About The Mainstay

The Mainstay is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the arts and serving Rock Hall and the surrounding region having the mission of invigorating the cultural experience of Eastern Shore life by presenting outstanding musical programming and providing a setting for creativity, inquiry and conversation.  The Mainstay programs a diverse offering of concerts by local, regional, national, and international musicians at a reasonable ticket price. Including our weekly Mainstay Monday series, the Mainstay is programming 100+ concerts each year. The Mainstay is especially proud of its reputation for jazz excellence dating back to our early association with jazz great Charlie Byrd.

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.

The Mainstay’s History

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.

1995 and 1996

• 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 first annual FallFest, “A Celebration of Family and Community”, is held in Rock Hall, featuring music and crafts and organized by Mainstay volunteers.


• 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 Tolchester Beach Re-Visited Museum opens as part of The Mainstay family.


• 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.


• The Mid-Shore Community Foundation funds The Mainstay for the first time.


• Youth jazz programs at Kent County High School and Washington College are funded through a grant received from The John Ben Snow Foundation.

• Volunteers hold a major fundraising gala, the second in 13 years.

• A college scholarship to a Kent County High School graduate majoring in music is funded.


• A Washington College senior is hired for an internship in Arts Administration.

• The 20,000th visitor to the Tolchester Beach Revisited Museum is noted.

•The Charlie Byrd Society is instituted to recognize major donors to The Mainstay.

• A new record of 60 events with a total attendance of 5,000 for the year is set.


• Tom McHugh announces his retirement at the end of 2015. A national search for the next Executive Director takes place.

• The Mainstay Forever Campaign raises $300,000 (exceeding its goal of $250,000) to help the Mainstay transition from a volunteer organization.

• The Mainstay hires Rory Trainor as the new Executive Director of The Mainstay, to start January 1, 2016.


• The Mainstay begins its weekly concert series Mainstay Mondays on Memorial Day, featuring Host Joe Holt and a different special guest each week. Originally planned to last till Labor Day of the same year, the concert series continues weekly to this day.


• The Mainstay removes the center post that for so long blocked the views of late comers and wallflower patrons. The new I-beam and posts do more than create unobstructed views, but also help to secure the structural integrity of the 120 year old building.

• Sierra Leone Refugee AllStars perform at The Mainstay in March and Melissa Aldana in September, both funded in part by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

•The Chuck Redd Fund is initiated with $10,000 challenge donation from the Board of Directors.


•The Hedgelawn Classical Music Series presents 8 concerts featuring Peabody Conservatory students and graduates funded by the Hedgelawn Foundation.

•The Mainstay Scholarship, awarded to a high school senior planning to study music in college, is reinvogorated.

• Volunteers hold a major fundraising gala, the third in 23 years.


•The first “Mainstay goes to Cuba” tour coincides with the Havana Jazz Festival.

•Chesapeake Bay Magazine readers vote The Mainstay “Best Intimate Music Venue”.


•The Mainstay celebrates 25 years of Musical Magic!

•A year-long series of Bluegrass music is funded by the Hedgelawn Foundation.