Cars on High Back for Third Year, Plans September Car Show

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Checking out the classic cars at Cars on High — car photos by Jane Jewell, 2017

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18, the council approved a third year of Cars on High, a monthly gathering of vintage car enthusiasts. For the event, the 300-block of High Street is closed off from 6 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month from April to October, weather permitting. Collectible cars are parked on both sides of the street and around Fountain Park for the public to enjoy. Cars on High is sponsored by Main Street Chestertown.

John Slocum, the organizer of the event, told the council that the turnout for Cars on High has increased over the first couple of years, with 20 to 25 each month during the first year and 30 to 40 a month during the second year. Owners bring their cars from as far away as Washington, DC, and Wilmington, Delaware, he said.

John Slocum of Cars on High at the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18

Slocum also announced that he would like to present a car show, tentatively the afternoon of Sept. 14. He said he would ideally like to close off the 200- and 300-blocks of High Street, depending on response. He said the idea of the show came about partly because the Cars on High events are drawing about 50 percent new exhibitors each month, so there are far more interested car owners than the monthly turnout suggests.

He said he would like to offer five to eight judged categories, and invited council members to participate as judges, along with downtown business owners and other “local folks.” He said, “I think it would be good for downtown and good for business, as well.”He said the entry fees, minus the cost of trophies for the winning cars, would be donated to the Chestertown Garden Club and Main Street Chestertown. He added, “There are some spectacular cars here in town and in the surrounding area, which we’ve all been shocked when they show up – because where are they the rest of the time?” He mentioned one resident who has 25 Ferraris – “He brings two of them out every month.”

As part of the proposed show, Slocum asked the council to allow the show to park five or six cars on the Fountain Park grass. These would be invited cars of special interest, he said. There was some discussion of how the park grass would be affected by having cars parked on it. Slocum said many famous car shows have the cars displayed on golf courses. He said the condition of the park is such that a few cars parked there for an afternoon wouldn’t make much difference. He said he’d be willing to plant grass if the areas could be roped off long enough for it to grow.

Ingersoll said that with the farmers’ market running year round, it’s nearly impossible to find a time when nobody is using a given area of the park. He said he thought the idea of the car show was “a great idea if done properly.” Slocum said he would email the council a diagram of where the cars would park. The council unanimously approved the permit for Cars on High, and tentatively approved the car show, pending Slocum’s providing more detailed plans.

Cars on High for 2019 begins on April 18.

Ted Capel and his wife, Brenda, and daughter, Kimberly, with his ’34 Plymouth hot rod.

Cerino to Ask Commissioners for Tax Differential

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18, Mayor Chris Cerino reported that he will represent the town at the Kent County Commissioners budget hearings April 23. He will be advocating for a tax differential or tax rebate for the town, on grounds that town residents’ property taxes are paying for services the county does not provide within town limits, such as police protection, road repairs, and trash disposal. “We’re essentially paying to underwrite services for everyone else,” he said. Cerino said that Kent is one of only three counties in the state that does not provide such a differential for its towns.

The town has regularly requested a tax differential since the county discontinued offering one in 2014, due to reduced revenues during the Great Recession. In 2012, five towns received tax rebates amounting to some $193,000 overall. Partially as a response to the discontinuation of the rebate, Chestertown raised its own tax rate from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100 assessed value. It was the first increase in town taxes since 1991.

Cerino said he had written to the commissioners about a month ago to request a slot in the budget hearings, and received a formal invitation to present the request at the hearing.  He said he will be requesting that the commissioners lower the rate for town residents by $0.05, or alternatively granting a rebate of $250,000. He said the commissioners asked him to bring documentation of the cost of services the town is providing, and he asked Ingersoll and Clerk Jen Mulligan to supply him with copies of the town’s annual audit. Ingersoll said he had the material available “at my fingertips.”

“I’ve pleaded the case on this every year since I’ve been elected,” Cerino said. “Supposedly, we were very close to having a tax differential last year, and then it kind of got swallowed up in the school funding debate and it didn’t happen.” He invited council members to help him make the case.

Also at the meeting, Wanda Gorman, manager of the Chestertown artisans’ market, reported on the upcoming market season, which begins March 30. She said the annual meeting of vendors on March 16 drew 27 attendees, including some spouses and children of vendors. The market currently has 24 vendors, 18 of whom were at the meeting. “We had a breakfast meeting – that really attracts a lot,” she said.

