|The Second Time Around:
Dick Gessner Returns to Chesapeake Country
photo by Shirley Brewer
18-year-old Broadneck High School senior David Merrill sings along with the man at the piano, Dick Gessner.
What delicious fun succumbing to the magical musical mood Gessner creates at Deep Creek Restaurant in Arnold, where he - the local legend and show-tune guru who moved to Florida seven years ago - is making a nostalgic two-month appearance.
"I've been here eight times since Gessner arrived March 30. I miss those days at Marmaduke's," confided a gentleman at the next table on a recent Friday evening.
Over three decades ago, Gessner began holding musical court - singing, playing Broadway show tunes and inviting his audience to sing along - at a succession of Annapolis restaurants including the Red Coach Inn, Marmaduke's, Capers, Captain's Table, Port of Annapolis and Dick Gessner's Broadway Corner. A sign boasting his name is still visible as you exit from Ritchie Highway onto Route 50, near the site of his former club.
Gessner began playing music 66 years ago at the tender age of five. A class act, he developed a fund of musical knowledge and a vast repertoire of information about movies and musicals. His legacy extends to writing and directing theater productions, including shows at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.
Happy days are here again
Back in Annapolis, Gessner plans to play, relax and rekindle some old friendships. "I came back because I missed my friends," said Gessner. "I spent so much time playing music here I just had to come back."
Deep Creek's main dining room suits Gessner's style. It overlooks Deep Creek. Ceiling fans murmur overhead and tiny red lamps glow on every table. Relaxed at his piano, Gessner begins playing and flashes his magnetic smile.
A handsome middle-aged man grabs the microphone next to Gessner and, in a rich bass voice, begins his own powerful rendition of "Old Man River." The crowd of 30 or 40 people is mesmerized. Gessner seems happy to yield the spotlight to the singer.
The song's refrain, he keeps on rolling along, symbolizes Dick Gessner's unwavering popularity with audiences and singers alike.
"His energy brings a room alive," says Nate Day, the singer. "His phraseology is exquisite. Most important, he gets a roomful of people to listen to the singer. Dick Gessner was once named the number one ambassador of the city of Annapolis."
Gessner's ambassador role involves nurturing young singers just starting out. He's like human Valium, soothing nerves and cajoling the singer as well as the audience. "Just take a deep breath Everyone, look at him and smile."
"Him" in this case is David Merrill, an 18-year-old senior at Broadneck High School. He wows the crowd with his poignant tenor voice, rendering "All I Need is the Girl" from Gypsy with innocent style. Merrill and Gessner quickly establish an easy rapport. Merrill calls him "sir" and Gessner laughs. Merrill, who sings in his high school chorus, hopes one day to teach music to children. Tonight, he's achieved instant stardom.
Dick Gessner's voice and personality permeate even the perimeter of the dining room. During the evening, he makes eye contact with everyone and frequently calls out: "Got a request?" His repertoire of 3,000 songs assures that the music will keep playing.
While Gessner takes a short break, a woman at a nearby table tells the Katmandu story. It seems that a few years ago at a bar in the exotic city of Katmandu, capital of Nepal, an Annapolitan was telling new acquaintances about a terrific singer/piano player back home. Overhearing, a stranger asked: "Are you talking about Dick Gessner?" Draw your own conclusions about the legendary Gessner. This might sound like "All That Jazz," but it's a true story!
Another truth is the way Gessner's hands seem wedded to the piano. You want to add them to your list of famous matches: Adam and Eve; Antony and Cleopatra; Dick Gessner and the ivories.
Gessner could probably spout more paragraphs about his career than there are keys on the musical instrument he has mastered. He summarizes modestly: "I enjoy my life."
It's up to the Deep Creek crowd to respond enthusiastically: "You charm the husk right off of the corn, Dick."
Gessner settles for another song. Is it just coincidence that Nancy Futon's choice as she takes the mike is "It's a Fine Life" from Oliver?
Polish your vocal cords and don't miss the celebration. Dick Gessner plays at Deep Creek Restaurant in Arnold Friday and Saturday nights until the end of May: 410/757-4045.
-Shirley Brewer with Matthew Thomas Pugh
North Beach in Motion
photos by Connie Darago
A full-fledged bicycle race began the festivities at North Beachs Spring Festival followed by a bike and trike race for two to four year olds.
"Round and round they go. It's loop 28 and the winner is " echoed from the makeshift podium beside Town Hall in North Beach as townsfolk and visitors alike gathered to kick off the summer season at the revived Spring Festival.
This year's two-day festival featured bicycle races. From fields of international pedalers to two- and four-year-old toddlers, they came to race with one goal in mind: crossing the finish line.
Cheering them on toward that line were babies, toddlers, moms, dads, grandparents and the occasional family pet.
A 50-lap bike race sanctioned by the United States Cycling Federation brought the loudest cheers as professional team racers put the pedal to the metal.
But it didn't take long for the cheering section to become infiltrated with bikers who had fallen by the way.
