`A way to lift the spirits'

Charity: Area musicians have responded to last fall's terrorist attacks by holding a concert series that brings people together and gives back to the community.


May 09, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

For folk singer Joanne Juskus of Columbia and some of her performer friends, there was only one way to get through the grief-stricken days after Sept. 11: making music and sharing it with the community.

"[We] wanted to find a way to lift the spirits of others and ourselves and thought having a benefit series would do it," she says. "We felt the arts were a key to keeping spirits alive in such a dark time."

They developed the Bottom Floor music series, which is held the second Saturday of every month at a church hall in Baltimore and donates its proceeds to charities. Last month, they contributed to Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia. This month's show - at 8 p.m. Saturday - will benefit Maryland's Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which trains volunteers to speak on behalf of abused or neglected children.

The series features an eclectic mix of music - including reggae, jazz, pop, rock and folk. National act Da Vinci's Notebook - half comedy act, half a cappella group - will headline Saturday's show. Juskus says she expects the act to draw a good crowd to St. John's United Methodist Church, which can comfortably hold about 250 people.

But the first show, on Sept. 26, was something of a bust.

"Hardly anybody came," she says. "But as each month goes by, we get more and more people."

That's a big relief to Juskus, who also runs a graphics design business out of her home and has three kids. She has been pouring a good portion of her energy into the project: She is the show's host, promoter, band-booker and sometimes cook.

"We can't pay the performers very much, and I figure the least I can do is prepare a meal for them," says Juskus, who was nominated for four Washington Area Music Association awards last year, including best new artist. "I've gotten to be known for my vegetarian soups."

And she does it all pro bono, as do most of those involved.

"To be perfectly honest, I did it to bring in new clients," says Jeffrey Silverman, owner of Residential Underground Recording studios in Parkville who donates his time and sound equipment to the series. "But it's become very rewarding for me as far as meeting new people socially and helping a cause."

It also gives Juskus a steady gig to hone her skills and maybe experiment a little.

"I saw Joanne and her band play and was very impressed when I heard them," says David Sawyer, a Baltimore musician (known onstage as Jasaga) who recruited Juskus for the series. "After talking with her and seeing her temperament, I thought it would be great if she had a regular place to play and could host the show."

That's the second reason the series was created: to give area musicians a place to showcase their talents.

"Opportunities to perform are not always so easy to come by for local artists," says Howard Nash, the pastor of St. John's, which is home to the Bottom Floor and two other music series. "We need more places for them to play and for people to go for entertainment that are alcohol- and smoke-free."

The church serves refreshments - many from program sponsor David's Natural Market in Wilde Lake Village Center - but no alcohol. Sawyer, 51, says that allows the shows to be more about the music than swilling beer.

Juskus, who will perform at the Columbia Festival of the Arts on June 16, says the shows are about more than that.

"I consider it good music for the good of the people," she says. "I like the idea of musicians and performers being able to utilize their talents for the good of the community. It's not just a listening experience. ... It's an energy exchange."

Admission for Saturday's show at the church, 5315 Harford Road, is $10 for adults and $8 for students with a school ID.

Information: 410-426-8177 or www.joannejuskusmusic.com.

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