On the road again

Concerts: Folk music series loses church venue but some concerts will be relocated.

July 26, 1999|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Like the troubadours it often features, the Uptown Concert Series is on the move again. The folk music series has closed at Mays Chapel United Methodist Church in Timonium because of "policy changes" at the church, says Joyce Sica, impresario of the 11-year-old folk music series.

Under her management, the concert series -- known for its eclectic musical lineup, from Odetta to Big Blow and the Bushwackers -- has divided its time among three United Methodist churches: Old Otterbein and Wilson Memorial, both in Baltimore City, and, for the past five years, suburban Mays Chapel, where it was rechristened Uptown Concerts.

There were times when Uptown Concerts teetered financially, but Sica says that money was not a factor in closing the Mays Chapel series. In the future, however, she will book musicians that aren't as well-known as many previous command substantial sums. "I can't compete with the Birchmere and Ram's Head," she says, referring to music clubs in Virginia and Annapolis.

Sica also books folk concerts at Baldwin's Station & Pub in Sykesville, "but it's a much smaller event," she says. Baldwin's seats 70, as opposed to 300 at Mays Chapel.

Although she is not certain whether she will relocate the larger concert series, Sica is gratified that Mays Chapel, and Wilson and Otterbein before it, paved the way for a more widespread acknowledgment of folk music's popularity. As an example, Sica cites the Ram's Head Tavern, which opened in November 1997 and features well-known folk, rock and jazz artists.

Uptown Concerts, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the NorthAmerican Folk Alliance, has helped to launch the careers of John Gorka, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dar Williams, Katie Curtis and other well-known, roots-based musicians.

To a certain extent, Sica believes her work was finished when the Ram's Head and other music clubs started booking mainstream folk artists. She sees her task now as introducing the "second wave of Gorkas, Cheryl Wheelers" and others, Sica says.

Sica, 53, and her husband, Tony, who live in Randallstown, have long been mainstays of Baltimore's folk music scene. For 13 years, Tony Sica has been the host of "Detour," a folk-based radio show that airs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays on WTMD (89.7 FM).

In 1995, when Tony Sica was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a large fund-raiser sponsored by the folk community helped offset their expenses. Headliners Tom Paxton, Garnet Rogers and others who have benefited from the Sicas' support interrupted concert tours to aid their ailing friend.

Joyce Sica still revels in watching people discover folk music. "The other night, this lady at Baldwin Station was so taken with the whole thing, she made reservations for every show I had listed already," she says.

Sica has also realized that new audiences for the folk circuit can come from unlikely places. When a crowd of adoring young women turned out for former Monkees member Peter Tork, Sica realized they were first introduced to him on reruns of the TV show on Nickelodeon's nostalgic "Nick at Night" programming.

Concerts originally booked at Mays Chapel for the fall will take place at Baldwin's, Sica says. Pending shows there include Jonathan Edwards on Aug. 7 and John McCutcheon on Oct. 23.

For more information, call 410-521-9099.

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