STEPPING OUT AT THE BOTTOM FLOOR:

Good Music—for the Good of Baltimore

by Amelia Wood

The Bottom Floor showcases some of the best musical talent, from the city and elsewhere.

Musicians pooling their talents, utilizing their energy to make good music and help the community—that's the idea behind The Bottom Floor Concert Series. The series began at the end of 2001, amid the fear of living in a new era of terrorism, as performers saw a need to ensure that the arts kept our spirits alive, and that those who already face lives of uncertainty—the homeless, the abused, the neglected among us—continue to get the help they need.

The Bottom Floor Concert Series, the brainchild of David "Jasaga" Sawyer and Rev. Howard Nash of St. John's United Methodist Church of Hamilton, currently produces two shows a month, on the first and second Saturday night, with plans to expand to fill every Saturday of the month, September through June.

The first Saturday of each month features "In the Clear Presents a Songwriters' Showcase" hosted by Baltimore Songwriters' Association member Jeff Swiss. Local and regional singer-songwriters perform original music. On June 1, "In the Clear" presented Washington-area singer-songwriter extraordinaire, Lea.

The second Saturday night of each month features "Live at The Bottom Floor," hosted by Joanne Juskus. Performers such as DaVinci's Notebook, Red Letter Day, Rachel Cross, 9bobNOTE, Amikaeyla Proudfoot Gaston and Cletus Kennelly have been featured at this monthly celebration of eclectic music. The Bottom Floor has also held concerts featuring jazz performers such as Rhonda Robinson, the Kuumba Collective and the Michael Raitzyk Trio.

The shows are held at St. John's United Methodist Church of Hamilton, 5315 Harford Road, Baltimore 21214. To get directions, call 410-426-8177. There is plenty of free parking. Most shows are $7 per person ($5 for students). It is an alcohol- and smoke-free listening environment and the show starts at 8 pm with doors opening at 7:30 pm. Refreshments are for sale and door prizes are awarded throughout the night.

Music by Women for the Benefit of Women

On Saturday, June 8, The Bottom Floor presents a night of female performers, all members of the international organization of independent women musicians called "Indiegrrl." Founded in 1998 by Holly Figueroa as a forum for information, networking and conversation about independent music from a female perspective, there are approximately 1300 members. Indiegrrl is now the largest organization of its kind in the world. Some of the more familiar Indiegrrl members include Jamie Anderson, Andy & Denise, Antigone Rising, Four Bitchin Babes, Deirdre Flint, Mary Gauthier, Erin McKeown, Cosy Sheridan and Wishing Chair. Established artists and newcomers are on equal footing, sharing information and advice online, and doing shows all over the world.

"Indiegrrl Night at The Bottom Floor" will feature Baltimore's own Sarah Pinsker and the Stalking Horses. Sarah's "blissfully ragged melodicism" (Baltimore Magazine), creative lyrics and amazing variety of musical instruments—plus her top-notch band—have the same magic as early Suzanne Vega and the Indigo Girls (Rockrgrl Magazine).

Also playing is Relative Sight, an acoustic duo who were finalists in the Lilith Fair Talent Search for New York City and who attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Relative Sight will perform in-the-round with series host Joanne Juskus (recent WAMMIE nominee as "Best New Artist" and "Best Debut Recording" from the Washington Area Music Association), and Meghan Cary, storytelling troubadour praised by Billboard Magazine.

Every "Live at The Bottom Floor" concert gives a portion of its proceeds to a particular charity. The June 8 Indiegrrl Night will benefit the House of Ruth, the Baltimore-based organization that assists and supports women and families affected by domestic violence. There will also be a showing of "Companeras: A Quilted Conspiracy of Hope," Hannah Mermelstein's patchwork quilt about women changing the world through creativity, which includes squares created by musicians SONiA and Dar Williams.

Joining Together, Getting Something Done

Putting on the music series is a formidable task for the hard-working musicians involved. Already, people have seen the positive energy flowing from the series,and are stepping forward to help. Damian Einstein, music director and DJ for WRNR-FM (103.1) Annapolis has invited Joanne Juskus to appear during his "Homegrown Music" program every second Thursday of the month from 9 to 10 pm. Joanne talks to Damian about the upcoming concerts and plays samples of the music to be performed. Her next appearance will be on June 6.

David's Natural Market of Columbia has also gotten involved. The store has donated a $15 gift certificate to be given away in the Door Prize Giveaway held every second Saturday at "Live at The Bottom Floor." They have also given The Bottom Floor a sizeable discount on the purchase of concession items for the series.

Residential Underground Recording has been involved from the beginning, donating a sound system and expert sound engineering by Jeffrey Silverman and Dale German. They have also provided recording services for musicians. (They can be reached at 410-663-0210.)

The series is always looking for volunteers and supporters. Corporate sponsors receive mention on the monthly WRNR broadcasts, as well as mention on fliers and during the shows.

Time Out and Then a Return

After a summer hiatus during July and August, The Bottom Floor will be back in the fall featuring such notable performers as the Mayfields, Brad Allen, Naked Blue and Annie Wenz. There are also plans in the works for a festival to be held in the Summer of 2003. Performers who are interested in finding out how to play at a future Bottom Floor show, should contact Joanne Juskus at 410-730-2421 or email her at info@joannejuskusmusic.com. And local charities who are interested in applying to be a beneficiary of the concerts, or potential corporate sponsors should contact Joanne as well.


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This story was published on June 5, 2002.