PigPen Theatre Returns to Garfield


On September 30th, the musical/theatrical sensation, PigPen Theatre Company, returns to the Garfield Center for the Arts. The Garfield has once again joined forces with The Mainstay, Rock Hall’s home for live music, to bring this incredible group to Chestertown for a one-night only concert performance.

The self-proclaimed “band of storytellers” began creating their unique brand of theater, music, and film as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. They have since produced their original plays in New York City and toured the country – earning them critic’s picks from The New York Times, Time Out New York, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, and many more, ranking them in the top ten theatrical events of 2011, 2012, and 2013. They were the first group to win the NYC Fringe Festival’s top honor for a play two years in a row (2010/11) and have gone on to win IRNE (2012, 2015) and Jeff Awards (2014) for their theatrical productions. In 2016, Sir Trevor Nunn invited PigPen to be a part of his first American acting company for a production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles”.

PigPen’s debut album, “Bremen”, was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post’s 2012 Grammy preview, sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. American Songwriter premiered their follow-up EP, “The Way I’m Running”, in 2013 while the band was playing a series of concerts that became one of the most popular residencies of the past decade at the legendary Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago. In 2015, PigPen released their sophomore album, “Whole Sun.” performed at Mumford & Sons’ return to the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, and made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash” starring Meryl Streep.

Co-sponsored by The Mainstay and The Garfield Center for the Arts, the concert on September 30th is at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online, over the phone by calling 410-810-2060, or in person at the Garfield Center box office. Get your tickets early! This concert was nearly sold out in 2016 and you don’t want to miss them. The theater is located at 210 High Street in Chestertown.

Swingin’ in the Park!


Come hear the big-band sound of Swing City on Sunday, Sept 24 at 3:00 pm.  This will be the last of the summer concerts in Fountain Park in downtown Chestertown.  Originally scheduled for July, the concert was postponed due to a torrential downpour on the day.  Note that due to scheduling issues, this Music in the Park concert is not on the usual Saturday evening.  Instead, Swing City will perform on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm in the usual location in the park. There is no charge for any of the Music in the Park concerts but donations will be gratefully accepted.

Led by trumpeter Elmer Dill, Swing City performs all over the eastern U.S., with occasional ventures as far afield as Canada. The 35-member band has been a hit with Music in the Park audiences, drawing large crowds for its appearances in the open-air concert series. Before the evening is over, there have usually been several couples dancing on the bricks around the fountain.

Elmer Dill, founder and director of Swing City, led his first band while still in high school. He attended the University of Delaware, where he played with the university’s stage band, the Delmodians. After college, he joined the U.S. Navy and played in bands all over the world. Several other Swing City regulars share Dill’s military band background, and nearly a third are current or retired musical directors. Most of them live in the Delmarva area, though a few come from as far afield as western Maryland, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. Members have ranged in age from students in their teens to musicians in their eighties.

Ann Morris of Swing City

The band’s repertoire includes both swing era classics from the likes of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller and stylish, big band arrangements of more modern material. The set list for Sunday features sax and trumpet solos as well as popular songs  such as “In the Mood,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and a six-trumpet arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird.”  Ann Morris, a favorite from previous Swing City concerts, returns as the band’s featured vocalist.

Sunday’s program begins at 3:00 p.m. and will end at approximately 4:30. Admission is free. Audience members should bring something to sit on. Only limited seating is available. Note that there is no rain date.  In case of rain, the concert will be canceled. This concert marks the end of the 2017 Music in the Park program. The summer 2018 series will begin in mid-June after the National Music Festival which is the first two weeks of June in Chestertown.

The Music in the Park series has brought a variety of musical styles, including jazz, swing, bluegrass, klezmer, folk, gospel and more, to Kent County audiences since it began in the mid-1990s. The concerts are sponsored by the town of Chestertown with support from the Kent County Arts Council and many community contributors. To help make these free programs possible, send donations payable to the town of Chestertown and designated for “Music in the Park,” to 118 N. Cross St., Chestertown, MD 21620. Donations may also be made at the concert.


John Rimel and Tom Proutt at The Mainstay Sept 23


John Rimel and Tom Proutt

Virginia songwriters and singers John Rimel and Tom Proutt will be in concert at The Mainstay in Rock Hall, MD on Saturday September 23, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. Admission is $15 if purchased in advance and $18 at the door. Information and advance ticket sales are available at the Mainstay’s website. Reservations to pay at the door can be made by calling 410-639-9133.

John Rimel and Tom Proutt are Virginia songwriters who share the stage for Americana and gospel-influenced performances of their original songs. Their music ranges from folk, rock, country and bluegrass to blues, Cajun, and gospel styles but this is a chance to hear them and their songs as they were written with just guitar, piano and vocals.

