The New Music City, U.S.A.
Chesapeake Country has long had its own grass-roots music community, but with the rise of local talent combined with the draw of renowned musicians and their loyal fans, Maryland’s capital city is becoming the music capital of the East
These last days of August, you might think you were living in Nashville or Austin, what with the waves of musical talent from near and far rolling onto our shores.
From August 19 to 21, the legendary Four Freshmen re-capture the Big Band Era and draw hundreds of fans to Annapolis in the group’s 2010 international convention.
The following weekend, the music amps up on the 28th in the first-ever Annapalooza Music and Arts Festival. Organizers hope that the concert grows as big as the now famous Lalapalooza festival.
The next day, August 29th, the Eastport restaurant and watering hole The Rockfish holds its Third Annual Seafood Festival from noon to 7pm.
The Four Freshmen Draw Fans of All Ages
The Four Freshmen, contemporaries of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby as graduates of mid-century powerhouse Big Bands, have earned a devoted cult following that has kept them relevant for six decades.
“Their association with the Stan Kenton Band puts them among the many towering songbirds of the 1940s and ’50s associated with big bands,” said Annapolitan Elana Byrd, music promoter for the convention.
The quartet has taken 22 reconfigurations in 62 years, but some things never change. Their vocals are always the main attraction, showcasing tight harmonies and stylish crooning. But the Freshmen, whoever they are, are also skilled and delicate instrumentalists, backing up their vocals on guitar, trumpet, bass and drums — among other configurations.
The convention comes to Annapolis this year thanks to the lobbying of local members of the Four Freshmen Society, the band’s fan club.
“It’s held every year in a major city around the world,” Byrd said. “We pitched Annapolis and won.”
The pleasant sounds of the Four Freshmen acted as the soundtrack to the lives of its fanatical followers.
“Fans are probably all senior citizens, but they’re just like kids when it comes to this music,” said Byrd. “They’re coming from all over the world, including Japan.”
There’ll be plenty of chances for fans to meet, play with and listen to the group and musicians they’ve followed over the years. The fan club numbers more than 300, but you’ve got to be registered to get in on the nostalgic fun. But many spokes make up a musical hub, and this is the kind of event that can get Annapolis rolling toward that musical goal.
That’s also the interpretation of Connie Del Signore, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitor’s Bureau.
“As far as music, Ram’s Head on Stage has told me that up to 40 percent of their visitors are from out of county,” Del Signore told Bay Weekly. “Out-of-towners look at Annapolis as a destination music venue.”
Music at the Rockfish
Not all music lovers are from far away. The Annapolis area has “a large community that enjoys live music,” said James King, owner of The Rockfish and organizer of its Third Annual Seafood Festival. Bringing music and seafood together outdoors, King said, “adds one more family-friendly event to the summer.”
Half a dozen local bands play throughout the day under tents in the parking lot of The Rockfish, a casual restaurant featuring fresh seafood and American cuisine.
King said he’s “trying to build a musical community” as well as a thriving restaurant. So live music is on The Rockfish menu four nights a week. Rockfish regulars, in turn, play the festival.
From Higher Hands, a funk-inspired local band, Jay Crawdads and Larry Byrne are playing the festival. The band’s funky sound is reminiscent of the George Clinton-led bands Parliament and Funkadelic. The festival performance will likely be toned down a notch because the whole band won’t be performing and to accommodate its family-friendly atmosphere.
Maybe Not Even, an indie rock band from Annapolis, overflows with catchy pop melodies and blues-guitar soloing. Listen in and you’ll hear this quartet playing from the soul, not to fads.
The Bumpin’ Uglies play acoustic-based reggae, a type of music that isn’t readily found. The acoustic guitar is a nice change from the typical quick, repeated electric guitar strums present in most reggae. The band’s smooth sound suits a hot summer’s day.
All this good music is also for a good cause: raising awareness and urgency for reducing pollution in Chesapeake Bay. So again this year, gate receipts support the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“It is tremendously important to work to create a healthier Bay environment, not only for our health, but for all forms of life that come to rely on the Bay,” said King, a Maryland delegate who is running this year for a seat in the Maryland Senate.
