Volume 13, Issue 30 ~ July 29 - August 3, 2005

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Feature Stories

The Girl in the Band
For Deanna Bogart, music is a work in progress and a nice way to spend your life
by Scott Sowers

It’s an oppressively hot day in the rolling, green hills above Baltimore. There’s a wine festival going on in a county park, and devotees of the grape are scattered across a grassy slope watching three men and a woman performing under a shelter that’s a cross between a tent and a Quonset hut. The guitar players are moving only their fingers while the drummer bobs his head and keeps time, but the woman is pounding a small electric piano like it did something to offend her. The music coming out of the twin stacks of speakers glides across jazz, blues and rock as the genres twist around each other and still make sense.

Twenty-four years ago, Deanna Bogart bought a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Baltimore to be a back-up singer in a Western swing band. She’s still singing, except now it’s her band. One more thing: You can call her music a lot of things, but Western swing isn’t one of them.

Musically Inclined
Bogart, 45, is no relation to Humphrey. She was born in Detroit, grew up in Arizona and turned 18 in California working as a runner for Paramount Studios. But it was melody not movies that channeled her muse. “There was always a piano in the house, and my mom played a diverse group of music,” says Bogart. Little Deanna displayed an early knack for the keyboards as she played tunes by ear.

Her first gig came via a phone call from a band called Cowboy Jazz. “A friend of a friend who was dating my sister told me they were looking for a girl that could sing harmony. I knew three chords on the piano, so I sent them a tape of me playing and signing. They hired me.” Once Bogart was in, she never considered coming back out.

Chord Change
On the festival stage, a roadie sets out a small oscillating fan as the band slips into the next tune. Out in the grass, bare toes are tapping and wine glasses are tipping. The brutal sun dips behind a cloud, a breeze carries a whiff of honeysuckle from the golf course next door and the band takes things up a notch by starting “Still the Girl in the Band.” The original Bogart tune details a conversation with another female musician in the Arundel Mills shopping mall. Nowadays, Bogart finds her inspiration everywhere, but songwriting is a skill she’s acquired.

She spent several years touring with Cowboy Jazz, learning the intricacies of playing a type of music whose popularity peaked during the 1940s, when Western swing was a legitimate half of Country-Western. “It’s feel-good music that can get as technical as you want, and I like the harmonies,” she said. By the mid 1980s, however, Bogart was ready for a new musical challenge. One showed up in the form of Root Boy Slim.

Root Boy Slim was the stage persona of Foster McKenzie, a rich kid who grew up in D.C. and yearned to be a soul singer like his hero, James Brown. As his outrageous alter-ego, McKenzie shot to the top of the D.C. music scene. Along the way, he assembled and disassembled rhythm-and-blues-flavored bands that included the best musicians in the area. Playing in two groups that orbited Root Boy, Bogart learned a new set of lessons in the entertainment business.

“It was the first time I’d seen the perfect union between performance, fun and musical virtuosity,” says Bogart. “It was a clear, striking perception, albeit very edgy. I like that it can go to the edge and you can still hold onto it.” The Root Boy Slim experience ended in a sad mix of substance abuse and psychosis for the band’s leader, but Bogart came through headed in a new direction. She was ready to get behind the wheel.

Going Indy
Back on the hillside, a pair of barn swallows swoops low over the field looking for an early supper. A young couple wearing shorts and T-shirts defies heatstroke by dancing in the grass. The music glides along as Bogart trades her piano for a saxophone, sings and occasionally stands up to champion a guitar lead by pointing and waving. “I can’t imagine where she’s getting the energy in this heat,” says a woman in a straw hat and shades.

In 1988, Bogart saw a future that included her own band. She assembled one, toured like a demon and recorded her first CD a year later. The experience earned playing for other people came in handy as she grew into band leader and road manager. “What looks like a band travelling around having a good time,” Bogart says, “there’s a lot of logistics behind it.” The job takes more than calling out the song titles and writing the checks. You have to command some respect and maybe a little fear.

Her music blends rock, jazz and the blues, all genres with a shortage of lady bandleaders. This fact isn’t lost on Bogart, but neither is she crying foul. “I think being a woman has more advantages than disadvantages,” she says. “I’m better at bouncing than men because really, what are they going to do to me? And being a mother has really helped me see that everybody is time-out worthy,” she says.

