Do you want to hear real American music at a real low price in a real funky setting?
The Roots Cafe, which sponsors concerts twice a month at St. John's Church in Charles Village, is hoping enough folks answer yes to that question.
"Our idea is basically to have a coffeehouse with a dance floor," says Sue Trainor, a co-organizer of the sponsoring organization called the Society for the Preservation of American Roots Music. Herself a folk performer who already runs a folk music venue, the weekly Folkal Point in Ellicott City, she knows how to call out the flannel-shirt crowd.
If the Roots Cafe itself takes root, though, it promises to offer a wider array of music. Expect folk, rock, folk-rock and hyphenated variations of honky-tonk, Cajun, Tex-Mex, gospel, bluegrass and jazz.
Ms. Trainor says of the roots music to be explored: "It's interesting that the folk people consider it rock and roll, and the rock and roll people consider it folk."
Come to think of it, the musical mix is also sort of like St. John's Church itself, which hosts everything from theater productions to meetings for liberal causes (remember those?), with the occasional dance having been thrown in along the way.
However you classify all this, the concerts are being held the second and fourth Saturday of each month, with weekly concerts a possibility next year. The series began Sept. 28 with an all-acoustic program in which solo songwriters strummed their stuff. Next up is Billy Kemp, who plays his country-inflected rock on Saturday night.
Concerts are held in a back room at the church that is nothing if not roots music simpatico. Its walls -- never fully restored after a disastrous early '80s fire -- serve as the fate-scarred backdrops for banners supporting Central American refugees. And the room's 150-patron capacity means you can easily see as well as hear the performers. So song requests need not be shouted.
Concerts start promptly at 8 p.m. If you're someone who was raised to be punctual, you know what it is like to show up at 7:45 p.m. for an 8 p.m. nightclub show and not have it start until nearly midnight. Well, the Roots Cafe begins at 8 p.m. sharp and is over by midnight. Tickets cost $5, but you also might want to check out a $10 membership that brings a newsletter and $1 off on admission.
Many of those interested in roots music are themselves now putting down family roots, so they'll appreciate the fact that children are welcome. Definitely not welcome in this nurturing environment is smoking, which may only be done outside.
Although the munchies and refreshments do include beer and wine, I was one of the few bar-bred types holding a bottle of beer. Look, I simply wanted to test the theory that a beer tastes better in church.
Upcoming concerts include Edge City on Oct. 26, Rhumba Club on Nov. 9, Bill Kirchen on Nov. 23, the Polkats on Dec. 14, and a double bill of Richard Taylor and Georgie Jessup on Dec. 28.
Where: St. John's Church, 27th and St. Paul streets.
When: Concerts are at 8 p.m. the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Billy Kemp performs Oct. 12.
Menu: munchies, soda, beer and wine.