Musician organizes a `creative outlet'

Showcase at coffeehouse features sets by five acts


December 18, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

A new musical showcase at Mad City Coffee in Columbia takes a winning formula -- intimate setting plus caffeine plus live music -- and multiplies it.

The monthly event, called Songs That Matter, brings up to five acts to the coffeehouse for their turns in the spotlight playing mostly original acoustic, folk-oriented music.

"The audience gets a chance to try several new musicians in one show," said organizer Joe Isaacs of Columbia. "They also walk away with songs and ideas that they would never have heard elsewhere."

The showcase will feature five acts from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and it will continue next year on the fourth Saturday of every month.

Isaacs started organizing Songs That Matter sessions at Mad City last month after a previous venue in Odenton closed. The showcase also appears at the Berwyn Cafe in College Park.

Isaacs, who teaches second grade at Beltsville Elementary School, is a singer and songwriter, and he organizes the showcases with musicians in mind.

"It evolved out of me doing gigs where I'd invite other musicians and friends," he said. "I came up with the idea of the showcase, with everyone taking a turn.

"There is something special about people getting together to perform and listen to live music," he said. "Each performance is unique and not necessarily what you expected."

"Joe is really positive about bringing local musicians together," said Adam Day, who will perform Saturday. The showcase "lets the community know what's out there."

It can be difficult for musicians to find venues when they don't have a full band, he said, "There's a lot of local music that is untapped."

Day, a freshman at Ithaca College in New York, has been playing acoustic rock for a few years. He met Isaacs at an open-mike session several years ago and is looking forward to doing the showcase while he is home in Chesapeake Beach for break.

He is studying music recording, but has been encouraged by the gigs he has played. "I'd like to try to be a rock star one day," he said.

Isaacs also will play Saturday, as will Sheila Eastman, a guitarist from Towson who covers rhythm and blues, pop and jazz songs. The bill also includes Joe Hickey of Berkeley, Calif., and the debut of the duo Matchstick Hope, which is Andre Cutair of Greenbelt and Geoff Stewart of Washington.

"Joe's done a wonderful job making opportunity available to a lot of folks," Cutair said.

Cutair has a day job in Web and print design for the International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services, and he said he is doing the showcase in part for the exposure.

"Part of being a musician is performance, whether you are getting paid or not," he said.

Cutair said performing also has personal benefits. "It's something we care about," he said. "It's sort of a necessary part of our lives, and one we like to share."

Hickey grew up in Baltimore and graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. He has finished his first semester of graduate school, studying chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley.

"One open mike is all I could find time for" during the semester, he said. Isaacs invited him to play in the showcase while he is home visiting his family.

"It is nice to have the creative outlet back again," said Hickey, who will play a style he calls high-energy acoustic groove. "It's the opportunity to share what I've been doing the last couple of months, and the last couple of years. ... Performing is where it comes to fruition. You really get it out there and share it with people."

The first Mad City showcase went well, Isaacs said. "They were a really respectful audience."

Mad City often has small musical groups on the weekends, said manager Scott McCabe. For the business, live entertainment "brings in some different people that might not necessarily come here," he said. "It sticks with the small-cafe atmosphere."

Ken Baldwin of Severn found last month's showcase to be a good way to connect with other musicians. An illustrator for the armed forces, he returned to the United States about a year ago after living in Germany for five years.

Events such as the showcase and open-mike nights are "a really nice way to give people, especially musicians, a venue to showcase their talent," he said. "It's a nice way to sort of network among musicians, start to do some collaborating."

Songs That Matter will be at Mad City Coffee, 10801 Hickory Ridge Road in Columbia. Admission is free. Information: 410-964-8671 or www.

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