The bands play on as concerts reappear; Music: Folk-music fans' beloved Uptown Concert Series has a new home, in Hamilton.


Joyce Sica was burned out.

Nancy McAleer was inspired.

The Rev. Howard Nash was receptive.

So once again the Uptown Concert Series has been resurrected, this time at St. John's of Hamilton United Methodist Church. After five years of suburban shows, the series will return to Baltimore City, kicking off its new season March 4 with a concert by master songwriter Tom Paxton.

Sica, of Randallstown, is delighted by the reception she received from Nash and his church. It was "their enthusiasm that made me say, 'Sure, I'll do it,' " she says.

Last July, Sica, impresario of the 12-year-old folk-music series, decided to close it down at Mays Chapel United Methodist Church in Timonium. Her decision, based on policy changes at Mays Chapel and Sica's own exhaustion, was a serious letdown for local folk-music enthusiasts.

They had become devoted to the series, which featured roots-based musicians from the Chenille Sisters to Big Blow and the Bushwhackers, as it migrated from Old Otterbein and Wilson Memorial Methodist churches in Baltimore City out to the county.

Fans knew Sica always labored to offer the best artists, and had helped launch the careers of John Gorka, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Catie Curtis, among other notable folkies.

While Sica continued to book folk concerts at Baldwin's Station in Sykesville, it was on a much smaller scale and even more distant from Baltimore.

McAleer -- St. John's member, woodwind player, guitarist and 15-year veteran of Sica's concert series -- approached her one night at Baldwin's with an idea. Why not relocate Uptown Concerts to St. John's?

The series' return to the city would achieve several goals, McAleer realized: "I wanted to see it come back to the city. The city has a lot to offer, but people are always fleeing."

The series would provide one more reason to praise Baltimore. Besides, McAleer says, "Our church needed a boost, too. It was an opportunity for us to help each other. This is a wonderful facility." Bustling daily with a soup kitchen, scout and 12-step meetings as well as other activities, the church on Harford Road features ample parking, unlike previous urban Uptown settings.

For McAleer, the arrangement made sense as well on another plane, one where faith and music are indivisible. It "feeds my soul. ... It feeds my spirit. [The two are] very connected to me," she says.

Serendipitously, Nash was in total accord. "She didn't have to do much persuading," he says of his parishioner. Before coming to St. John's in Hamilton three years ago, Nash had been the pastor at St. John's United Methodist Church in Charles Village, where he welcomed the Roots Cafe series produced by local music critic Geoffrey Himes.

Now, Nash saw an opportunity not only to keep Uptown Concerts alive, but also to renovate the church's old social hall, improve its acoustics and establish a cultural center in Hamilton.

"I like seeing our church buildings full of life and activity," Nash says. "And actually, I think musicians and artists are better theologians than theologians, anyway. Art really is theology. It's what's important in life, what life means, not in abstract terms, but in imaginative terms."

Nash says the church will use the bequest of a late parishioner to transform the social hall, which has a stage, into a kind of cabaret.

He and Sica stress, however, that donations of expertise, money and supplies are welcome. Announcements to that effect will be made at every concert.

Concerts are planned for the first and third Saturdays of each month, and scheduled artists include the John Cowan Band, the DeDe Wyland Band, Robin Huw Bowen, Grace Griffith and Lucy Kaplansky with Richard Shindell.

Nash doesn't want to stop there, either. "What I'd really like to do is find a theater company looking for a home," he says.

Because of an engagement she had booked long ago and relocated to St. John's in Hamilton, Sica already knows she has found a great new home for Uptown Concerts.

In January, the Belfast band Craobh Rua drew a spirited crowd of 300 -- twice as many as she expected -- and lots of help setting up. "It was the first time I've ever had that kind of support from the parish," Sica says.

For McAleer, Uptown's new life all makes perfect sense. "It was kind of meant to happen," she says. "That's how the spirit works."

Tom Paxton concert

When: 8 p.m. March 4

Where: St. John's of Hamilton United Methodist Church, 5315 Harford Road

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-922-5210

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