new element to the band.
“I think sometimes he works a little too hard at trying to be ‘Jersey,’” says DiNizio, “And I don’t want him to do that. He’s from California, so it’s a totally different approach to things, less of a ‘Sopranos’ experience, less ‘Jersey Shore’ and more laid back.”
After more than three decades straight of performing and touring, the Smithereens hope their audience isn’t let down by their shows, as they may be with others who, in DiNizio’s words, have “lost their passion and are merely going through the motions.” He says the group feels they have to play twice as good as a band half their age.
“What we do helps to relieve the burdens of the day for people who love our music,” DiNizio says. “If you go to a concert that uplifts you, if you leave a show feeling better than you’ve come in, then we’ve done our job.”
The Smithereens will be joined by several other musical acts across three stages throughout the day. Preceding the ’80s rock band will be students from Frederick Rock School, one of three Let There Be Rock schools in the country.
Director Scott Marceron brought the program to Frederick after visiting a school his friend runs in Folsom, Pa. “I walked out of there with goose bumps,” he recalls.
A lifelong Frederick County resident, Marceron struggled to find kids to play music with growing up.
“It was hard enough finding some, let alone finding a place to rehearse and have mentors to help along the way,” he says.
Eight to 10 student rock bands from the year-round program will perform on two stages, with a patriotic rock set at the GEICO Band Shell at 12:30 p.m. and classic ’80s rock anthems on the Main Stage at 1:45 p.m.
One Frederick Rock School mentor, Ricky Slezak, will perform as part of the Screaming Trojans, who will provide back-up for Hootie and the Blowfish guitarist Mark Bryan at 6 p.m. at the GEICO Band Shell. Bryan is no stranger to Fourth of July festivities in the area; he and the Screaming Trojans grew up in Montgomery Village.
While his official homecoming show is Aug. 3 at the South Valley Park Lawn Theater in his hometown, Bryan’s Independence Day appearance is a nice return to the area.
“I’m a Redskins season ticket holder, so I come in for games, and I go to Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s home in Potomac,” says Bryan. “Shows are just a bonus on top of all that.”
Though he’s playing with his childhood friends on the fourth, he’s typically writing new solo material or producing the work of others. Lately, he’s tried a promotional method different from the standard album release: his biweekly email “Song of the Fortnight” gets his work either his own songs or items he’s produced to his fans without any middlemen.
“It’s something different, and I’m not hassling with the messiness of getting a record deal and trying to get an album out to an audience that isn’t really buying albums anymore,” Bryan says. “It’s about getting my music out there, and this is the best way to do it in this day and age.”
Bryan and the Screaming Trojans plan on performing a mix of hia solo work, Hootie and the Blowfish material and fun classic rock covers.
The WFRE Free Country Stage also will showcase musical talent from Matt Gary at 1:30 p.m., Thompson Square at 4 p.m. and Randy Houser at 7 p.m. The Spires Brass Band will play in the GEICO Band Shell from 8 p.m. to dusk to usher in the fireworks show — an event at least one person will be watching.
“I never miss fireworks, every year,” Bryan says. “No matter where I am.”