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Photo by REID SILVERMANThe upright bassist said she was a hillbilly musician, an aspiring "hepcat," during Leonardtown First Fridays April 3. She was part of a pickup string outfit playing in front of North End Gallery that came to be known as Leonardtown Gypsy Jazz Band.
Leonardtown First Fridays is the hippest thing going in Southern Maryland. And it doesn't even know it.
Imagine several live music performances happening simultaneously within a small cluster of shops. Imagine a free event revolving around art galleries with new exhibitions: Tables are covered with finger foods; wine is served in clear plastic cups.
Here we are around 6 p.m. April 3 at the corner of Fenwick and Washington streets as a dinner crowd moves into Cafe Des Artistes. (Randy Richie plays piano here every Friday and Saturday.)
Across the street from the upscale French restaurant, Tyler Radez sells upscale hot dogs. Sporting sunglasses and a Spiderman T-shirt, the local teacher explains how his business, On a Roll, helps him earn a few extra bucks over the summer. His cart has Nathan's Famous hot dogs and "Half Smokes" from Baltimore with a plethora of toppings. Even if First Fridays is not one of his more profitable gigs, Radez says he enjoys the scene.
Though charming in the winter, First Fridays, in its second year, truly hits its stride as cold months make way for warm ones. Tonight it's warm yet breezy, and a pickup string band plays outside the North End Gallery, a 23-year-old cooperative run by Southern Maryland artists.
A reception at another, newer cooperative, Heron's Way Gallery, is under way as well, and there is another showcase of local artists just a couple miles north on Route 5 at Creek Side Gallery inside the Maryland Antique Center. There, some will check out the show then sit down for dinner at The Tea Room.
Spectators have improvised a name for the pickup outfit: Leonardtown Gypsy Jazz Band. While one musician is local, the rest have traveled down from areas near Washington, D.C.
People are digging the music, for sure, although it seems to be attracting more people to the sidewalk than to North End's all-members show, "April Fools." There's no hoax involved in this show, as it happens, or even much surprise; one finds a mix of works, including some leftovers from last month's "Maryland, My Maryland."
Those of us taking in the band steady ourselves by leaning against a sizeable pickup truck painted with a camouflage hunting design. The truck belongs to Jim Stewart with Buckwild Outdoors magazine, a guide to Maryland's hunting scene, and Stewart could be found leading a cooking class across the street at Quality Street Catering, adding Italian seasoning and then bacon strips to a gigantic turkey breast on a cutting board. After "wild turkey rolls," Stewart was moving on to "moose steak Diane" and "sweet Northern walleye."
A couple doors down from Quality Street Catering, a free pot of coffee was brewing at Joe Orlando's Fenwick St. Used Books and Music, where library-like tranquility was about to be stirred up by the acoustic guitar duo of Ward Carroll and Ed Gassie. They are set up near the door, not far from a John Lennon poster hung above crates of categorized vinyl.
Noted for its antique furnishings, the intimate store has nearly 30,000 books on a range of subjects, and a nice selection of current and classic fiction. Spotted: John Leland's "Why Kerouac Matters" and a hardcover copy of Kurt Vonnegut's "Deadeye Dick."
At 6:25, Gassie and Carroll, the founder of a local rock n' roll cover band known as Miles From Clever, are ready to go. "It's all experimental people," Carroll says, joking around before the duo leads off with a Beatles tune. "Nobody has ever done this before."
Miles From Clever broke up last fall, shortly after I interviewed Carroll for a "Band of the week" article. But Ward promises the group will soon return, this time "on steroids."
Moving back past North End to the last shop on Fenwick Street, I find a different scene at The Brewing Grounds, a coffeehouse and eatery outfitted with elegant furniture. There were far more people here in December, when Northern High School's chamber choir sang Christmas carols almost sheepishly, then brightened up considerably during a medley of rock n' roll numbers.
Tonight, though, it appears that St. Mary's Ryken band director Erik Nelson is missing something important: his band. It's just him and saxophonist MacLain Christie.
Still, Stockhausen would dig this: Nelson sweating through his shirt, playing electric xylophone with two mallets in each hand, as Christie lights a path through "Take the A Train."
Take note that it can be easy to spend all your time on Fenwick Street and lose sight of happenings on the square. Tastings are held at the Wine Bar & Café, and there is also food to consider: ethnic, cheap, pricey.
You could grab a bite in the diner-like Ye Olde Towne Cafe or try "new American cuisine" at Corbels, which is up the road a bit at the former Sterling House, next door to the historic home holding Heron's Way.
In Heron's Way, a Southern Marylander, George McWilliams, has come home for an exhibition of his hyper-realist watercolor landscapes and maritime scenes. The show also includes numerous "giclée," or digital, ink-based prints.
The easy going McWilliams began selling paintings in high school so he could afford to attend the University of Maryland. After college, he worked for the U.S. Navy as a draftsman and has been a full-time artist since the late 1980s.
While his work was heavily influenced by local maritime scenes, McWilliams' more recent work has come to incorporate the rolling landscapes around his farm in Palestine, W.Va.
As it is designed in similar fashion to other monthly events popping up in historic towns (Frederick, Leesburg, Va.) to simultaneously boost business, the arts and tourism, you might think an event like Leonardtown First Friday would bring more people through the doors of art galleries and thus result in better sales.
Gallery owners say it does and it doesn't — but they love it anyway. As Heron's Way manager Mary Ida Rolape will say, First Fridays is about the party. Meanwhile, when the clock strikes eight, good times generally continue across the street at the new Olde Town Pub — First Fridays' unofficial last stop.