Open mike talent for your Organic Soul

ON NIGHTLIFE

December 14, 2006|By SAM SESSA

Organic Soul Tuesdays is too good to be called an open-mike night.

This weekly live hip-hop, jazz and spoken-word showcase at the 14Karat Cabaret might have the same format as an open-mike night, but it attracts more talent than any other open-mike I've been to in Baltimore.

In one night, Organic Soul Tuesdays can cure any doubts you might have about Baltimore's spoken-word, hip-hop and jazz scene. There are plenty of gifted artists in this city, and this event proves it.

"I feel like it's a form of community service," said Olu Butterfly Woods, who hosts the event. "It's a very enjoyable form of community service."

Anyone can sign up to perform in the first half of the show, and the second half is usually a feature performance. Everyone benefits -- the audience gets a great show for cheap and a taste of the city's independent scene, and the performers get some exposure and a chance to hone their live skills.

"Charisma is something that you really can't teach somebody," Woods said. "I've definitely grown because of Organic Soul."

Organic Soul Tuesdays is underground in two senses: None of the performers are signed to major labels, and the venue is below street level. When you walk in, the impression is that of your average office space. But take the stairs or elevator to the basement and the vibe drastically changes.

Downstairs, most of the decor -- from the paint on the walls and ceiling to the plastic cloths on the 15 or so small tables -- is either black or deep red. Two large red lanterns hang glowing above the bar, votive candles sit on the tables and some overhead lights illuminate the stage. Other than that, the place is kept pretty dark.

While the bartender doesn't serve alcohol, you can order sodas, bottled water or tea for about $1. Caterers set up and dish food such as chicken wings and potato salad for about $6, depending on what you order.

Get there about 7:30 p.m. when doors open and you can score free street parking on the same block as the venue -- which is always key. The downside is that you have to sit around for a while until the event starts.

When I went last week, James Collins of Fertile Ground spun before and after the show. The house band, a bass, keys and drums trio, played for a few minutes shortly after 8 p.m. Woods walked up to the mike and set the tone for the evening:

"Tonight we are practicing being fabulous," Woods said in her introduction.

From a soulful cover of Bill Withers' "Use Me" to a couple of spoken-word performances and a hip-hop duo rapping over the house band, the night started warm and got hotter. Woods took the mike between performers and smoothly transitioned from one artist to the next. People kept trickling in, so that by about 9 p.m. the place was standing room only.

Neo-soul quartet Water Seed dropped by for a surprise performance, and after a roughly 20-minute intermission, Fertile Ground went on. The soul jazz group started playing gigs years ago in this space and really tore it up last week. I would have easily paid double the $5 cover just to see singer Navasha Daya, keyboardist James Collins and the other band members.

Woods, a member of BlackOut Studios, helped found Organic Soul Tuesdays about five years ago, and has stayed with it. Through hard work, talent and word of mouth, she's helped turn Organic Soul Tuesdays into the city's best weekly jazz, soul and spoken-word event.

"You never know what you're going to get, but we put our all into it," Woods said. "We definitely don't make money. It's a passion of ours, and we always try to bring all of our gifts to the table."

Organic Soul Tuesdays is at the 14Karat Cabaret, 218 W. Saratoga St., every Tuesday. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to myspace.com/organicsoultuesdays.

No laughing matter

The Cordish Company, landlord for the shuttered Rascals Comedy Club, plans to keep the space a comedy club and reopen it in a few months, Reed Cordish, the company's vice president, wrote in an e-mail.

Though the Power Plant Live venue had scheduled acts through October, it closed in September. Headliners Entertainment Group Inc., the company that owned the business, said in its most recent quarterly report that lack of patronage was the reason for the closure.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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