With a wail of the opening line to his song “South Dakota,” Luke Hendrickson ushered the return of live music to Mayo Park on Sunday night.

Luke Hendrickson performs at Mayo Park for Rochester Civic Music's first Down by the Riverside concert since 2019 July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)
Luke Hendrickson performs at Mayo Park for Rochester Civic Music's first Down by the Riverside concert since 2019 July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)

That the Down by the Riverside concert series would return this year was a certainty. Whether the crowds would follow was unknown until Sunday evening.

Hendrickson opened for headliner Lindsay Ell.

“We didn’t know what to expect after COVID, whether people would want to go to an event like this and be around other people,” said Steve Schmidt, director of Rochester Civic Music.

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Steve Schmidt, director of Rochester Civic Music, introduces music at the first Down by the Riverside concert since 2019 July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)
Steve Schmidt, director of Rochester Civic Music, introduces music at the first Down by the Riverside concert since 2019 July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)

The city’s “forWARD” concert series had encouraging attendance, he said.

About 2,000 people filed into Mayo Park on Sunday evening, under clear skies.

“I’m really pleased with the turnout,” Schmidt said. “It’s not packed, which is good, because folks can spread out.”

People fill Mayo Park Rochester Civic Music's Down by the Riverside concert July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)
People fill Mayo Park Rochester Civic Music's Down by the Riverside concert July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)

For regular attendees, the concert was a return to a familiar routine and familiar faces.

“We picked up right where we left off,” Steve Kerchberger said.

From left to right, Reid Meyer, Jeff Ihrke, Kathy Ihrke and Steve Kerchberger, sit near the stage before music begins at the Rochester Civic Music's first Down by the Riverside concert since 2019 July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)
From left to right, Reid Meyer, Jeff Ihrke, Kathy Ihrke and Steve Kerchberger, sit near the stage before music begins at the Rochester Civic Music's first Down by the Riverside concert since 2019 July 11, 2021. (John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com)

Kerchberger and his group of friends arrive early in the afternoon to claim their prime spot in front of the stage.

The familiarity was reassuring after the live events were canceled through 2020 due to the pandemic.

“It just seems like the last concert was just a long time ago,” Dave Sick said.

Prince’s band, The Revolution, closed out the last Riverside season with their concert Aug. 18, 2019.

“It’s just great to see everyone back,” Tom Bellinger said.

“You see a lot of familiar faces,” Jeff Ihrke added.

Bellinger said he wasn’t sure how long he's been coming to the concerts. A look in his closet might give him a hint, he said.

“Gosh, I might have a 15-year run of (Down by the Riverside) concert T-shirts,” he said.

Twice, a member of the party has won a signed guitar — the raffle prize Think Bank offers at the concerts.

Reid Meyer, a fan of Lindsay Ell and her music, was approached by another fan who mistakenly thought he was selling Ell merchandise. It was an understandable mistake, as Meyer, clad in an Ell T-shirt, laid out his Ell blanket by his chair. The blanket has caught the artist’s eye in the past.

“We’ll see if she notices” (this time), he said.

Like his friends, Meyer staked out his up-front spot early, so she might spot it through the crowd.

The next Down by the Riverside concert features Chastity Brown, with Bluedog opening, on Sunday, July 18.