"The middle of the race was the hardest," said Phillip Helburn of Falls Church, who dropped out after the 18th lap of the 30-lap Great International. "When you get behind, it's embarrassing. So you just break away in an inconspicuous place and find your way back to a good viewing spot."
Helburn took his viewing spot near the finish line. He joined the cheering crowd and nodded in approval as riders Jeff Fritz, Eric Frost and Grant Soma took first, second and third places.
Finding a good spot to view races and other happenings around North Beach these days is much easier than it was a few years ago. For, like the bicycle races that sped through its streets, this town, too, is on the move.
Is it possible for a sleepy little beach town that time passed by to move into the 21st century and not destroy its diversity and old-fashioned style?
Seems so. For even as plans were moving ahead to transform the town's "key corner," at Third Street and Bay Avenue, with a multimillion-dollar inn with restaurant and conference center, townsfolk gathered on streets, porches, balconies and car hoods to watch the bikers run their heats. And to celebrate their community.
You didn't have to be a professional bicyclist to get cheers from this diverse community's crowds. Amateurs had their chances too.
The pace slowed as the two-to-four-year-old competitors went to the starting line.
With color-coordinated tricycles and matching helmets, putting all the might their little legs could muster, they lunged forward, training wheels smoking. Ryan Ridgewell carried home the honors and a certificate in this one.
Bicycle races weren't the only things moving at Spring Fest.
A small parade full of town spirit also reflected a changing community.
Mayor Mark Frazer waved to the jubilant crowd from a spiffy '65 blue Corvette convertible. The Calvert Garden Club threw candy to the crowd from their pick-up truck garden, complete with straw-hat gardeners and forsythia. A local equestrian farm lent riders clothed as famous women in history, while fire trucks and vintage cars rounded out the lineup.
As the parade ended, motion shifted to the crown jewel of North Beach, its boardwalk.
From this vantage point, adults enjoyed live music and beer, while kiddies rode the boardwalk train and the ponies. Everyone eventually came together to share a real old-fashioned town picnic.
"This is the first time we've done this," said Mayor Frazer. "I'm very pleased. Everyone is having a good time."
That good time carried over for the second day of the Fest when bicycles gave way to motorcycles.
Once known as a biker's town, North Beach again embraced a bit of its past with the Blessing of the Bikes, displays by Harley dealers, beer, good food and live music.
How successful will North Beach be when it comes to blending the old ways of a beach town to the modern, fast-paced lifestyle we enjoy today?
The race is on, they've already set the pace, and it's lookin' real good as they approach the finish line.
With Spring Comes Farmers' Markets1
At Two Hollies Farm in Shady Side, Jean Grimes raises the all-organic herbs and vegetables she sells at Annapolis and soon Deale Farmers Markets.
Now's the time to catch your favorite spring vegetables at your local farmers' market before they are all gone. Asparagus, peas, lettuce and herbs arrive early every Saturday at the Annapolis and Severna Park markets.
Come summer, you'll have four Anne Arundel County markets to shop, with a new market in Deale replacing Crofton's failed market.
At the two early markets, spring's warm air is made sweeter by the farmers' friendly greetings. Up to 25 Maryland-only farmers and bakers take the time to meet their customers and offer cooking and planting tips. As you look forward to summer, now's a good time to learn, for example, how much sun a basil plant needs.
Unlike supermarket produce that travels an average of 1,500 miles and has had three or more owners, fruits and vegetables sold at these markets have had only one owner, their grower. Especially at the Annapolis market, which insists that all goods must be created or grown in Anne Arundel County, it may have traveled as few as five miles. Typically, it's been picked the very morning you buy it.
"With all the environmental and public health issues lately, people want to know the source of their food. Farmers' markets are a return back to that wonderful old idea that neighbors meet in the middle of the square and shop there," says Tony Evans, the statewide coordinator of farmers' markets for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
As the season progresses, new produce makes its way onto the tables. Soon there'll be cucumbers, squash and berries. By July, farmers will be happy to advise on which of the seven varieties of tomatoes they're harvesting works best for which recipe. Corn will arrive in high summer, and apples and pumpkins show up in the fall. Baked goods, flowers, eggs, honey and preserves are offered throughout the market season.
Come July 5, just when the first outdoors tomatoes are ripening, Deale's new farmer's market opens from 4 to 7pm at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church at 5965 Deale-Churchton Road. Farmers, bakers and - organizers hope - a crabber will be there every Thursday through October.
This new market is an answer to local prayers.
"Fresh local produce was an overwhelming favorite in our poll at last year's South County Festival," said Ann Wolfe, an organizer with the Alliance for Rural Business.
The Alliance is making that prayer come true. The three-year-old grass-roots group, organized in the shadow of Safeway to support local alternatives, worked with local producers and found the space for the market at one of the town's two crossroads.