John Rimel’s thought-provoking lyrics span a wide range of topics and his musical sensibilities are just as broad. He was a winner in the American Song Festival and the Music City Song Festival. He secured his first of many album cuts on the Statler Brothers’ 1983 release, “Today”.

Since that time, he has had songs recorded on seven Top 10 albums, including a Billboard #1 country album as well as a #1 bluegrass album. In addition to the Statler Brothers, his songs have been recorded by Dailey & Vincent and Jimmy Fortune with whom he shares a number of co-writes including “More Than A Name On A Wall,” a top 10 hit, named the 1990 Country Song of the Year.

An excellent piano player who has done a lot of session work, Rimel has also toured nationally as the keyboardist for the Jimmy Fortune Band and has performed his songs on the Grand Ole Opry.

Tom Proutt was born in Maryland and now resides in Virginia. He has a 40-year career as a singer and songwriter and is a voting member of The Recording Academy (The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) that produces and awards the Grammys. His work was considered for a Grammy in 2015 and 2016. He is in demand as a studio musician throughout the mid-Atlantic region.  His music is frequently aired nationally on NPR and PBS stations.

Kent County’s own Mary Simmons will sing harmony with Rimel and Proutt on some of their songs.

The Mainstay (Home of Musical Magic) is the friendly informal storefront performing arts center on Rock Hall’s old time Main Street. It is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit dedicated to the arts, serving Rock Hall, MD and the surrounding region. It is committed to presenting local, regional and national level talent, at a reasonable price, in an almost perfect acoustic setting. Wine, beer, sodas and snacks are available at the bar.

The Mainstay is supported by ticket sales, fundraising including donations from friends and audience members and an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council.

The Mainstay sells advance tickets online through Instant Seats. Information and advance ticket sales are available on the Mainstay’s website. Follow the Buy Tickets link to buy tickets at the advance price. If you would rather pay at the door, you can make a reservation by calling 410-639-9133 and pay by cash or check at the door.

Upcoming Mainstay performances include:

September 23 John Rimel and Mike Proutt

September 25 Joe Holt welcomes Van Albert

September 30 Michel Nirenberg Quartet

October 2  Joe Hold welcomes Barbara Parker

October 7  Tom McHugh with Bill Matthews, Tom Anthony and special guest Guthrie Matthews


Church Hill Theatre’s “Doubt” is a Must-See


Sister Aloysius (Kathy Jones) and Sister James (Kendall Davis) discuss what to do. (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)

Community theaters thrive on cozy mysteries and popular musicals; but at their best, they can take on far more challenging projects. For clear proof, theater lovers need to look no further than the production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt — A Parable, now playing at Church Hill Theatre.

Written in 2004,  Doubt won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 2005 and was an Academy Award-nominated film starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in 2008. The play’s original production ran 525 performances. It has seen numerous revivals, including a number of international performances in France, Germany, the Philippines and Australia.

Directed by Michael Whitehill, the play deploys a solid cast in a tense examination of the kind of issue that can destroy a community. Set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, it begins with Father Flynn, one of the parish priests, delivering a sermon on the subject of doubt. Warm and colloquial, the sermon quickly establishes the priest as likable and humane – a good example of the kind of change that was coming to the church (and society at large) in the 1960s.

Father Flynn (John Haas) preaches a sermon on “doubt”.  (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)

But the second scene throws a cloud over that impression. Two nuns – young, idealistic Sister James and older, traditional Sister Aloysius, the principal of the school – meet to discuss Sister James’s classes. Sister Aloysius quickly makes it clear that she holds a dim view of the changes in the church, and of Sister James’s more modern ideas – including her enthusiasm for teaching history and her naive view of her eighth-grade students. The discussion focuses on one student in particular – Donald Muller, the school’s first black student. As the plot develops, young Donald – who never appears on stage – becomes the focus of everyone’s attention.

The conflict turns critical when Sister James tells her principal that Donald has come back from a meeting with Father Flynn with the smell of alcohol on his breath. What is going on? There is no solid evidence but Sister Aloysius is certain that something is going on, something that might bring scandal to the parish and to her school. The overall themes of the play comes in the attempts of the two nuns to get to the heart of the issue.

