How Our Story Began

It all started when Tom McHugh, our founder, 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., and the greater Kent County area.

More about the Venue

The 125 (mismatching) seat room is cozy, quirky, and intimate, and offers a near perfect listening experience without a bad seat in the house. The Mainstay is continually growing in its programming reach and vision, and is increasingly proving to be one of the best places to see a concert in all of the Mid-Atlantic.

Tom McHugh

Along the Way...


The first “pre-Mainstay” concerts are 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 named 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 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.


New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs at The Mainstay, the first of several engagements at The Mainstay.


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 “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 the payoff of the entire mortgage on The Mainstay building.

The “Hedgelawn Classical Music Series” is established.


Max n’ Friends” Thursday night jazz series begins.


Contract staff is hired to assist with booking and marketing.


A significant bequest from Lillian B. Fairall Foundation is received.

The 10th annual Rock Hall FallFest is celebrated.

A major investment in improved stage lighting and sound system is made.


The Mainstay receives its first annual Maryland State Arts Council Operations Grant. 

A free outdoor summer concert series “Music in Oyster Court” is initiated.


Matt Mielnick

Executive Director

Clark Bjorke

Sound Engineer

Jacqui Caine

Board Assistant

Joe Holt

Artistic Associate,
Mainstay Mondays

Danny Palmatary

Technical/Office Assistant

24/7 Volunteers

Bob Kuiper

House and Box Office Management

Keith Walbert

Byrd Room Bartender

Jacqui &
Tom Caine

Back Deck Flower Tenders

Daphne Howarth

Byrd Room Bartender

Becky Byrd

Manager of the
Byrd Room

Linda Morgan

Lighting Assistant

Gretchen Stroh

Box Office Attendant

Our Delegating Board

Dave Robinson


Barbara Parker

Vice President

Debra Woodruff-Capper


Randy Cooper


Karen Frison

Rod Johnson

Ken Schweitzer

Ray Tarrach

Riley Thornton