Five old farm market hands, all from Southern Anne Arundel County, have already signed up for opening day. Shoppers can expect to see Market Master Bill Morris of Churchton, whose line includes fruits, berries, vegetables and potted plants. The Wilkersons of Traceys Landing will sell a full line of vegetables. Raymond and Sonia Wood from Lothian will bring all sorts of vegetables including gourds, melons and squash for sale. Specialists are Jean Grimes from Two Hollies Farm in Shady Side, who offers all organic herbs and vegetables plus blackberry lemonade, and the Rev. David and Margaret Lewis from West River, who will have baked goods for sale.
Deale still has spaces for bakers, watermen and local producers with unique products. (Call Bill Morris at 410/974-8313.)
Farmers' markets celebrate 20 years in Anne Arundel County this year, as the Annapolis market, the oldest, finishes two decades. Join the celebration on Saturday, June 23 in Annapolis, where there will be cooking, beekeeping, and flower arranging demonstrations as well as entertainment, free refreshments and balloons.
Other events, like the Master Gardeners Plant Clinic on Saturday, May 19, are announced in the monthly newsletter Anne Arundel Co. Farmers' Market News, free at the Annapolis location.
The Annapolis market is on the corner of Harry S Truman Parkway and Riva Road. Shop Saturday 7am to noon through June 2, when it also opens Tuesday mornings. Just opened is the Severna Park Farmers' Market at the Park and Ride on the corner of Ritchie Highway and Jones Station Road. Look for the Piney Orchard Farmers' Market to open on Wednesday, June 13.
Writer, editor and adventurer Gaines breaks into Bay Weekly with this article.
Pertinacious Orthographers Make Honey for Literacy
It helps to be pertinacious (syn. resolute, determined, persistent, tenacious) when competing in a spelling bee. It also helps if you can spell that adjective. For when going up against Paleolithic librarians, a gaggle of Supermen and some 56 equally pertinacious orthographers (syn. spellers), you'll need to be a master of multisyllabic vocabulary.
Such was the challenge at Calvert County Literacy Council's Fifth Annual Adult Spelling Bee on Friday, May 11, when 14 teams of four went head to head in Chesapeake Beach to see just who really remembered their middle school quizzing. Competition proved stiff.
"Through 10 rounds we still had eight teams," says dentist, North Beach mayor and honorary Bee chairman Mark Frazer, who competed with the Tooth Masters. His team managed to stick it out until the 10th round. "But then the bar was raised a little higher."
Only a couple cycles later, level-three words narrowed the field to two teams. In round 19, the champion was decided as the Local Management Board's L. M. Bee-ers spelled victory with pertinacious, leaving Calvert County Public Library's fur-wearing, club-toting, dentally overendowed Barbrarians to pick up second-place honors.
This year's spelling bee has coughed up a lot of sweet honey for the Literacy Council hive. Money is still dribbling in, but the Literacy Council's Debra Adair estimates $14,000 was raised at dinner, bee and silent auction by some 120 people, most of them spectators, to benefit the council's adult literacy programs. Adair hopes next year's will be even bigger and better.
Meanwhile, veteran speller Frazer is already talking tactics for next year, planning on quartering the study book among the team so they might cram thoroughly and equally. "We're going to divide and conquer, as they say."
Way Downstream ...
In Washington, Maryland U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) is among 10 sponsors of legislation to raise fuel efficiency standards for sport utility vehicles and light trucks. Gilchrest, whose district includes Annapolis and the Eastern Shore, noted that besides environmental benefits, better gas mileage can ease the pain these days of filling up ...
In England, the weather is the opposite from what we've been seeing in Chesapeake Country. Since late winter, there's been nothing but rain, rain, rain, bringing the worst flooding in 50 years. Many parks not already closed by foot-and-mouth disease are under water and impossible to enter. No wonder we're seeing more Brits vacationing in lovely Maryland ...
In Australia, scientists hope to learn more about the feeding habits of the great white shark now that they've tagged an eight-foot-long baby with a device for monitoring by satellite. A reason for the research: Five swimmers have been attacked by sharks off the coastline since last fall ...
In Yonkers, N.Y., Consumer Reports magazine warns in its next issue that most of those dietary supplements for would-be sports heroes are dangerous. The worst may be ephedra, an amphetamine-like drug. But androstendione (known as the Mark McGwire drug) may also be bad. Among other things, it hikes levels of the female hormone estrogen ...
Our Creature Feature is the adventures of Ziggy and Cleopatra, two iguanas kidnapped from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. They disappeared last Thursday from separate exhibits, and zookeepers feared the worst. In the case of Ziggy, a green iguana, the worst was being abandoned in a vacant lot wearing a bandanna and missing a chunk of his tail.
Cleopatra, a rare rhinoceros iguana with a horn on her snout, was found wrapped in a blanket in a trash can. Two teens were suspected in the great lizard heist. Authorities told the Times-Picayune that they couldn't tell if the iguanas were happy to be home. After their five-day romp, they only sat motionless staring at their fruit trays.