Another slight breeze offers a few seconds of relief from the heat as the smell of Chardonnay drifts from the tasting tents. Clumps of ladies wearing sun visors and ball caps make their way over to the merchandise table as the band eases into “I’d Rather Be Sad in Las Vegas,” another Bogart original and a crowd favorite.

Bogart’s daughter Alix, who’s 11, is playing softball today while her mother is working the crowd. According to Bogart, her daughter has a great ear and also pretty good business sense. “She learned math by selling merchandise at the shows. I bought her a Zany Brainy cash register when she was little. She sold $1,000 worth of stuff, and the money was correct right down to the penny.”

People come away from the merchandise table with CDs in hand as the afternoon spins on with the temperature holding steady in the mid 90s.

Let’s Rock
A bare-chested, middle-aged, bald man pours a bottled water over his sunburned scalp and shoulders as a clutch of fans forms on the right side of the stage. An hour and a half into the set, Bogart suddenly rises, plants a knee on her piano stool and tears into an up-tempo number. The fans near the stage break into a sloppy but spirited line dance. Now more people stand and move in time with the music.

A protracted solo from the rhythm section draws in some lithe 20-year-old bodies from a radio station tent. They move in tribal ways as more dancers rise and sway. Bogart taps the keyboard with her foot, occasionally rocks it with a hip, and at one point sits on the keys and plays. The crowd, as you would expect, goes wild.

She doesn’t travel as much as she used to because motherhood comes first. The guys in the band — Eric Scott, Kajun Kelly and Mike Aubin — have been with her for 10 years. She’s released six CDs, started her own record label, and won 20 Washington Area Music Awards, called Wammies. She’s played with Jimmy Buffett, BB King, Ray Charles, James Brown, They Might Be Giants and Spyro Gyra. There is a DVD planned for the future and a steady stream of gigs lined up till December.

So what’s left to do? More importantly, what does she want to do? “To keep working, keep getting better, do better financially, keep traveling. It’s a work in progress and a nice way to spend your life. And I love being a mom,” says Bogart.

The band has been playing for two hours in the heat without a break, but the crowd wants an encore. Bogart will oblige — but only, she says, if the people on the hill come down closer to the stage.

At first as the music starts up again, the small crowd respects a large banner carrying the festival logo that’s laid out on the grass in front of the stage. But by the second song of the encore, people are standing on the banner to get closer to the stage. They’re dancing on it. A few feet away, Deanna Bogart, still banging away on the piano, is still the girl in the band.

Bogart next plays locally at 7pm on Saturday, July 30 at Rams Head Onstage. $20: 410-268-4545.

Scott Sowers, a transplant to Eastport, has been contributing to Bay Weekly since May. He last profiled boat-seller Jonathan Foster [Vol. xiii, No. 24, June 16].

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photos by Carrie Steele
Seventh-grader Dana Chapman holds a peeper, top.
Lending a Hand to an Amphibian
Trekking through mud all in a day’s work for young biologists
by Carol Mock with Carrie Steele

When 13-year-old Michelle Denny’s shoe got sucked off in the mud, she didn’t mind. She knew that hungry ground came with the territory for amphibian hunters. Searching muddy creeks and trails for species of frogs and salamanders was a daily routine. Covered with mud and minus a sneaker, she returned home late in the afternoon, a tired young biologist.

Denny was one of 25 gifted and talented middle school students who signed on to take part in the four-year-old Maryland Summer Center for Aquatic Research’s second amphibian study. Their job was to count amphibians on the grounds of the American Chestnut Land Trust in Port Republic, which manages some 3,000 acres to preserve Calvert County’s natural and cultural resources.

“It was cool because we went into the woods to look,” said 12-year-old Amy Gionfriddo, of Calvert’s Southern Middle School. “We also learned to use GPS. We don’t do this in school.”

To become a young biologist at the Maryland Summer Center for Aquatic Research, some 50 applicants submitted their grades, recommendations and a written composition.

Only half of those middle-schoolers were chosen to hike along streams and trek through mud in search of their subject: frogs and toads, newts and salamanders.

“The students met with a Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologist, a land manager from the Land Trust and a Geographic Information Systems expert,” said Calvert County teacher Tom Harten. The Aquatic Research Center was one of 17 such centers around the state, with other centers focusing on music, dance, engineering among other topics. Each is sponsored by Maryland State Department of Education and a county school board.

In Calvert County, students studied amphibian surveys from Jug Bay and other sites, framed their research methods and predicted what they would find.