Mrs. Muller (Barbi Bedell) is called into the principal’s office to discuss her son Donald. (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)

The play builds up to its crisis through several meetings among the characters, in twos or threes, with an appearance by Donald’s mother introducing new – and even more confusing – evidence into the building case. The characters move back and forth between doubt and certainty about all the questions arising from a seemingly minor incident. The theme of doubt builds relentlessly – and in the end, the audience is likely to be torn between those who want to see the best in the characters and those who fear the worst. But the core of the play concerns the process of moving between certainty and doubt, of living in ambiguity, of whether we ever can be really certain — and of how being certain can limit what we see.  Power struggles go one both between the characters and within each character’s conscience.

Whitehill has assembled a strong cast, and they make the most of the challenging script.  John Haas takes the role of Father Flynn, and his performance does a good deal to give the play its bite. For the play to achieve its point, the audience has to find Flynn likable and sincere – even a bit charismatic – and Haas does that very convincingly. A history professor at Chesapeake College, Haas has been onstage in several previous CHT productions – but this role is among his strongest to date.

Kendall Davis, a 2016 Washington College graduate – with a double degree in theater and English – plays Sister James with just the right degree of earnestness. Davis has had several recent roles in CHT productions, including in Jake’s Women and Witness for the Prosecution. Here, she brings a warm portrayal of a character caught in the transition between her calling to a very traditional institution and the new ideas filling the air in the early ’60s.

Kathy Jones is appropriately stony as Sister Aloysius, in many ways the least sympathetic character in the cast — and yet, what if she’s right?  She is the classic stereotype of a Catholic school teaching nun – a ruler-wielding, by-the-rules disciplinarian, sure that she is right.  But Jones lets her character’s human side show through just enough to prevent the principal from being only a stereotype. Sister Aloysius likes gardening and listening to a transistor radio – that she confiscated from a student!  And she cares about her school and its students.  And she will fight when she feels her school, its students, or its reputation are in danger. An outstanding performance in a very challenging role.

Barbi Bedell takes the role of Mrs. Muller – a role she played in a production of the same play at the Garfield Center in 2009. As with the other characters, the role is more complex than it may at first seem — Mrs. Muller is intent on protecting her son from a range of threats far wider than the nuns are aware of. Bedell effectively conveys her practical wisdom and her deep commitment to her son’s future.  She may be the only one who understands that everyday life is complex and uncertain.

The set was attractive though unusual, with the stage divided between two mini-sets: an outdoor shrine at stage right, and Sister Aloysius’s office at stage left. This meant that the majority of the action took place on one wing of the stage or the other, with two sermons by Father Flynn the main exceptions.  The lighting is used to good effect, fading in and out to indicate change of place or the passage of time.  There are no blackouts or scene changes to disrupt the flow of the story.

Tea with Sister Aloysius who rules the school from her office. (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)







The play runs about 90 minutes with no intermissions. Each performance will be followed by a talk-back session with the audience, director, and actors – an interesting look both at the audience’s reactions to the performance and at the very serious thought the cast put into realizing the play’s themes. About half the audience stayed for the discussion – which got into considerable detail about the script and the strategies the director and cast used to make it work on stage. Whitehill said on Wednesday that the audience members who stayed for the talkback were eager to share their perspective, with one night’s audience staying two hours after the final curtain to discuss the issues raised by the script and the performance. Be sure to stay for the talkback — it adds a real dimension to the play’s themes.

In case I haven’t made it clear, this production of Doubt is a must-see for anyone who enjoys serious, thought-provoking drama. Kudos to Whitehill and the outstanding cast, and to Church Hill Theatre for this high-caliber production.

Doubt will be playing through Sept. 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $20 for adults, with a $5 discount for CHT members; student tickets are $10.

For reservations, visit the theater website or call 410-556-6003.

Cast Set for Sylvia at Garfield Center


The cast of Sylvia — Bryan Betley, Christine Kinlock, Will Robinson and Jennifer Kafka Smith

Director Bonnie Hill has assembled a talented cast for the upcoming A.R. Gurney show, Sylvia, playing at the Garfield Center for the Arts for two weekends this October.

Greg, played by Will Robinson, is a man of middle age, a restless empty-nester, tired of his job in finance, looking for meaning in his life. Christine Kinlock plays Sylvia, an exuberant and beautiful lab/poodle mix, astray in Central Park, looking for a new home. When they meet, it is love at first sight.

But Greg’s wife Kate, played by Jennifer Kafka Smith, a busy rising star in the public school system, is looking forward to some independence now that the couple no longer has children to care for, and is less than thrilled by the clever and coquettish canine who jumps, slobbers, sits on her couch, and takes Greg’s attention away from his marriage. Bryan Betley completes the cast, playing Kate’s friend Phyllis, marriage councelor Leslie and dog park visitor Tom.

