Last week in Phoenixville, hundreds of people hung out in a parking lot at Bridge and Main Streets on Friday night, listening to the Mason Porter band play numbers such as "Maggie's Farm" and less familiar roots and bluegrass numbers.

While several small children played with balloons in front of the stage, many adults sat at patio tables with umbrellas or on their own folding chairs, eating, drinking and chatting.

It was like a little tailgate party, except there were no scalpers because admission was free. And the act on stage was just part of a bigger show, with performers spread out over several blocks on Bridge Street earlier in the evening.

Phoenixville has become the summer music capital of Chester County, and this was the opening round in its long series of free Friday-night concerts along Bridge Street. Each event features one headliner and seven or eight supporting acts.

The series, now in its third year, began June 6, continues at 6 p.m. tomorrow, and runs through Sept. 5.

There's one exception to the 6 p.m. start: July 4, when there will be the equivalent of a doubleheader. Two sets of local acts will perform, at 2 and 6 p.m., with Elvis impersonator Tony Newell as the headliner at 7:30. He will be followed by fireworks at 9:45.

Many other towns in Chester County have summer concerts in parks and downtowns, but none puts as many acts on the street as Phoenixville.

The music includes rock, funk, jazz and classical acts. Cover bands will play songs by the Doors (Soft Parade, Aug. 22), Grateful Dead (Splintered Sunlight, Sept. 5) and Led Zeppelin (Black Dog, Aug. 29).

Last week's headliner, Mason Porter, is a four-man group from West Chester that plays what it calls roots and alternative bluegrass.

Tomorrow night's headliners will be Octavia and the Earthblood Blues Band, a quartet from Central Pennsylvania featuring Octavia, who sings and plays mostly harmonica.

Octavia said tomorrow's audience should listen for one of the group's signature songs, "Cold Day in Hell," a number "that speaks to people who have suffered the pain disloyalty breeds." It includes a long note that she holds for 1 minute, 25 seconds, she said in an e-mail last week.

The headline acts go on at 7:30 on a stage at Main and Bridge Streets. The supporting acts play at various spots along Bridge Street starting at 6 p.m.

The impresario behind all this is Barry Cassidy, head of Phoenixville's Community Development Corp. Most of the musical talent comes to him "unsolicited," he said, and he's proud that many supporting acts are local, from "the Phoenixville area, Collegeville, Spring City."

Cassidy said turnout last year averaged about 3,000 for the shows, which run about three hours. Among the most popular acts that will return this summer, he said, are the Dirk Quinn Band (June 20) and Beatnik Brown (June 27 and Sept. 5).

There are a couple of new twists this year. Parking can be tough on weekends in Phoenixville, but 200 parking spots will be available on Friday nights in the lot on the 100 block of North Main Street for $5.

And this year, the series has a sponsor - it's officially called Molly Maguire's Summer Street Music Series, after a pub across the street from the main stage lot, where food and drink are available at a booth.

Declan Mannion, co-owner of Maguire's, was encouraged by Friday's turnout and said, "It's only going to get better."

The Friday-night audience seemed a mix of singles and couples, many with young children, from Phoenixville and nearby townships in Chester and Montgomery Counties.

Rich Mankovich and his wife, Sharon, from Valley Forge, were there with their daughters, Arden and Marston.

They recently moved to the area and hadn't been to previous festivals, but Mankovich said he would "definitely come again."

As the music drifted through the warm night air, on the next block of Bridge Street, workers for the Republican and Democratic Parties were at sidewalk tables, drumming up support for their candidates.

They competed for attention with a nonpartisan campaign, collecting petitions to build a stadium in Phoenixville for the county's hoped-for minor-league baseball team.

The Stage Is Set

These are the headline acts of the Summer Street Music Series. For a complete schedule, including all supporting acts, go to

.

All headline acts are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.; supporting acts start at 6 p.m.

June 13:

Octavia and the Earthblood Blues Band

June 20:

Dirk Quinn Band

June 27:

Beatnik Brown

July 4:

Tony Newell presents an evening with Elvis

July 11:

Paul Michaels Blues Recruits

July 18:

Milagro, a Santana tribute

July 25:

Hidden Treasure, jazz group

Aug. 1:

Beacoup Blue

Aug. 8:

Mystic Rebel, reggae band

Aug. 15:

Deb Callahan Band

Aug. 22:

Soft Parade, a Doors tribute

Aug. 29:

Black Dog, a Led Zeppelin tribute

Sept. 5:

Splintered Sunlight, a Grateful Dead tribute

Contact staff writer Bill Raftery at 610-701-7615 or braftery@phillynews.com.