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The Maryland Theatre turns the mic over to amateurs

The Maryland Theatre turns the mic over to amateurs

August 10, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Beneath the stage lights, Tamecca McAllister gently gripped the microphone. Her neatly bobbed hair bounced a bit as she scanned the audience before her.

She had driven all the way from Greensboro, N.C., for this moment, her chance to sing in front of family. Her aunts, uncles and grandmothers drove from Washington, D.C., to hear her sing at The Maryland Theatre's Wednesday open-mic night July 26. A relative in Hagerstown was the one who had told McAllister, 32, about the open-mic nights.

She calmly shifted her weight from one high-heeled foot to the next as she waited for her song to play. She never gets nervous before a show. She continued to scan the audience and swayed from side to side as she and the audience waited.

"It's not reading," the sound technician said of her accompanying CD. "We're going to have to take a look at that."


McAllister was now circling the stage floor with her eyes.

"I'll need you to sit back down until we get your CD right," the sound guy said.

McAllister walked off the stage and took a seat in the audience. Amid growing murmurs from the audience, emcee and comedian Chad Beadle came to the rescue.

"Did y'all find this lady's music?" he said before calling up the next act.

"Three dollars a gallon for gas ain't gon' get her back (home)," Beadle said, joking about her having to drive back to North Carolina without having performed her song. The acts are not paid for their performances.

McAllister - who would eventually perform to good effect - was one of several artists to take the stage at The Maryland Theatre's occasional open-mic on Wednesday nights, held weekly when possible. The Wednesday-night sessions started this summer. By the end of July, three had been held with more planned in August.

Bands are able to sign up for the open mic as late as the night of, though the theater's executive director, Brian Sullivan, recommends that bands call in advance if they wish to play. Organizers estimated that the open-mic nights brought a crowd of 50 to 80 people each week.

Ledbetter Heights, the rock band that opened for actor-musician Steven Seagal in June at The Maryland Theatre, was the rock act with the biggest name. Other segments included solo performances from members of the hip-hop trio Three Man Weave, the rap group that opened for Juelz Santana in March at The Maryland Theatre, and acoustic blues man Ken Nolan.

"I wanted to get local talent out and I wanted people to have the opportunity to play," said Sullivan, the event's organizer and theater's executive director since February.

"You can look around here and see that this area's hurting for some serious culture," said Sullivan, who was recently hired as the theater's director.

Members of the July 26 show's opening act, Faded Memory, said they were excited to have a place to play.

"This is the only one we could find," said Roger Pleasant, the band's 15-year-old bassist, of finding an open-mic event that is not limited to acoustic acts.

Roger's mother, Juanita Keubel, was watching.

"I'm so proud of him," she said, moments before the band took the stage.

Once on stage, the group's guitarist Ross Semler, 15, of Hagerstown, sheepishly approached the mic.

"Um, hi," he said to the audience. "We're Faded Memory. We're only here together for a few moments, but we're going to play for you anyway."

The group of high-schoolers had only been playing shows for a few months, but it wasn't the band's first major gig, said the group's drummer, Jovann Carter, 16, of Hagerstown. The group's first show was at 43 South, during the Western Maryland Blues Fest in June.

Emcee Beadle was equipped with plenty of one-liners and was adept at keeping the show's pace upbeat - a challenge, considering the show began at about 7:30 p.m. and ended just shy of 10 p.m.

Other than a couple of CD miscues and some occasional feedback from a microphone, technical glitches were minor. However, there was a moment during Awkward Silence's set when the lead singer performed an entire song with his microphone turned off. The audience could only hear the accompanying band.

The youngest performer, Spencer "Lil' Spence" Morgan, 11, was one of the few to perform part of his set without accompaniment, performing an a capella verse from Dead Prez's song "It's Bigger Than Hip Hop." Other rappers opened their sets with freestyles, as well.

McAllister, perhaps, traveled the farthest to perform. The mother of two was the third to perform, after Nolan's acoustic set. She hoped to sing "Stuck Between Two Worlds," a song she wrote when she was a teenager.

When the time came, McAllister wafted back onto the stage amid cheers. She, in her calf-length, chocolate brown dress, stood center stage and again waited for the music to play. And when it did: "That's the wrong track," McAllister said to the sound technicians.

"This is not my day," she said coyly, with a sigh.

Finally, came the music - a bubbly R&B rift. Her voice was reminiscent of a mid-'90s Monica. Listeners bobbed their heads, a few of them waived their hands. It was the only song in her set, but it drew a healthy round of applause from the crowd.

All smiles, she left stage and returned to the audience (she would later perform a duet with local R&B crooner Big Jerz, one of the last to perform).

Metal-laced rockers Isolated Few followed McAllister. The bandmates said they consider themselves to be perennial performers at the Wednesday night events and said they are glad to have a place to play.

"As long as they keep letting us come out, we'll keep playing," said the band's 26-year-old drummer Daniel Dumire.

If you go ...

WHAT: Open-mic/amateur nights

WHEN: Wednesday nights

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, Hagerstown

COST: Free

MORE: Bands are urged to contact the theater in advance, but it is not a requirement. Call 301-790-2000. Check the Web site for schedule and cancellations.

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