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Baltimore music venues, musicians featured in Crown Royal ad celebrating local music

Exterior of The Ottobar, one of many music venues in Baltimore affected by closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. April 15, 2020.
Exterior of The Ottobar, one of many music venues in Baltimore affected by closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. April 15, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

A new ad for Crown Royal whisky that highlights the local music economy featured two beloved Baltimore music venues and bars, as well as several members of the city’s musical community.

The ad and music video feature “Hamilton” actor Anthony Ramos and singer Ari Lennox, who is originally from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, singing a rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay."

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The video is interspersed with scenes of venues, musicians and performers around the country. Tecla Tesnau and Ana Marie Cushing, the respective owners of the Ottobar in Charles Village and Cat’s Eye Pub in Fells Point, told The Baltimore Sun that their venues were featured in the commercial.

In addition, local rapper Al Rogers Jr. was featured in a few shots, including the opening one. Rogers told The Sun via email that the ad also featured jazz saxophonist Brent Birckhead, who is originally from Baltimore, and Baltimore-based trombonist Rufus Roundtree (of Rufus Roundtree and Da B’More Brass Factory).

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Tesnau and Cushing said they were initially contacted by outside parties who were working with Crown Royal on the ad. Production went smoothly, according to both venue owners, with Cushing noting that the production team removed several decorations and replaced them with Crown Royal paraphernalia.

With the coronavirus pandemic hanging over filming, Tesnau added that the production team went to great lengths to sanitize the venue, even bringing in a team to sterilize both floors of the venue between filming segments.

“One of the most interesting things about working on this particular thing is just the amount of manpower and effort it takes to be able to put on a production like this, all within the COVID regulations,” Tesnau said.

Cushing said the feedback she’s received on the ad since posting it on social media has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We were thrilled,” she said about being featured in the commercial.

Crown Royal partnered on the ad and song with the Main Street Alliance, an organization aimed at supporting small businesses like music venues. Proceeds from streams of “If You Want Me to Stay” will support the Main Street Alliance in its work.

Both the Ottobar and Cat’s Eye Pub, like many music venues around the country, have suffered due to the pandemic forcing them to close. Venues continue to struggle even as the city and region move forward in reopening at increasingly less-limited capacities. Given that reality, Tesnau said she and the Ottobar team were “really excited to work with Crown Royal and their creative team” on an ad highlighting those struggles.

“In a time where the music industry has just been decimated for any sort of revenue, this is a really great opportunity for us to be able to make a little bit of money while they’re running this campaign to help venues out and raise the red flag about the predicament the music industry is in now,” Tesnau said.

Tesnau is still operating a GoFundMe campaign to keep the venue from closing. It has raised about $140,000. She said the venue will also raffle goods and services from local businesses, as well as an online auction of art inspired by the Ottobar, in the near future.

“I feel fortunate, even during these gray days, that I have the love and support of the creative community,” she said. "Baltimore City is absolutely top-notch in that way.

Cushing highlighted that Cat’s Eye Pub is doing live music in its courtyard and indoors, in accordance with current rules.

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