Then, just like scientists all over the world, they made their hypothesis: a search at the American Chestnut Land Trust would yield six or more amphibian species on their predicted list.

In their two weeks’ work, students confirmed their hypothesis. “We found nine different species,” said Calvert Southern Middle-Schooler Denny.

Students caught 99 frogs, toads newts and salamanders from three Land Trust locations, using five different methods. Remember picking up an old board and seeing the scattering of assorted slimy, scaly and hairy creatures? Students did too, placing 120 cover boards on the ground two months before their study. But this method turned out to be the least successful of the five.

photo by Carrie Steele
Kristen Hay, Michelle Denny, Amy Gionfriddo and Dillon Thatcher, above, joined 21 fellow middle school students mucking, trekking and canoeing their way to amphibian habitats for research and counts.
Dana Chapman, another seventh-grader from Southern Middle School, reported that cover boards yielded only one amphibian, a red-spotted newt, whose skin is bright reddish-orange to rusty brown and bears a handful of cherry-red spots on its back. Young biologists recommended placing cover boards earlier, indeed now for next year’s survey.

The most successful way to find a frog was to walk down the trail and count amphibians that could be seen or heard. By this visual-encounter survey method, students found the most amphibians. In the stream-survey method, students scooped up amphibians with a net in a 15-meter-by-two-meter transect.

The student-scientists also tried to find the amphibians without boundaries and within a time limit. Finally, they used data loggers to record different amphibian calls and to record activity at night. Five different frog calls were identified from the recorded data.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to identify a frog on the first guess,” said 12-year-old Dillon Thatcher, also from Southern Middle School.

Sometimes hearing frogs was easier than catching them.

“We used our hands or nets to catch the frogs. Sometimes you almost lost a shoe,” said Will Spann, a seventh-grader from Northern Middle School, who was one of the lucky students who kept his shoes on.

“It was sort of easy but they kept hopping away,” added 11-year-old classmate Kelly Bolen.

While students scoured sites for amphibians, others studied the habitat.

Young scientists waded in to collect data on pH, water temperature, air temperature, dissolved oxygen, stream speed and sky conditions, explained Bolen.

Good water quality is necessary to sustain amphibian numbers and diversity. According to 12-year-old Spann, the results of the tests were all within normal range.

“If the stream is too fast, the eggs can get washed away or crushed,” he said. “Also if the pH is too low it can burn through their skin.”

Amphibian survival, students discovered, has everything to do with water quality — and the environment.

“We learned the causes for amphibian decline,” said Gionfriddo. Poor water quality is often to blame for low numbers of amphibians. But there’s also harm coming from above. “Ozone, global warming and ultraviolet rays are all really hard on them,” she added. Indeed, amphibians everywhere are in decline, reflecting trouble for the bigger environmental picture.

Yet the young biologists found more species than they had expected, tracking six of their 10 predicted species, plus another three not on the guest list.

Among the final count were 54 green frogs, three pickerel frogs, six bullfrogs, 20 Fowler’s toads, six southern leopard frogs and one Cope’s gray tree frog; plus their unpredicted five spring peepers, one red-spotted newt and one spotted salamander.

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photo by Mark Burns
Wayne Alan levitates his 16-year-old neighbor Morgan Cully at his magic yard sale.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Even a magician can’t make clutter disappear
by Mark Burns

Captain Token comes up from his rummage through banana boxes with a small armload of curiosities. Bringing them to the center of the tent, he lays out his finds atop a bright red steamer trunk and starts haggling. A novelty Danger sign is his for a dollar, but the disembodied silicone hand raises questions.

“Five bucks? Really?” Token flops the hand about in midair, eyeing it skeptically. “Alright, deal,” he says, dejectedly.

“You know, the way I’m looking at it is a buck a finger,” says Wayne Alan, the hand’s present owner. He takes the hand and bends the middle finger toward the palm. “Well, you don’t want to buy that one, do you? You know, you’re right. I’m only gonna charge you $4.”

They close the hand deal, make a quick bargain for a trick necktie, and Captain Token drifts into deliberation with fellow magicians over whether the wand is still able to belch fire.

One Magician’s Old Tricks
Such were the finds in the Riva backyard of Wayne Alan on a July Saturday. In one sense the gathering was unremarkable. Friends chatted over Shasta and cheese; Alan accepted a compliment for his intelligent logistics, having sorted the smaller items into boxes according to price points. But his Magician’s Yard Sale, touted as the world’s first, presented a most unusual menagerie: Magical cabinets, levitation devices, stage props, a sprawl of mannequin fragments and random illusionary knick-knackery set discreetly under tent for browsing.