Wanda Gorman, artisans’ market manager

Gorman asked the council to designate the two High Street parking spaces closest to the Cross Street intersection for no parking during the market. She said the vendors need them to unload and reload their wares, but often out-of-town shoppers park in the spaces and leave their vehicles there after the market is over at noon, when the vendors need the spaces to reload. She said vendors are usually finished removing their wares between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

Councilman Marty Stetson said, “It would only take a couple of tickets to convince them.” Police Chief Adrian Baker suggested using orange “no parking” signs the town already has. He said his department could put a couple of them in the spaces and see if it does the job.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he thought the orange signs would be a good solution to the parking problem. He said he liked the fact that the signs are removable once the market is finished.

Gorman also announced that she is planning to retire to Florida and that her daughter Sarah Sezawich will co-chair the market during her absence over the summer. She said Sezawich has been helping her before, and the vendors are familiar with her. “I think she’ll do a great job,” she said. “She handles paperwork fantastically.”

“We’re going to miss you when you go,” said Ingersoll.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper reported that the State Highway Administration has approved lowering the speed limit on Quaker Neck Road between Wilmer Park and the Radcliffe Creek bridge from 40 to 25 miles per hour. Washington College, which owns several properties along that stretch of the road, including the new boathouse and an environmental science center currently under construction, and several residents of the Chester River Landing development had requested the reduction on account of pedestrian safety along the road. Pedestrian traffic is expected to increase when the college’s new science center opens. The signs advising of “reduced speed ahead” will be moved to the town limits, just beyond Chester River Landing.

The Chestertown Council : (L-R) Councilmen Ellsworth Tollliver and Marty Stetson, Town Clerk Jen Mulligan, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster.

Kuiper also announced that farmers’ market manager Sabine Harvey has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Maryland Farmers Market Association to set up a program to allow vendors at the market to take payments for SNAP and WIC programs, along with a new program called Senior Farmers Market. Individual vendors would have to sign up for the program. “This will help to increase food-insecure households’ ability to afford quality nutritious foods; to generate additional revenue for local agricultural producers; and to make farmers markets accessible to residents of all income levels,” she said. She said the paperwork was still being processed, but she wanted to give the council a heads-up on the program. The council approved a motion authorizing Cerino to sign the MOU for the town.

Also, Kuiper read from a letter to the mayor in which she asked to be excluded from the process of hiring a new marina manager because her son is applying for the position. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, she said she would not take part in interviews or any verbal, written or electronic discussions of the hiring process unless her son withdraws his application.

Ingersoll reported that a group of Washington College students is planning a Rail Trail cleanup on Sunday, April 7, from noon to 3 p.m. Students have performed similar cleanups the last few years. The cleanup would focus on the area from Royal Farms to the split in the trail near Lynchburg Street. He said the town would provide bags and gloves for the project.

At the end of the meeting, Washington College President Kurt Landgraf gave an update on the report that the college plans to sell six surplus properties. He said the college has reached an agreement with prospective buyers for three of the properties. He did not specify which properties were involved, pending the final settlement. The six properties to be sold include the large tract at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Morgnec Road, a house at 301 Washington Ave., and four properties on Prospect Street.

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Chestertown Rotary Award to Sumner Hall

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John Murray, president of the Chestertown Rotary Club (L) gives the club’s Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award to Sumner Hall; President Larry Wilson accepts

At its regular luncheon meeting Tuesday, March 12, the Chestertown Rotary Club awarded Sumner Hall G.A.R. Post 25 the Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award for 2019. The award is named for the former Washington College president who was one of the founding members of the Rotary Club in Chestertown.

The ceremonies were held in Sumner Hall, one of the last two remaining posts of the Grand Army of the Republic founded for and by black veterans of the Civil War. The Chestertown chapter of the G.A.R. was founded in 1882.  The hall, built in 1908, was named for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874), a prominent opponent of slavery. It was an important social center for the local African American community for 60 years.

Sumner Hall

After the death of the last local black Civil War veterans in 1928, the building continued to serve as a gathering place, at one point hosting musical acts such as the Chick Webb band with a young Ella Fitzgerald on vocals, and the “all-girl” band, the Sweethearts of Rhythm.

