Headed out for dinner and drinks in Annapolis? There’s a good chance you’ll find musical talent as well.
Trendy indie? Shake your groove to some soul and funk? Hip hop, pop, reggae, folk, jazz, blues, Celtic or some good old sea shanties? Start at Ego Alley in Annapolis on a Friday night and begin walking toward West Street, and you can pick your soundtrack.
Most buildings in this part of Annapolis are small. Yet many bar and restaurant owners happily sacrifice precious floor space for live music.
Bands take up space, but they also bring customers. Many have their own following, a potential new set of customers for restaurant or bar. In the symbiotic relationship, diners and drinkers are potential new fans for the bands.
“We feel that the environment created by live music performed by really talented musicians is upbeat and exciting,” explains Stan Fletcher, co-owner of Stan and Joe’s. “A variety of musicians contribute to this atmosphere, from solo guitarist and singers to six-piece bands.”
Thanks to love, the Annapolis music scene is on an upswing.
“Ten or so years ago, there were more places to play,” says Jimi Davies, aka Jimi Haha of Jimmy’s Chicken Shack. Clubs he used to play have stopped featuring live music, but “now we have some new places like Metropolitan and Red Red Wine Bar.”
Metropolitan, farther up West Street, and The Whiskey, on outer West Street where space is no issue, have second floors designed for music. Wild Willy’s Rock House and Sports Saloon, out in Parole, has a stage and dance floor area as well.
Sharing the Groove
Just as each unique menu feeds your belly, so does the eclectic music menu feed your soul.
Annapolis is “a mixed-up, no-real-one-sound town,” says Jordan Sokel of Pressing Strings. The rootsy rock band plays regular gigs at Red Red Wine Bar, as do local favorites like Jahworks and Skribe. “There are so many different fusions of sound now that you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is because everybody does a whole handful of different styles,” Sokel says.
What’s true of the scene is also true of bands. Few fit into one category. The common thread is the connection to Annapolis — and often to each other.
Everyone knows everyone else, or so it seems. Camaraderie makes the Annapolis music scene distinctive, says Brandon Hardesty, lead singer for Bumpin Uglies. Playing for over three years, Bumpin Uglies likes performing at The Whiskey because, Hardesty says, “it’s a great community. On any given night you might find musicians from 10 different bands just hanging out.”
Kevin Basiliko feels that unity, too. He met Hardesty at The Whiskey while waiting for his own band to play. Basiliko plays saxophone for the 8 Ohms Band, a funk/soul group, but he also has played with groups such as Higher Hands, The Grilled Lincolns and Sweet Leda as well as recording on albums with several of them.
Viki Nova, a singer songwriter, also enjoys this linked community. One of her first Annapolis connections was Julie Cymek of Sweet Leda. Coming from D.C. and Northern Virginia, Nova was surprised at the number of musicians who joined each other on stage, sitting in on each other’s set. The first time they met, Nova invited Cymek to join her on her acoustic set downstairs at Ram’s Head Tavern.
“This circle in Annapolis is as welcoming as they get,” says Nova. “There are no snobs, no cliques. Just people with a mutual love of music, respect for fellow musicians and a kind and helping attitude.”
Cymek knows what support looks like. As she and Sweet Leda toured beyond Annapolis, she noticed that other bands were showing up and staying only for their own sets.
“That doesn’t really happen here,” Cymek says. “The musicians show up really early; they stay late. The fans come early and stay late. They want to see multiple bands, new bands, and they want to be part of that sharing, caring community.”
Even out-of-town bands from Baltimore and D.C. can appreciate Annapolis. Ben Shugarman says when his Baltimore band Shook plays The Whiskey, the crowd is “really responsive to live music” and “filling up the dance floor.”
Michael Shereikis of Chopteeth also notes Annapolis as “a different vibe. It’s more relaxed. It’s more open-spirited, a little more receptive.” Coming from a member of a 12-piece Afro-’70’s funk band out of D.C., that’s quite a compliment.
“We’re in the middle of two metropolitan areas that influence but don’t determine the sound of the Annapolis music scene,” says Mike Hearne, the owner of The Whiskey.
Hearne is always on the lookout — even in the crowd — for potential talent. His crowded Tuesday night open mike list helps him find new talent while often bringing crowds of friends into The Whiskey to support the musicians on stage.
“Playing open mike night at The Whiskey was chaotic but exciting,” says Shady Sider Mark Behuncik of his band Flat Daddy. “There was little time for a sound check because we only had 20 minutes to set up and perform. You have to know your material.”
Stan and Joe’s has an open mike night, Fletcher says, to “help aspiring performers hone their skills, as well as a karaoke night to allow prospective singers to let it out.”
Where is this flood of talent coming from? Hearne credits the Annapolis school system and its focus on music. Gavin Buckley, one of the owners of Metropolitan, gives a different explanation: “Annapolis is a beautiful town. I think it just naturally attracts artists,” he says.
Tony Minetola, Metropolitan’s talent buyer, has a simpler ideology: “This is a music town.” Minetola’s goal is to bring in national acts to pair with local names. He enjoys seeking new sounds and posts on Facebook so people can sample the upcoming music and meet new bands.
Metropolitan also serves up jazz on Thursday evenings, transforming the bar into a sophisticated hangout where tables fill the dance floor.
Over at 49 West, jazz is served nearly all week long.
Annapolis music caters to all kinds of tastes, even those a little off the beaten path. Celtic bands like the Rovers find themselves at home here, as do the “stomping-Mississippi-blues” of Swampcandy. Evening entertainment in Annapolis is a connoisseur’s choice.