An eclectic mix of music

Clubs: Annapolis often is overlooked as a venue for live performances, but the choices are varied and numerous.

October 21, 2001|By Katie Arcieri | Katie Arcieri,SUN STAFF

The lights dim around 7:30 p.m. at the 49 West Coffeehouse on West Street in Annapolis. It's a Saturday night, and two young women talk in a corner, sipping wine while music by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia plays softly in the background.

A colorful rendering of the daily special - flounder with stuffed crab imperial and gazpacbo - is etched across a chalk-board near the coffee bar. Nature scenes by local artist Yoomi Kim hang across the Venetian faux-finish walls. Lisa Moscatiello, an Annapolis folk singer-songwriter, will soon be tuning her guitar for a performance in the intimate setting.

"49 West is a place where a lot of musicians hang out," says Moscatiello, a fixture in the Annapolis area's vibrant live-music scene. "The atmosphere down there really fosters creativity and interaction."

Whether it's in small coffee-houses such as 49 West or larger venues such as the Rams Head Tavern, music lovers seeking everything from bluegrass and acoustic folk to hard-driving rock 'n' roll have plenty to choose from in Annapolis.

"The region is blossoming with opportunities," says Mary Byrd Brown, a folk singer who often plays the first Friday of the month at 49 West. "There's a great communal sense of unity. We cover gigs for each other; we're all really connected."

Fellow musician Matt McConville agrees. The Pittsburgh-born singer-songwriter says a level of professionalism is expected among the fellowship of musicians playing in the Annapolis club scene.

"The job description is different in bars; it's to create a vibe," he says. "I'm talking about song-writing types that need to play a listening crowd."

McConville started a performance series for Annapolis song-writers, "Homemade Wine," a way to get local singer-songwriters to know each other and to provide opportunities for them to play in rooms such as Cafe Orleans or 49 West.

"There's no 'Brown-Eyed Girl' to fall back on," says McConville, a reference to the Van Morrison standard.

McConville and other performers agree that Annapolis often gets short shrift as a venue for live music among those more likely to look toward the large Baltimore and Washington scenes.

"It's overlooked by a lot of locals, and a lot of people don't even know we exist," says Barbara Ortiz, restaurant manager at the King of France Tavern at the Maryland Inn on Main Street, a noted spot for jazz. "I think people think of Baltimore as the hot spot - you know, you have the Inner Harbor and all that."

Nonetheless, the King of France Tavern has managed to carve a niche for itself with jazz lovers, with appearances by performers such as Baltimore jazz fixture Ethel Ennis and others with national reputations.

The tavern is packed Friday and Saturday nights, and provides a home for such jazz groups as the Crabtowne Big Band and Annapolis Junction Swing Band.

Another high-profile location, the Rams Head Tavern, 33 West St., includes a 600-seat theater for national acts, a restaurant and a brewery.

In the past, the Rams Head has been a platform for such internatinally known groups as 10,000 Maniacs, Little Feat and solo artists David Sanborne and Leon Redbone.

Rams Head General Manager Bill Kocan says the tavern's eclectic lineup draws diverse audiences. But the real lure, he says, is the combination of good food and prominent acts.

"We were a restaurant before a music venue," says Kocan. "You can come in and get really good food - steaks or seafood or pastas. then go see a show with national entertainment that you would normally get in Baltimore and D.C."

But a combination of comfortable atmosphere and local music can mean good business, say Annapolis bar owners.

The Acme Bar and Grill, 163 Main St., relies on its cozy 20-by-l00-foot layout and musicians such as Doug Segree, Dean Rosenthal and Jimmie's Chicken Shack to pull in customers, says bartender-manager Dona Fletcher.

A few doors down is O'Brien's Restaurant where the Virginia-based rock group The Worry Stones often plays on Sundays for a young adult crowd that gathers for beer, football games and oyster shooters.

"We're really able to open up large portions of the restaurant to dancing and live music," says Richard Whelan, general manager.

Whelan says Annapolis can offer tremendous variety of performers - a big draw.

"There's enough people that know downtown is famous for its music," he says. "If you don't like what's playing at one bar, you can go right to the next one."

Middleton Tavern, 2 Market Place, provides live music by local musicians seven nights a week for no charge.

Besides frequent requests for the restaurant's famed crab cakes, the tavern is well-known for its music, says manager Enrico Marches, pulling in crowds at the oyster bar.

"It becomes a meeting point," says Marches about the draw of regular performers.

At the other end of the age spectrum, The Eastport Clipper, Sixth Street at Severn Avenue, books alternative music groups such as Jepetto and Jah Works and provides a disc jockey for dancing. "We probably have the biggest dance floor in Annapolis," says manager Spence Shiflett.

On any given night, the energy of the state capital's live music scene nourishes audience and perfonner.

During his show, Matt McConville may invite a musician he doesn't know on stage to play a song or two.

Mary Byrd Brown will satisfy an intent crowd with her soothing voice. Lisa Moscatiello will rest her guitar after her melodic set is over.

And tomorrow night, the lights will dim again.

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