The building fell into disrepair in the 1970s and deteriorated until the 1990s. It was scheduled for demolition until a group of preservationists entered into a campaign to restore it. The building was reopened in 2014 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Vic Sensenig, Washington College Chief of Staff

At the award ceremony, Rotary president John Murray introduced Vic Sensenig, Washington College chief of staff, who gave a brief summary of Titsworth’s career at the college and as a Rotary founder in 1926. Titsworth came to Washington College in 1923 and served as president for 10 years. He is credited with transforming the college from a small local school to a recognized regional institution, increasing enrollment and raising academic standards. Sensenig quoted from an address Titsworth gave at graduation in 1931, in which he exhorted the students to dedicate themselves to community service, which he characterized as “a fine art.”

Rotarian Garret Falcone then gave a history of the service award, which is in its second year. The initial award was given in 2018 to the Save Our Hospital committee. Falcone then read from the nomination for Sumner Hall’s award, noting that it has become a “showcase for African American history and arts.” He cited Sumner Hall’s partnership with local institutions including the college and the public schools, the Kent County Library and the Historical Society to educate the public on the important contributions of African Americans to the community.

The award was then presented to Sumner Hall president Larry Wilson and 2nd vice president Barbara Foster. Wilson thanked everyone who attended the ceremony and invited them to return for other events and exhibits. He gave a brief history of the G.A.R. post, citing several of the founders and detailing its history of community service after the death of the Civil War veterans. He ended by quoting Sumner Hall’s mission, to preserve the building as “a place of remembrance,” to promote understanding of the African American experience, to honor the contributions of African American veterans, “to promote the pursuit of liberty for all, and to advocate for social justice.”

Titsworth, founding member and first president of Chestertown Rotarian CLub and President of Washington College from 1923-1933.

Foster described Sumner Hall as “a very special place,” with which she has been involved as a board member for five years. She recognized the courage of the founders for their effort to ensure that they and other veterans received the benefits they had been promised for their service. She also called attention to the hard work of restoring the building, returning it to the condition it was in during its heyday – recalling one older community member who looked at the restored building and said it was just the way he remembered it being when he had his wedding party there years ago.

She also recognized several of those who made special contributions, including Carolyn Brooks and Nina Johnson for helping forge a relationship with the Smithsonian Institution, Airlee Johnson for bringing the Legacy Day celebration to Sumner Hall, board treasurer Yvette Hynson, board members Dale Alexander, Larry Samuels, Ben Kohl of the Hedgelawn Foundation and Cheryl Hoopes, who is in charge of Sumner Hall’s participation in the Tea Party Festival this year.

In response to an audience question about upcoming events, Foster mentioned the appearance of saxophonist Jason Blythe and his band in the April 13 installation of the African American Roots concert series. She said the organization’s newsletter and email list are available to anyone and she invited Rotary members to sign up. She also gave a brief account of the other surviving African American G.A.R. post, in South Carolina.  The South Carolina G.A.R. building, though restored after fire damage, has no museum or artifacts and is only open by appointment or for rental events such as weddings and private parties.  Following the Civil War, there were hundreds of Grand Army of the Republic chapters across the country, some of which were integrated, others which were segregated by race.  The G.A.R. was equivalent in its place and importance in its day as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have been in more recent times.

At the end of the meeting, Rotarian Beverley Birkmire encouraged attendees to talk to members about the Rotary Club’s activities and meetings, every Tuesday at noon.

Sumner Hall board member Carolyn Brooks shows the Rotary Service Award

Larry Wilson, President of Sumner Hall and US Navy veteran

Council Approves Update to Critical Areas Ordinance

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The Chestertown Council at its March 4 meeting: (L-R) Councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster.

The Chestertown council, at its meeting March 4, unanimously adopted an ordinance updating the 2007-08 Critical Areas section of the town’s zoning ordinance. Regular revision of the ordinance is a requirement of the state’s Critical Areas Commission. The new ordinance becomes effective March 25; a complete copy is available at the town office.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll explained that the ordinance is designed to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. He said the update has no effect on the vast majority of property owners. The 2019 map, he said, differs from earlier versions primarily in having greater accuracy and detail for things like wetlands delineation, thanks to computer-aided mapping. No property has its designation changed by the new map, he said.  According to Maryland.gov “A Critical Area includes all land within 1, 000 feet of tidal waters and wetlands in Maryland – as well as the waters of Maryland s Chesapeake Bay and coastal bay area.”

