Chester Gras — Party On!


Linda and Phil Dutton – founders and leading lights of Chester Gras.  Phil is also musician extraordinaire as he sings and plays keyboard with his band the Alligators.

Chester Gras, Chestertown’s celebration of Creole cookery and New Orleans style dance music, defied the elements  on Saturday to raise funds for needy Kent County kids.  Phil and Linda Dutton founded the festival five years ago and it has been sponsored by Peoples’ Bank right from the beginning.

Held on Saturday, Feb. 10, in a large heated tent on Spring Street outside the Peoples Bank entrance, Chester Gras drew a large crowd despite a steady downpour that caused a last-minute cancellation of the street parade. But not to worry – Phil Dutton and the Alligators got people’s feet moving with their hard-rocking music, and the party hardly missed a beat. In addition to Dutton on piano and keyboards, the Alligators are Pres Harding on electric guitar, Marc Dyckman on bass, and Ray Anthony on drums.

Kent County Marching Band – Chester Gras 2018

While the Alligators were on break, the Kent County Community Marching Band, undaunted by the cancellation of the parade, came into the tent and played several numbers appropriate for the occasion, including “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” A few other parade entrants also drove past the High Street reviewing stand before the rain drove everyone indoors.

The food lineup offered gumbo from ten local restaurants, plus red beans and rice from chef (and Peoples Bank President) Ralph Dowling’s kitchen as well as Mardi Gras-style king cake — all that along with hot dogs and Texas sausage for those with less adventurous taste buds. Peoples Bank personnel ladled out the gumbo, which came in a variety of flavors with chicken, shrimp, and spicy Andouille sausage. Food was provided by Lemon Leaf Cafe, Uncle Charlie’s Bistro, KB Market, Chester River Yacht and Country Club, Barbara’s on the Bay, The Kitchen, Chester River Sea Food, Fish Whistle, Luisa’s Cucina Italiana, Crazy Rick’s Food Truck, Kreuz Market and Little Village Bakery.

Good food – Cajun-style! – Chester Gras 2018

In addition to food and music, a costume contest was open to attendees who dressed for the occasion. Leslie Sea of WCTR radio served as announcer, and winners were chosen on the basis of audience applause. About a dozen children and a handful of adults — and one stylish puppy! — took part in the contest.

Best costumes – Stephanie and Dorian – kids division  – Chester Gras 2018

A photo booth was set up near the bandstand, with Rich Newberry snapping pictures of the attendees. A table of masks and hats was available so guests could put on their best Mardi Gras look for the pictures. Lisa Newberry, Rich’s wife, helped attendees with their costume choices. Later in the afternoon, Rich and Lisa recruited volunteers to move the booth away from the edge of the tent, where running rainwater was encroaching.

Bill Blake, auctioneer, Chester Gras 2018

A live auction, conducted by veteran auctioneer Bill Blake, offered half a dozen items: a pair of Orioles tickets; a half day fishing trip for a party of four; a custom-made 8′ by 10′ indoor rug; a goose hunt for a party of four; an original oil painting by Dan Kessler; and a weekend of pet sitting by Mary Simmons. All told, the live auction brought in more than $1,400 for the cause. A silent auction featured a variety of items donated by local merchants and organizations. Prizes included a backyard bird feeder, a ukulele, a basket of wine, artwork, and much more.

Proceeds of the festival went to the Kent County Community Food Pantry’s backpack program, in conjunction with the Local Management Board. The program provides backpacks carrying weekend meals for local students in need of nutritional support. Almost 50 percent of students in the public schools qualify for the program, according to the food pantry. Anyone wishing to donate can send a check, payable to Local Management Board of Kent County, to The Peoples Bank, P. O. Box 210, Chestertown, MD 21620. Donations are tax-deductible.

Phil Dutton and the Alligators rocked the tent! Phil Dutton on keyboard, Pres Harding on guitar, Marc Dyckman on base, (Not in picture Ray Anthony on drums) – Chester Gras 2018

The festival continued Saturday evening with a sold-out dance party in the Mainstay in Rock Hall, featuring the Dixie Power Trio playing New Orleans style jazz, zydeco and rhythm-and-blues stylings. Masks were available for guests to get in the Mardi Gras mood. As with the Chestertown event, proceeds were donated to the backpack program.

Sound reinforcement was provided by Kabam Entertainment group.

Photo gallery by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

William Brown, Sr.; holding William Brown, Jr. with Maleah and Naruyah Brown in front at Chester Gras 2018

Lisa Newberry helped out at the photo booth at Chester Gras 2018

A selection of hats, masks, boas and other accessories were available by the Photo Booth at Chester Gras 2018

Photo booth sponsors – Chester Gras 2018

A basket of wine was a popular item in the Silent Auction – Chester Gras 2018

Chester Gras 2018

Patti Maynot Dowling – Chester Gras 2018










Chester Gras 2018

Rev. Jim Van de Wal getting in the Chester Gras spirit! –
Chester Gras 2018










The “Krew” at Kreuz Market included Brittany Rue, Jennifer Teat, Kathy Barnhart, Tanya Brilz, & Lisa Jefferson – Chester Gras 2018

Heidi Manning and Brandy Clark of Luisa’s Cucina Italiana restaurant

Chester Gras 2018

All net proceeds went to buy food and backpacks for kids in Kent County – Chester Gras 2018











Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.