Listen to the (Folk) Music HOWARD COUNTY


The performer takes the stage. He is equipped only with an acoustic guitar and a desire to lay bare his soul through the time-honored art of original songwriting. He strums some opening chords, then begins to sing for the small crowd in the tavern as it nurses drinks . . . and clinks silverware . . . and converses with shouts and laughter that reduce the poor guy at the microphone to little more than a human jukebox producing background music.

Just about every acoustic musician who has tried to ply his trade in a bar or restaurant is all too familiar with the scene described above. It's no less frustrating to those audience members who actually come to hear the performer, rather than engage him in a contest to determine who can be louder.

So players and fans alike of acoustic music should be heartened by the news that a monthly series of folk concerts in an appropriately intimate and comfortable setting begins tomorrow at the Little Theatre on the Corner in Ellicott City.

The Ellicott Theatre Showcase, as the concert series is called, is being produced by local musician (and Oakland Mills High School substitute science teacher) Tony McGuffin.

The 40-year-old Ellicott City resident envisions the series as a platform for members of the Baltimore-Washington Songwriters' Guild. Players from outside Maryland should ultimately find their way onto the bill as well.

Following the demise of the Baltimore Songwriters' Guild, the recently formed Baltimore-D.C. group represents a commendable hands-across-the-Beltways joint effort by musicians from the environs of Charm City and the nation's capital. Mr. McGuffin notes, "There are two distinct communities in Baltimore and Washington. Our objective is to bridge that gap. We can do it if we want to -- and we want to."

Acoustic music has enjoyed a major rebirth during the past few years, as evidenced by MTV's popular "Unplugged" series. By no means has the trend bypassed Howard County; witness, for example, the success of the weekly "Folkal Point" concert series in Columbia. Now add the new Ellicott Theatre Showcase that debuts this weekend.

It might not mark an explosion of folk music locally, but it's an encouraging development. And for a nice change, the roar of the crowd will come after the songs, not during them.

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