26 bands and a new stage multiply neighborliness and good times
by Rob Goszkowski
The Back Creek end of Second Street is usually a quiet one, inhabited by a small marina and the post-Isabel shell of the Annapolis Maritime Museum, formerly McNasby’s oyster packing plant and later seafood house. But for the last 10 years, on one day of summer a stage rises and a thousand or so happy people mill about, digging the music, having a beer and enjoying the company of neighbors.
Eastport’s year-long calendar is peppered with reasons such as the Green Beer Races and the tug of war against Annapolis-proper to get out and party with the neighbors. But Eastport-a-Rockin’, one of the largest events, is by far the most music oriented.
This rain-or-shine charity festival falls on June 24 this year, adding a new feature to the lineup of 26 bands.
“The biggest change in the last couple years has been the addition of the third stage, the acoustic J-stage, and that’s going to be fantastic,” says Jessica Pachler, an organizer for the event. “The J-stage is right near the kids’ area, so now parents don’t have to choose between listening to music and letting their kids play in the moon bounce or get their face painted. They can all be in the same area.”
The J-Stage reflects organizers’ determination for an inclusive event with local emphasis. That’s been the key to the success of Eastport-a-Rockin.’
“Eastportoricans know how to get together and have a good time,” says Jeff Holland, director of one of the event’s beneficiaries, the Annapolis Maritime Museum. “People who have moved here in the last 10 years have moved here because of that spirit and that neighborliness. When we do events like this, they understand that’s part of being here.”
Consequently, noise complaints are few, and the scene is festive and neighborly.
“That’s another thing that characterizes this particular event, the good nature of the crowd,” Holland says. “At other festivals, people can get a little rowdy or out of hand. But in my experience, in the 10 years that this has been going on, that has never happened.”
The atmosphere suits the mostly local bands performing for free at the benefit. Building an audience is not easy when you can only book yourself at a couple of bars or clubs.
“We’re really excited about having everybody out,” says Donice Cully, lead singer for rock/pop outfit The Sikes. “I’m a school teacher, so a lot of the kids I teach are going to come out, which is fun because they’ve never seen me play. They get to see their teacher rock out.”
Bands like second-year performers Earthtone have used Eastport-A-Rockin’ as a jump off.
“Previously we hadn’t played in Annapolis very much at all, and it helped us out tremendously,” says Tommy Bradel, drummer/vocalist for the jam band Earthtone. “There was a huge crowd out there, and they got down with what we did. We play all over town now.”
The music itself is a carefully selected eclectic mix with a local focus. Three stages host artists of different genres picked to appeal to a crowd of varying ages and interests.
“We try to support teens as well, for example, so the Anne Arundel County high school Battle of the Bands winner gets a spot on the roster,” says Pachler. That band, Think, opens the street stage.
It helps that Pachler and the other organizers are anything but impartial observers; they’re into the music, too.
“You know who I really wanna see this year?” asks Pachler. “Eyeball Skeleton! It’s two kids and their dad, and it’s awesome. They are great. I dunno where [music director Sean O’Neill] found ’em, but I can’t wait.”
Eyeball Skeleton is a three-piece band from Edgewater featuring 10-year-old J.J. Brown, 11-year-old Charlie Brown and Dad, 31-year-old Bill Brown. The two “write down ideas and lines for the lyrics, then work with Dad over waffles and coffee to organize the lyrics to fit their music,” according to the bio of their MySpace page.
Some performers happen to be organizers. Jeff Holland is more than Annapolis Maritime Museum director; he’s also one-half of Them Eastport Oyster Boys.
“In fact, the Oyster Boys are the only act to have played at all 10 festivals,” says partner Kevin Brooks.
Given the nature of their material, it makes perfect sense that they are the festival’s most regular performers.
“The Eastport community, Annapolis, good dogs, good boats and the Chesapeake are the source of our inspiration,” Brooks says. “We have been fortunate to have performed such wonderful places as Ireland and Estonia in the last year, but playing here in the MRE always makes it special.”
Feeling Good Doing Good
As a performer and director of the Maritime Museum, Holland sees from both sides how the festival doubles as a good time and charity fundraiser. This year is big for the museum; it’s the first year it will have any of its space open during the event since Hurricane Isabel, a disaster from which they are still recovering.
“Eastport-a-Rockin’ is more for the operating side,” says Holland “to create programs for kids in local elementary and middle schools. And it helps us fund our outreach programs, concert series and lecture series. It’s a huge help all around.”
The other beneficiary, the YWCA, has also been involved from the start. “It’s a good cause, and they can always use our help,” says Pachler. “And they help us, too. They send tons of volunteers and are involved in the whole planning process.”
The connection influences the atmosphere at Eastport-A-Rockin’.
“People have the attitude, like, sweet, not only is it a good time with good music but the proceeds go to charity, too,” Pachler says. “It’s actually a provision with the city of Annapolis that to have special events with charges for admission, food and alcohol, some portion has to go to charity and that’s a really cool thing they’ve done to bring charity into having fun.”
Eastport-a-Rockin’: 11am-8pm Saturday, June 24, at the Back Creek end of Second St., near Annapolis Maritime Museum, Eastport. $10: www.eastportarockin.com.