It’s Friday night. The grills are smokin’, the beer is cold and the music is loud.
As the night closes in on 8 p.m., throngs of fans pack up their coolers and file into ... Strathmore?
That’s right — this Friday, the revered concert hall hosts its first-ever tailgate party in honor of the season’s opening act, The Pat McGee Band.
“We were sort of looking at it as a homecoming,” says Jennifer Buzzell, vice president of marketing at Strathmore.
McGee grew up in Alexandria, Va., and says he spent his youth traveling to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia to see concerts. McGee gained notoriety in the late 1990s playing the college circuit with The Pat McGee Band.
Now living in Rhode Island, McGee has released seven albums including his latest in 2011, “No Wrong to Make it Right.” He’s toured the country, including several sell-out shows at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va. Friday’s concert will be his first at Strathmore.
“Strathmore is so unique,” McGee says. “Acoustically, it’s one of the best rooms probably in the world ... That’s why I want to bring this big show here.”
The “big show” McGee refers to will feature a band composed of nine musicians, all friends of McGee’s and all from other regional bands, including members of Virginia-based “Eddie from Ohio”, Virgina-based “Everything” and “New Potato Caboose,” a rock band hailing from Washington, D.C.
“Strathmore being the epic venue that it is, I want to play with the best musicians I’ve ever known,” McGee says.
In keeping with the homecoming theme, McGee’s concert also will showcase the talents of the string and jazz band quartet from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. — the musician’s alma mater.
“Giving those kids that experience is really going to light a fire under them,” McGee says.
While Carolina pulled pork, beer and buffalo wings (all available as a part of Friday’s tailgate) may be new territory for Strathmore, for McGee, tailgating before concerts is a no-brainer.
“It’s definitely part of the experience of the show,” says McGee, who plans to “pop up at the tailgate with [his] guitar and play some tunes.”
“I was hoping [Strathmore] would be hip to this,” he says.
“The stars kind of aligned for this one,” Buzzell says. “With the mansion [parking lot] being open and the weather and the right act...We were thinking: college, fun, fall, what do you get? A tailgate party.”
Throwing a party prior to a show has become almost routine for McGee. For the past five years, the singer-songwriter has hosted “Down the Hatch,” a weekend of music and food in various cities across the nation. What started out as a big party in Nags Head, N.C., 15 years ago, has transformed into a series of weekend-long festivals.
“I’m a big advocate for seeing a city, seeing a town,” McGee says. “I really wanted to promote a place...I’m a big foodie so whatever is made locally, we usually push that.”
“Down the Hatch,” showcases up-and-coming musicians.
“I was the guy that was like, ‘Hey, you gotta check out this new band I discovered,’” McGee says.
In 2011, “Down the Hatch OBX” featured vocalist and “The Voice” finalist Tony Lucca, and this year, New York- based singer-songwriter Ari Hest, who will open for McGee on Friday night, played the show.
McGee says a “Down the Hatch” in New England is being planned for next year.
Also in the works for 2013: a national tour and a new album.
“I haven’t quite wrapped my head completely around what this album is going to be,” McGee says. “This last record I did was more of my country side.”
Like he did with “No Wrong Way to Make it Right,” McGee says he’ll likely draw inspiration for his next album from another one of his passions, the three leading ladies in his life; daughters Anna, 10, Elizabeth, 9, and Juliet, 6.
“I’ve been writing songs about the girls for a while now,” says McGee. “Being a dad is definitely a priority for me.”