Noon-5pm at The Rockfish Bar and Grill, 400 Second St., Annapolis. $15: www.rockfishmd.com.
The Annapalooza Music & Arts Festival
|Stage 1 Schedule
noon: Summer of Rock contest winners
1:30: Afro Bop Alliance
3:00 The Cheaters
4:30: Bill Kirchen
Stage 2 Schedule
Absolut® Alley Schedule
Lineups and playing times are not set in stone
The Annapalooza Music & Arts Festival organizers — Matthew Miller, Michael Hearne, Nicholas Sfakiyanudis, Pamela Godfrey Stevens and Felicia Barlow Clar — hope to put Annapolis on the map in the same vein as a certain city in the south known for its live music.
“When we were brainstorming, we noticed that you could go out any night of the week and find good live music in Annapolis.” said Clar, director of marketing for the festival. “We are looking to put Annapolis on the map much like Austin, Texas.”
The day-long event aims to attract between 3,000 and 5,000 music lovers. Marketing has been directed mainly in and around Annapolis, with efforts also in D.C. and Baltimore, where many of the festival’s bands have avid followers. Fans are expected to range from high schoolers to baby boomers due to the array of bands, chosen from over 100 groups that span many genres.
The winner of this summer’s Summer of Rock contest, which searches for the best under-21 band in the region, opens the main stage at noon. The Summer of Rock competition goes down every Sunday at The Whiskey, showcasing young bands and ultimately picking the best to play the festival.
In addition to music, you’ll find vendors offering arts, crafts, food and more. Plus, there should be plenty to wet your whistle, as some of the festival’s sponsors include Absolut, Jim Beam, Woodchuck Hard Cider and Miller Beer.
But this is first and foremost a music festival, with 23 bands and three stages proving that point.
Worth checking out due to their strong following and originality are:
SOJA (Soldiers of Jah Army) specialize in a chilled-out, mid-tempo brand of reggae that has garnered a respectable following. The band, which formed in D.C. in 1997, has released six studio albums. The group averages 150 shows each year and has played in almost every major city in the country, as well as many international spots. SOJA has been on the road for the past year and plans to keep going in support of their latest record, Born in Babylon. Their sound is mellow and has a positive message similar to their main influences, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
The Pietasters are an upbeat, horn-heavy group from D.C. that play ska, which combines punk-rock intensity and emotion with a horn section. Led by a trombone, saxophone and trumpet, the seven-piece band got its first break in 1992, when it opened for ska originals Bad Manners. Shortly after, the group was signed by punk-veteran Tim Armstrong of Rancid to Hellcat/Epitaph Records, where they recorded two albums and gained a following. From that point, The Pietasters played at the Warped Tour Festival a handful of times, opened for legendary front man Joe Strummer of The Clash, and worked as James Brown’s back-up band.
Bill Kirchen is renowned for his rockabilly twang and manic live shows that revive baby boomers who fell in love with him in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was a guitarist and singer in the country-rock group Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Songs like “Lost in the Ozone Again” and “Hot Rod Lincoln” were some of the group’s singles that featured his signature guitar licks. Kirchen’s live performances as a solo artist features guitar solos in the styles of many famous rock, blues, power pop, punk, and country guitarists. In recent years, Kirchen and his band Too Much Fun have toured or recorded with Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Doug Sahm, Emmylou Harris and Austin de Lone.
Mambo Sauce’s danceable sound is among the most accessible of the Annapalooza bands. If you enjoy music you can move to, you’ll melt into the D.C. group’s style, which combines old-soul, new school hip-hop, rock and elements of go-go. In 2007, Mambo Sauce’s songs “Miracles” and “Welcome to DC” began getting play on local radio stations. “Welcome to DC” has since become the intro song for the Washington Wizards. In 2008, Mambo Sauce played at the 9:30 Club on New Year’s Eve with Chuck Brown, the Godfather of go-go.
11:30am-10pm at Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, Crownsville. $25: http://annapalooza.org.