Singer, songwriter, author Matt McConville has done a lot of things along the road but his leadership of the Annapolis Musicians Fund for Musicians (AMFM) is the very definition of giving back.
On Dec. 16 and 17, “An Annapolis Christmas” show featuring local musicians at Rams Head Onstage will be staged for the 21st time. It is the signature fundraiser for a charity that aids area musicians sidelined for health reasons or other setbacks.
AMFM has been the beneficiary of the show since the organization earned its non-profit bonafides in 2006.
For McConville music and writing have always been a driving force, as has a passion for cooking.
He had a wanderlust and used it to inform his writing. A notion to be like the late author George Plimpton and dive into experiences he knew nothing about in order to write about them brought him to Annapolis to go sailing. His initial trip fell through and he was cooking at the Chart House when he signed on to cook on a sailboat headed to St. Thomas.
McConville: I always read a lot since I was a little kid. I got early encouragement. In middle school, I did a paper on animal conservation. My ironic sense of things started coming out early.
The teacher passed out the papers, everyone gets theirs but I didn’t get mine. I was a really good student and thought I was about to get really embarrassed. My mom said I had made a comedy routine out of a serious subject. The teacher put it on my desk and told me to turn to the last page.
A “C”. But she wrote, ‘Matt this is the best paper I have read in all my 30 years of teaching. But unfortunately, the technical aspects are all wrong.'
Later I was living in Morgantown and decided I was going on the road with my dog… I went to the weekend magazine editor of the Morgantown Dominion-Post and asked if they would be interested in some stories about my travels. She told me to send her something.
I did and got a lot of attention. Then one editor wanted to know if I read Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.” John Steinbeck? Come on. I had a thing about people wanting to compare me to people who I had total respect for.
I ended up here in Annapolis. This sailing culture. I did not know these people existed. I’d go to Marmaduke’s (which was the sailing community’s favorite watering hole in Eastport) and they’d be watching a ball game then they turn it off to watch sailing races. Weird. I thought they were morons, I mean those boats were only going like six mph.
Spotlight: And performing music?
McConville: I was always writing songs as a kid. At 15 or 16 years old it’s the height of sentimentality and schmaltz. But I had a lot to get out, it got me through a lot of stuff.
Then I was playing open mics in Pittsburgh, all originals. But you only had about 30 minutes of stuff, and the audience would start to lose interest.
It dawned on me: Why not get paid and get a bunch of the regulars together and do a show. Got booked as the Pittsburgh Song Writers. We were doing well and about to go on a college tour when my Mom died. I ended up in Annapolis.
I started doing an open mic with John Renehan at Middleton’s on Monday nights. Then Bob Harrison, who took over O’briens, asked me to do a Wednesday night open mic.
But he told me we had to do cover songs. I was learning three or four songs a week, and I was terrible, horrendous. I did not hear music the way other people did. I did not recognize a bass line until I was in my 20s. Until then it was all lyrics, the message of a song.
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But the crowd of my friends always showed up and bought drinks so management didn’t care. I could have had a monkey and an organ, so long as they bought drinks.
Spotlight: When did the idea for AMFM start to take hold?
McConville: I was playing around town and realized all these players were just a great group of people. Solid. High character.
And every one of them was always doing a benefit show for somebody. Particularly Dean Rosenthal. It seems every benefit I saw had his name.
We did a benefit for Neal Bumgarner after a fire. When we had a benefit for Mary Byrd Brown, a gifted songwriter, so full of passion, who was hit with Lyme Disease. I started thinking about creating a fund. I talked to Martha Jacobs, a good CPA who was helping with the benefits.
I thought, If we created a fund, through doing shows or whatever, we could be proactive. If someone gets nailed, we don’t have to wait three months to organize a benefit. We can take care of people right away.