La Plata gets ready to party like it's 1999


Pictured is the crowd at Rocktoberfest in 2016. This year’s festival is on Saturday.

If you’re looking to spend the weekend enjoying live music, food and fun with a little bit of turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia, La Plata has just the ticket.

Back for its sixth year, Rocktoberfest will take over much of downtown on Saturday. Keith Grasso, the owner of Island Music in La Plata, said that when they held the first Rocktoberfest in 2013, they had just enough people to fill the bar side of what was then Casey Jones.

He and his fellow organizers, Grasso said, knew La Plata as it existed at the time didn’t have a proper town square like Leonardtown or Annapolis, but they wanted to create an event to help draw attention and bring business downtown. And so, as the owner of a music business, the idea for a large-scale concert was born.

“It started as a small thing we threw together I think in maybe 30 days,” Grasso said of the inaugural event. “It wasn’t humongous, but it was a pretty neat event and the idea was there. ... It’s grown astronomically, more than I ever anticipated. Now it takes an entire year to plan the weekend.”

This year’s lineup features 16 bands. Each year, Grasso said, they pick a nationally-known act as the main event. This year, the Rocktoberfest committee invited ‘90s pop-punk act Lit to headline, and the Southern California-based rockers gladly accepted, Grasso said. In the past, they’ve featured similar acts, like Jimmie’s Chicken Shack and Sponge.

“It’s really cool for the local bands who volunteer their time and get to open for these national acts,” Grasso said. “... Each year, we try to stretch it a little bit farther. We reached out to see if they were interested, because it’s a different style gig for a lot of rock bands. ... Not everyone is always 100% interested, but they were excited and 100% on board. Having a band like Lit, performing here in La Plata, is pretty awesome. They’ve made their mark in rock and roll and we’re really excited to have them.”

In the six years they’ve been hosting Rocktoberfest, Grasso said, it’s grown a little bigger each time from the small show with a “cool, festive” atmosphere. They’ve also become a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, rather than just an annual event. All the proceeds from the concert go to Charles County Public Schools’ fine arts programs. To date, they’ve raised more than $100,000 with the previous shows. At last year’s concert, Grasso said the members of Sponge even donated all their merchandise proceeds back.

In turn, he said, they’ve also been fortunate enough to enjoy increasingly robust support from the business community, as well as the town and county government. That’s vitally important, he said, when one is organizing an event that spans six blocks in the heart of La Plata that frequently draws in out-of-town visitors for the weekend.

“The community really steps up and helps out,” Grasso said. “It’s cool stuff, stuff that is not lost on me. People don’t have to do this, but they do and they come up with these ideas to help us. It’s really cool.”

Moving forward, Grasso said, he’d love to see Rocktoberfest grow from its three stages to encompass the entirety of La Grange Avenue. He’d also like to find a way to make it a weekend-long event, rather than a single day.

La Plata Mayor Jeannine James said Rocktoberfest has already helped make the town a destination for entertainment. Its continued growth, she said, only shows how important it is for the community. James said she and the rest of the town council, upon their election two and a half years ago, decided to prioritize events like this that bring La Plata into the spotlight.

“That’s exactly what I love to see from a small town such as La Plata,” James said of the festival. “Everyone is out there, it’s a huge deal and we work really well with Keith and Rocktoberfest.”

She also pointed to the value Rocktoberfest has for the county’s young and aspiring artists.

“That is so important, to get these kids to have a musical outlet,” James said. “Plus, who knows? They could end up being in the band Lit with exposure like this.”

Rocktoberfest will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 each for adults, and may be purchased online. Admission is free for children younger than 12. To purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/2LLmDrg.

Twitter: @LindsayIndyNews

Twitter: @LindsayIndyNews