Dolores Gibbs has had music in her blood her entire life. It surrounds her in her physical environment, from the tags on her car to the decor in her home. When she retired from a 38-year career with the FBI, her next step was clear: She wanted to start her own music business.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own club, but because I couldn’t afford that, I knew I had to come up with another way,” Gibbs said. She went to both local and out-of-state venues searching for inspiration. When she reached out to her friends and neighbors, Gibbs was surprised to find exactly how much support she had.
She turned to her friend of 40 years, Rochelle Billups, to handle catering. Neighbors Wanda Underwood and Stacey Dunton handle ticketing and the website, and greet people at the door. Nick Johnson, a radio host on WPFW 89.3 FM, started promoting the concerts on air. That supportive network turned into the team behind Stone Street Entertainment.
At first, Gibbs found her “penniless budget” was a hindrance. After some searching, she found the Old Waldorf School on Crain Highway, which she refers to as "my little Blues Alley,” she said. Since then, the old school, which is now rented out for weddings, conventions and other events, has proved to be the ideal location.
"We do this all for the love of our fellow seniors," Gibbs of Waldorf said, adding that she recognized older folks often don't want to travel far for entertainment. She felt it important to present an alternative to traveling into neighboring cities for high-quality entertainment catered to an older crowd.
Shows run from about 4 to 8 p.m. on Sundays, which Gibbs feels is a great way to start the week for those who attend. Alcohol isn’t served, but food and beverages are available.
“The music is first, but the food is definitely second,” she joked. There is also a heavy emphasis on a professional presence and a friendly atmosphere. They also frequently invites local business owners to come set up at her shows and peddle their wares. "We're keeping that money right here in Southern Maryland," she said.
The first show in 2016 featured Washington-based rapper Javier Starks, who Gibbs had met at a show in New York City. Gibbs and her team recalled about 30 people at that show. These days, Stone Street concerts have attracted as many as 200 people.
Currently, they are gearing up for this year's concert series, which will began March 10 with a CD release party for jazz and blues vocalist Carly Harvey. The group hopes for even more growth this year: Underwood noted that as she and Dunton work the door at each show, they frequently overhear people remarking on how much they enjoyed themselves, and how excited they are for the next one.
Currently an all-volunteer operation, Gibbs is so committed to the success of the venture that she sets aside a portion of her retirement money each month. A venue of her own is Gibbs’ ultimate dream. “If I had the money I’d build a miniature Kennedy Center, right here in Charles County.” She also dreams of paying back her team of friends, who she says have sacrificed their time and resources as much as she has.
Gibbs' team is just as hopeful about their future as she is, and just as happy with how far they've come, if not pleasantly surprised. Despite his initial skepticism that a music business could flourish as a dry operation, “this thing has grown by leaps and bounds, alcohol free, and it’s incredible” Johnson said. "We just want to make sure people leave with the intent to come back. We really want to convey that friendly atmosphere. [Gibbs'] dream was to bring good music to Southern Maryland, and she's doing it. The community is benefitting from the dream she had."
“I’ve always believed in the dream, because it’s something bigger than us," Dunton said. "We talk all the time. We learn from each other. It’s a journey, and I always told Dolores not everyone will make it to the end, but I’m glad to be along for the trip. I’m just glad to be here.”
"I want to be the go-to lady for music in Southern Maryland," Gibbs said. "All cultures, all races, I want it all inclusive. I don't see color with music, and that's the beautiful thing about it. It's for everyone."