Sylvia is a smart, silly, sophisticated, and occasionally salty comedy about relationships, nature, and growing older. The show runs October 13-22, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for members of the US military and seniors aged 65+, and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 410-810-2060. The Garfield Center for the Arts is located at 210 High Street in Chestertown.



Washington College Fall Concert Series Begins Thursday, Sept. 14


Formosa Quartet

Washington College’s Fall Concert Series will provide an eclectic and global range of offerings this year, kicking off its Premier Artist Lineup on Thursday, September 14 with Davy DeArmond, trumpet, Brandon Schantz, percussion and Matt Brower, piano. Formosa Quartet with Woobin Park, piano, will follow on Thursday, September 28.

Both performances will be in Hotchkiss Recital Hall at the Gibson Center for the Arts and begin at 7:30. Tickets are $20 (adults), $15 (non-WC College Students/Seniors over age 65/WC faculty and staff), and $12 (1782 Member). WC students and youth 17 and under are free.

The first concert features DeArmond, a lecturer in music at Washington College, where he teaches trumpet and leads the Brass Ensemble, Schantz, who began his professional career in 2010 as a percussionist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and Brower, a lecturer in piano at Washington College since 2015, teaching group piano classes and individual lessons for students at all levels.

Davy DeArmond

Matt Brower

Brandon Schantz

DeArmond has performed with a diverse group of ensembles including the Charleston, Asheville, Delaware, Knoxville, and Annapolis symphonies, as well as the Lexington Philharmonic, the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre, and Washington Symphonic Brass.

Schantz, a Carnegie Mellon University distinguished alumni, was named the Grand Prize winner at the 2007 Percussive Arts Society’s Le Concours International de Caisse Claire held at the Paris Conservatory, as well as second runner-up at the inaugural Atlanta Symphony Modern Snare Drum Competition.

Brower is a Philadelphia-based pianist, coach, and educator who brings vision and sensitivity to a variety of genres, from classical piano, chamber music, opera, and art song to musical theatre and jazz. He is also a faculty member of the University of Delaware’s Master Players Summer Festival.

Woobin Park

On September 28, Washington College welcomes Formosa Quartet with Woobin Park on piano. Winners of both the First Prize and Amadeus Prize at the London International String Quartet Competition, Formosa Quartet is “one of the very best quartets of their generation” (David Soyer, cellist, Guarneri Quartet). They have been hailed as “spellbinding” (BBC Music Magazine) and “remarkably fine” (Gramophone). Formosa Quartet is deeply committed to championing Taiwanese music and promoting the arts in the land of its heritage, as well as exploring diverse and adventurous mediums for string quartet.

Praised for her commanding stage presence and elegant musicianship, Woobin Park has appeared throughout the United States and South Korea with various types of solo and chamber recitals as well as collaboration with renowned orchestras. Prior to her appointment at Washington College as a lecturer in piano, Park had been invited to join the faculty of Winona State University as visiting assistant professor of piano, teaching applied piano lesson and collaborative piano.

Tickets can be purchased with a credit card in advance or with cash or check at the door. Inquiries can be sent to Debbie Reed atconcertseries@washcoll.edu or 410-778-7839.


A Community Concert with the U.S. Navy Band Commodores


For more than 40 years, the U.S. Navy Band Commodores have been performing the best of big band jazz. If you haven’t yet experienced a live concert by this vibrant, dynamic group—or if you’re itching to see them again—look no further than the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, held at Easton’s Avalon Theatre over Labor Day weekend.

The Commodores’ performance, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 2nd.

Formed in 1969, the Commodores—also known as the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Navy—have welcomed a few famous faces into its organization.

“Some of America’s greatest jazz and big band musicians have spent at least a portion of their careers serving as musicians in America’s Navy,” explains Senior Chief Musician William Mulligan. “Artie Shaw, Clark Terry, and John Coltrane to name just three.”

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Band Commodores

In appreciation of their former bandmates, Mulligan says the 18-member group often features music from these prominent jazz figures in their concerts. The heart of their style, however, draws from classic American big bands, like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, and so many more.

“The Commodores’ repertoire spans over 100 years of jazz history,” he adds.

With a style that’s rooted in an eclectic mix of the traditional sounds of New Orleans’ jazz through to the swing era, the Commodores also blend more contemporary elements of music into their repertoire and incorporate exciting jazz vocal arrangements. The group composes and arranges a lot of their music library, in addition to performing modern compositions written by its members.

Throughout 2017, the Commodores are celebrating the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald. Mulligan hints that attendees of Saturday’s community performance will quite possibly hear tunes associated with the “First Lady of Song” and the “Queen of Jazz.”

“We also take the opportunity to honor our veterans at all of our concerts,” Mulligan says.

Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

By Becca Newell

Bria Skonberg: Shaking Up the Jazz World


As one of the most influential artists in jazz, Louis Armstrong helped shape the swing era. Though arguably all musicians within the genre draw influences from his sound and style, trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg is steadily earning the reputation as Armstrong’s modern-day counterpart.

The Canadian-songwriter opens this year’s Monty Alexander Jazz Festival with Shaking Up the Jazz World on Friday, September 1st.

From an outsider’s perspective, a female trumpeter might seem unusual, given the fact that it’s such a male-dominated field. But not for Skonberg, who says she was surrounded by female trumpeters since she first picked up the brassy instrument in seventh grade.

“I didn’t honestly think it was that strange,” she says. “I understand that there’s an imbalance for sure, but the ones that are out there are really good.”

Although the modest musician wouldn’t exactly place herself in that category, it seems others are happy to do it for her—and justifiably so. Most recently, Skonberg’s rising-star status was confirmed when she received a 2017 Juno Award for Jazz Vocal Album of the Year for her 2016 crowd-funded album, Bria.

“Basically, it’s a Canadian Grammy,” she explains, adding that she also released an album earlier this year, shortly after signing with Sony Music Masterworks’ OKeh Records. “It’s been a wild ride.”

Skonberg will reflect on that musical journey during her upcoming concert, in which she’ll undoubtedly showcase her notorious “trad fusion” sound. She’ll be joined by what she affectionately calls her “A Team” of musician-friends.

Her specialty, she says, is old jazz—proven by her solid repertoire of 1900s to 1940s tunes—but her songs draw influence from a variety of genres, from blues to Dixieland to pop.

“I like to be influenced by what’s around me,” she says. “That’s jazz. You listen and react.”

A newcomer to the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, Skonberg says she is excited to be involved with such a respected endeavor and was honored when Alexander, whom she refers to as a “giant in jazz,” invited her to participate.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she adds. “Having played at hundreds of festivals, ultimately the vibe comes down to the people that are presenting them and the people that are there. And I get a good feeling about this one.”

Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

By Becca Newell

New Faces and Old Favorites at Monty Alexander Jazz Festival


The sensational Monty Alexander returns to Easton this Labor Day weekend for the eponymous three-day jazz festival, along with his hand-picked selection of musical companions—all newcomers, save for past festival favorite René Marie.

“Bringing all these guests and friends to Easton makes for a fun happening,” Alexander says, excitedly. “[The festival] has an unbelievable history; it’s gone so well. I’m proud of that.”

Monty Alexander (Photo by Jerry Michael)

On Friday, September 1st, trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg brings her trademark “trad fusion” to the stage for her 8 p.m. performance, Shaking Up the Jazz World. Though her music draws upon elements of early jazz, blues, swing, and even pop, the Canadian songwriter is heavily influenced by the legendary Louis Armstrong, whom she frequently draws comparisons to.

The fun continues into the weekend, starting with Saturday’s free community concert at 11 a.m., featuring the United States Navy Band Commodores. The 18-member group, recognized as the Navy’s premier jazz ensemble, will perform an eclectic mix of traditional big band music and exciting jazz vocal arrangements.

Trumpeter Sean Jones and his band take the stage Saturday afternoon for their 2 p.m. performance, titled Without Compromise, From Miles to Wynton to Sean Jones. Attendees can expect to hear the evolution of music from their recently released album, “Live from Jazz at the Bistro.”

“As the music is performed in each city, new life is breathed into it as each audience helps to mold the character of each piece,” says Jones.

Sean Jones (Photo by Jimmy Katz)

Jazz vocalist René Marie wraps up Saturday’s lineup with her 8 p.m. performance, A Remarkable Experience as René Marie Electrifies. With a style that borrows elements from folk, R&B, classical, and country genres, Marie’s body of work explores the human experience. Through her creative lyricism and sensual vocal delivery, Marie offers an enlightening experience for audience members.

Headliner Monty Alexander closes out the festival weekend on Sunday, September 3rd, with a “Sunday matinee spectacular,” kicking off at 2 p.m. The Jamaican-born musician is renowned for his vibrant personality and musical expression that result in an energetic, swingin’ performance. For this year’s festival, Alexander has invited a slew of musicians to join him on stage for The River, a reference to his album, released in the early ‘90s. Alexander says this performance will be somewhat of a revisitation of his repertoire and a reflection of his long-standing career in which he has shared the stage—or recording studio—with many of the jazz greats.

“Let me take you on a beautiful journey up the river that is about renewal and inspiration,” he adds, describing the concert. “I’m going to be a little bold and say ‘you don’t want to miss it!’”

Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

By Becca Newell