In new music series, folk won't play second fiddle Monthly showcase debuts next week

September 24, 1993|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

Folk music fans, tired of straining to hear over the din in coffeehouses and cafes, will soon be able to enjoy favorite songs about misfortune and mayhem -- in the quiet of a concert hall.

The Ellicott Theatre Showcase, a monthly folk concert series, debuts Oct. 2 at the Little Theatre on the Corner in Ellicott City.

"It's an intimate concert hall, as opposed to the noisy bar or cafe, or coffeehouse in the basement of churches," said series producer Tony McGuffin, 40, of Ellicott City. "It's great for the performer as well as the audience."

In addition to booking artists from the Baltimore and Washington areas, Mr. McGuffin plans to bring in acts from as far as New England and Nashville.

Ten members of the Baltimore-Washington Songwriters' Guild, including Mr. McGuffin, a founding member, will launch the series' debut.

The performers -- Tom Prasada-Rao of Takoma Park; Abby Bardi of Silver Spring; Sara Landymore and Lucy Bocchiaro of Washington; and Mark Brine, Bob Pyle, Linda Baer, Art Renkwitz and Rob Nold of Baltimore -- will each sing three original songs during the concert.

"The show will be fast-moving with a lot of variety," said Mr. McGuffin, who is the host of an "open mike" at the E.C. Does It Cafe in Ellicott City.

The folk entrepreneur also works as a substitute science teacher at Oakland Mills High School. "They call me the Singing Substitute," he said.

The guild performance will be produced live onto a compact disc. "One reason is financial," Mr. McGuffin said. "CDs get more play on radio. But to record a CD is expensive. [Ticket] and advance sales of the CD are going to pay for the production costs."

Subsequent concerts will feature one or two performers and the occasional showcase.

The series evolved out of a need to provide a performing arena for the guild, a new organization formed to take the place of the disbanded Baltimore Songwriters' Guild.

The Baltimore guild was started more than two years ago by banjoist Bob Pyle.

At that time, Mr. McGuffin, a fellow member, was performing and producing a series of concerts at the now-defunct Bauhouse art gallery in Baltimore.

While looking for performers in the Baltimore and Washington areas, "we found two separate music communities and started infiltrating each other," Mr. McGuffin said. "We got them involved in the guild. And we networked. Whenever something would come up, we would call each other."

Although the Baltimore guild produced two cassettes -- "Here's to the Artist" and "Let's Do Lunch" -- the organization foundered.

"The guild was originally formed to try out new material, but it fizzled out," Mr. McGuffin said. "No one came to meetings."

Shortly after, the Baltimore-Washington Songwriters' Guild coalesced. "There are two distinct communities in Baltimore and Washington," he said. "Our objective is to bridge that gap. We can do it if we want to -- and we want to."

Two weeks ago, the guild played in a Red Cross-sponsored benefit for Mississippi River flood victims at Max's Market Cafe in Baltimore.

After the Bauhouse folded 18 months ago, Mr. McGuffin began his search for a new venue for his concerts and a showcase for the guild.

"For a year, I tried to get the Little Theatre on the Corner but it was too expensive," he said. "So when Lewis and Carroll's Comics and Cards took it, I made a deal with them to do a show each month."

The comic and card store, which is leasing the theater for five years, hopes to turn it into a movie house by December, presenting old and foreign films, student film productions, Japanese animations, film festivals, and, on Saturday mornings, free cartoons for children.

"We're the only comic book theater in the country," said Charlie ++ Kimbrough of Ellicott City, one of the shop's three owners.

In exchange for use of the 50-year-old theater, the guild will turn over a split percentage based on ticket sales.

Mr. McGuffin is confident he can fill the theater's 108 seats. "Judging from the people that contacted me, 108 seats won't be too hard to sell," he said. "Ellicott City is a real community spot and the hub of a big community."

Folk audiences, said folk singer and humorist Sue Trainor of Columbia, range from 30 to 55 years old, most old enough to remember when folk singers such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and the Smothers Brothers dominated the airwaves in the 1960s.

Today's folk music is still "music that people sing on their own for pleasure, but write because they have something to say, something to get out," she said. "It can be drawn from a whole lot of different styles."

Ms. Trainor, who is producer of the Folkal Point, a weekly folk concert series presented at the Coho Grill in Columbia, is enthusiastic about the new series.

"I think it's fabulous," she said. "When the Folkal Point left [Cacao Lane Restaurant in Ellicott City about 18 months ago], we had the same idea. It would be a perfect facility for community arts programs of various kinds. But we dropped it because of logistics."

Ms. Trainor discounts suggestions that the concert series might threaten other entertainment establishments, including the Folkal Point.

"The showcase is a community project," she said. "There are enough folks out there interested in the arts who can support the Folkal Point and Little Theatre. We just have to get the word out. We're not anywhere near saturation."

But guild member Abby Bardi believes the two establishments will eventually share audiences. "We should really feed into each other," she said. "It's part of an increasing folk audience.

"It may take a while to catch on. But I think it will be a great venue. It's nice to have a theater where people are riveted -- not clinking their spoons."

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