Some 30 magicians from Virginia to New Jersey — only card-carrying pros were allowed — filtered past a check-in table and through the tent over the course of three hours, looking for bargains to spice up their acts. Alan bounced among them, touting his items’ stageworthiness and chatting with friends. At points he broke away to demonstrate stage illusions, chopping his neighbor’s daughter in three or levitating her a few feet off the ground.

With the girl back safely to earth in one piece, Alan returned to conversation over the tip-over trunk that magically produces a person or props. It’s already gone to Captain Token for $900.

photo by Mark Burns
Magician Jack Julius slices wife-assistant Tanya Butchick in three and shunts her midsection into open space in the zig-zag.
“I got in as a kid and I’ve stayed a kid,” Alan said. Now 54, he has been performing since age 12, winning gold at the International Olympics of Magic in 1982. Since then he’s found success performing magic for corporate promotions. Alan has accumulated a substantial collection from his long career; the items under the tent are just a fraction of his stockpile. Among his magical wares Alan counts three or four sawing tables, four zig-zag cabinets and some 300 banana boxes brimming with tricks and magic-themed collectibles that have made his home’s storage room impassable. He needs a yard sale for the same reason anyone does: to make room.

But the joke’s on Alan. “You know what the funny thing is?” he asked. “The first guy that bought anything sold me $200 of stuff.”

Another Magician’s Treasures
It seems Alan’s now about to clear more space. Annapolis magician Jack Julius and wife/assistant Tanya Butchick are intrigued by the zig-zag — a coveted stage illusion that signals the big time. Julius shuts his spouse into a gilded red cabinet, slices her in three with flat, wide blades and shunts her midsection into open space. A showman’s flourish later, Butchick is realigned to exit unscathed, torso reunited with shimmering silver hot pants. A flawless first attempt, and another piece sold.

Dick Swanddy, 76, of New Jersey, watches from the side as Julius and Butchick try out their new magic. Not much for shopping today, Swanddy is content to mingle and help explain some of the illusions to shopping magicians. He’s an old-schooler who got his start in magic by reading Blackstone comic books and trying out the tricks in the centerfold. Swanddy’s been in the Society of American Magicians for 55 years and performing even longer.

“I grew up in a small town in South Dakota, so I didn’t have any exposure to any of this stuff,” he says, gesturing toward the zig-zag and other stage illusions. “I don’t go for the box stuff, the big stuff. Too much to lug around.” Swanddy, who now performs gratis for non-profits, prefers close-up and stand-up work, demonstrating his smooth slight of hand by disappearing a coin and finding it behind the limb of a tree beside him.

Meanwhile, Captain Token is browsing. His true name is Louis Hofheimer, 43, of Alexandria. The stage name was adopted for his first gig in 1984: While working at Chuck E. Cheese’s, he did a game show and magic act in the downtime between parties. Now he takes a break to introduce himself, offering his business card with a bit of prestidigitation. “I’ve got my magic business on side one; and on side two, my card; and my Hofheimer security on side three. It’s one of those three-sided inks they make nowadays. Yeah. That’s the ticket.” Home security is Hofheimer’s nine-to-five but magic his moonlight; he figures he only breaks even with the latter. It’s his hope that today’s finds — especially the tip-over trunk — will make his act bigger and better.

The tent event is winding down when Eric and Dwight Redman, a father-son duo out of Bladensburg, arrive to check out the gear. Eric, 20, has been performing magic from age five. His dad, Dwight, 55, is a bit newer as his assistant. “I’ve been in it about five years,” the father says. “After dragging around with him for 10.” They’ve spotted a levitating chair illusion, just beyond the scimitars lying in the grass near tent’s edge, and are busy searching its secrets. Eric is a fresh face among magicians here, a newbie despite his early experience. He can’t stay long to mingle, though, as he’s soon off again to pursue his career, due for a performance later today in Richmond.

As the Redmans leave, Hofheimer shuffles through his car’s back seat and sizes up its trunk. He’s made Alan’s day, and now his act may have grown too big for his car.

Mark Burns began writing for Bay Weekly as an intern in 1998 and worked several years as calendar editor and staff writer. While studying at University of Maryland, he contributes movie reviews, most recently The Wedding Crashers on July 21.

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