He was turning 40. "I realized I used to be musician," he says. He recorded a cassette of his songs with Shepherdstown guitarist Steve Kemp and, in part, wanted a place to play music.
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Fitzwater had attended a lot of coffeehouse-type performances in the Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas and got a feel for what would be needed to present singer-songwriter and nonmainstream folk music.
Prospect Coffeehouse Concert Series began in October 1990. Performances were at The Woman's Club at Hagerstown's Prospect Street auditorium, and the series took its name from that address.
Fitzwater's biggest hope was that 50 of his friends would show up that first night. An audience of about 100 people - most of whom he didn't know - arrived. Fitzwater planned to rent a public address system and run it himself. Local sound engineer Mike Sokol volunteered his services for the evening, stating, "We can do better than that."
They have done better than that. The concert series will open its 10th season Thursday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. with BeauSoleil, the Lafayette, La.-based Cajun band that comes with six Grammy nominations and a 1997 Grammy gold award for best traditional folk album.
"We're real excited about opening the season with them," says Todd Bolton, president of Mountain Green Cultural Arts Association, the nonprofit organization that produces the concerts at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.
When BeauSoleil performed on the Mountain Green stage in 1997, the sold-out crowd was dancing in the aisles, Bolton says.
Tickets for this year's series are not available in advance except at Mountain Green performances, according to Bolton. The ticket window will open at 7 p.m.
Fitzwater figured he'd spend $500 of his own money to get the series started. He didn't have to. Attendance was fairly good right from the start, he says.
He approached Washington County Arts Council for assistance during the first year.
"It was an interesting and intriguing idea from the beginning," says Barbara Bland, the council's executive director.
Mountain Green Concerts, with the diversity and ethnicity they provide, are a wonderful complement to other arts council projects in the county, Bland says. The cost is low - up to $15 for adults and $5 for children and students - and you don't have to drive to the city, she adds.
Now Mountain Green's annual budget is close to $30,000, Fitzwater says. This year the organization is a member of National Council for the Traditional Arts, a coalition that has afforded Mountain Green great performers at reduced prices, according to Fitzwater.
Grant funding from National Endowment for the Arts and Maryland State Arts Council is issued by Washington County Arts Council, and the organization has a grant from Washington County Gaming Commission. Financial and venue assistance are provided by Hagerstown Community College Student Activities Program Board, and additional financial and promotional support comes from Home Federal Savings Bank, Antietam Cable Television, according to a Mountain Green brochure. Four Points Sheraton provides in-kind support by providing lodging for the performers, Fitzwater says.
Wantz Distributors and Cavetown Liquors donate beer and wine for sale by Mountain Green, and Smithsburg Orchestra Supporters sell homemade baked goods and beverages.
It's truly a community project. "That's what makes me feel that I'm not doing this alone. There are some heavy hitters out there who believe in it," Fitzwater says.
"I like it very much, says HCC President Norman P. Shea of the music of Mountain Green Concerts. "We think it's part of our cultural outreach program for our students," he says.
When the college's new amphitheater is completed, Shea and Fitzwater hope to extend the Mountain Green season to include summer performances under the stars.
Mountain Green vice president Carl Disque calls this year's program a solid lineup. "I'm just really excited about it," he says.