With the resurgence of folk music, a darkened upstairs room in an Ellicott City restaurant has become a regular stop for folk performers touring the Mid-Atlantic region.
The Folkal Point, a non-profit venue, features contemporary folk singer/songwriters every Thursday evening. Started in the fall of 1989, it has become a successful mainstay of the area's folk music circuit, attracting well-known artists.
"The Baltimore-Washington area is becoming a hotbed for folk acts," said Sue Trainor of Columbia, a folk musician, a self-employed management services consultant and a Folkal Point co-founder.
"There are more than 15 places for people to play, ranging from the Weathervane in Frederick and the Prospect Coffeehouse in Hagerstown to Folk Alley in D.C. and the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va. Ours is just one of many stops on their tours," she said.
The Folkal Point was the brainchild of Trainor, local folk musician Chris Fuchs, and Joyce Sica, a part-time booking agent at Baltimore's Coffeehouse at Otterbein, another folk music house. The trio figured that Howard County was ripe for this type of folk music outlet, and that with their connections, they could pull off the venture.
Some of the more recognizable names that Sica has booked include: Bill Danoff, formerly of the Starland Vocal Band and composer of "Afternoon Delight" and John Denver's "Country Roads"; Chris Smither, who has penned several songs for Bonnie Raitt; Josh White Jr., a Broadway musical star; and Bill Staines, who wrote the contemporary folk tune, "The Roseville Fair."
"We'vebecome pretty well known over the last year-and-a-half," said Sica, a new business coordinator for a Baltimore insurance agency. "Every day when I come home from work, there will be dozens of inquiries on my answering machine. I've talked to musicians and agents from as far away as Canada, Seattle and the Midwest."
Making its debut in October 1989, the Folkal Point featured a revue of local folk entertainers.
"We publicized the event heavily," said Trainor. "We must have had more than 200 people pass in and out of our doors that night. If the fire marshal would have been there, he'd have closed us down. Theresponse was overwhelming."
Since then, the weekly shows, upstairs at the Cacao Lane restaurant on Main Street's hill, average 50 people, near the room's capacity. But many performances turn into SRO events. Cover charges are usually about $7, then there's another $10 to $20 for food and drinks -- making it a not-inexpensive midweek night out.
"Cacao Lane has an upscale atmosphere, so we try to get artists that appeal to a more commercial, middle-class audience. The restaurant wouldn't appreciate a bunch of old hippies camping out," Trainor said.
Much of the popularity of the Folkal Point can be attributed to the acts that Sica and Trainor sign.
"We try to get contemporary artists here. Acts that have a following and will draw an audience," Trainor said. "We try to get a variety of performers from week to week, but in the long run, it's a business. We have certain financial requirements that we must meet."
They include paying the performers as well as the postage for its mailing list of more than 500.
Rounding out the cast of Folkal Point volunteers are: Joyce Sica'shusband, Tony Sica, as soundman and co-emcee; Trainor's husband, JimSimpson, as soundman and bookkeeper; and Paul Kasper, another soundman. Sue Trainor also acts as emcee, publicist, administrator and financial adviser.
Tony Sica, an assistant buyer with Jos. Bank Clothiers in Baltimore, DJ's a folk program every Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. on WCVT radio (89.7 FM) out of Towson State University.
"Folk musiccovers a wide range -- from accoustic blues and bluegrass, to Irish and South African folk tunes, to rock and roll. It's not just Bob Dylan or Peter, Paul and Mary," he said of the renewed popularity of folk music. "Folk songs are relevant. People can relate to the issues, whether they're about relationships or politics, or whatever. It doesn't trivialize things like pop music can.
"Even though I'm at a college station, we have a pretty good-sized audience of listeners in their 30s and 40s," he added. "I think people are getting tired of regular music programming and Top 40. It's neat when students call in with requests and questions and I get a chance to talk with them. There are many socially conscious young men and women out there."
Trainor agreed. "Folk music cuts through to a very humanistic level," she said. "It's natural. It's accessible. It's original."
Every third Tuesday of the month at P.J.'s of Ellicott City, Trainor runs an "OpenMike Night" for amateurs through the Howard County Folk Society.
"It's a fun and receptive atmosphere where newcomers can get used to being in front of an audience and hear their voice over the microphone. For some, this is the only other place they've performed besides the corner of their garage."
If she senses that a few of the amateurs are extremely nervous about their debuts, Trainor may open the show with her tune, "Open Mike Blues":
My throat is dry, my tongue isnumb, my brain's not working yet.
My stomach's all-a-flutter. My palms are soaking wet.
My nails are chewed down to the nubs, I'm quaking' in my shoes.
The only song I'll sing tonight is these "Open Mike Blues"!
Humor plays a big role in Trainor's solo act and emceeing. "There's a time and place for fun and jokes," she said. "Someconcerts are very quiet and moving. Others are more light and rely on audience participation. There's room for everyone."
Trainor is amember of the folk quartet Cornucopia. Other band members are founder Peter Benson, John Gorozdos and John Jacobs.
Cornucopia recentlywas voted third favorite folk group in the Sixth Annual Reader's Poll conducted by Maryland Musician magazine. Gorozdos was voted second among banjo players.
The quartet released its first album in April1989 and plans to go into the studios soon to record another one, says Trainor.
Asked why folk music is enjoying a revival and is in vogue again in the 1990s, Trainor looked perplexed and responded -- "Inever knew it went away."