Ingersoll also gave some history on the Critical Areas ordinance, noting that most of the town is considered an “intensely developed area,” within an official Critical Area because most of the town lies within 1,000 feet of the Chester River or Radcliffe Creek. He said that several parts of town were developed after the initial ordinance, including the property that is now occupied by Heron Point and Stepney farm. Both were specifically approved for “intense development” under the county’s growth allocation in 1987. “A lot of the town was built before 1900, so those things don’t change,” he said.

The town is not likely to see much additional waterfront development unless it annexes new territory, said Ingersoll. He cited the Chestertown Armory as “probably the last example.” For most property owners, the only time they would need to consider the Critical Area rules would be for trimming or removing trees within the buffer zone – primarily dead or diseased trees, or those considered dangerous. He said the property owners should contact him for the forms necessary.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether any additional waterfront property could be annexed by the town. Ingersoll said it was theoretically possible that areas along the river to the north could be annexed, but that the town has no intention of doing so in the foreseeable future. Stetson said property owners south of town near the country club might request annexation. Ingersoll said the town made overtures in that direction in the past, but the property owners were not interested.

The council voted to submit letters of support for three projects applying for grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the deadline for which was midnight of the day of the meeting. One, by Sultana Education Foundation, would convert an 8.5-acre tract of the Stepney property to a wetlands preserve for educational purposes; Cerino recused himself from that vote, as he is employed by Sultana. The letter will be signed by the other four council members.

In addition, the council sent letters of support for the Chesapeake Heartland Project, a collaboration between the Starr Center at Washington College and the National Museum of African American History to create a digital archive of African-American history and culture in Kent County. Part of the project would be a specially equipped truck to go to rural areas to record the memories of residents who lack transportation. In addition to the MHAA, a letter of support went to the Mellon Foundation. Councilman David Foster recused himself because his wife is on the board of Sumner Hall, one of the supporting organizations.

The council also sent a letter of support for an application by the Historical Society of Kent County for approximately $23,000 as a capital grant for repairs to its headquarters in the Bordley Center. Barbara Jorgenson, a board member of the society, told the council that the back of the building is starting to come apart due to deteriorating basement supports. Quoting from the letter of support, Cerino called the Bordley Center “crucial to Chestertown’s continuing success.”

Also at the meeting, Queen Street resident Mary Celeste Alexander complained about the condition of the road surface on the 100 block, between High Street and Maple Avenue. She said the street is getting worse on a daily basis. She said she’s been asking for repairs for five years, with no results. “Could we have a date, please?” she asked. She added that residents have taken to calling one large area that regularly floods “Ingersoll’s Pond.”

Foster said the block is one of the first priorities for repair work when the town has funds available. Mayor Chris Cerino said the block is in the budget for paving this spring.

Alexander said the problem is not as much paving as that previous repairs have raised the street level to the point that the curbs are too low to keep water off the sidewalk. She said the curb at her house is about 1.5 inches above the road surface. “I know it’s going to be expensive, and I know you’re going to hear a lot of complaints” about being unable to park on the street during repairs, she said. But residents are willing to put up with the inconvenience if it results in repairs, she said.

Ingersoll said the town would replace the curbs when the work is done. He said the town attempted last year to get federal grants for general street repairs, but the funding went to larger projects on the western shore. “I guarantee that your block will be the first block done,” he said. “You deserve it, you really do.” He said the town could begin work as soon as the asphalt plant opens for the season.

Funding from the Maryland Highway User Fund, which had been taken away by the General Assembly for several years, is being returned to local municipalities, Ingersoll said. He said it could make significant street repairs possible. That the town’s recent tax increase could also help generate funding for the work, he added.

In a bid opening for upgrades at Louisa Carpenter Park in the Washington Park subdivision, David A. Bramble was the low bidder at $136,700 and was awarded the bid. Unity Landscape submitted the only other bid on the project, at $166,538. Ingersoll said the town was very happy with the bids, and that the grant funding for the project would be sufficient to cover the work.

At the end of the meeting, Laura Johnson, Washington College’s Vice President of Finance, announced that the college is planning to sell several properties that have become surplus. Among the properties is the large vacant lot at the junction of Washington Ave. and the Morgnec Road bypass, popularly known as the Lamotte property. The property is zoned “Professional office,” and covers some 13 acres. The college purchased it for $1.5 million in 2006, from Kent County government.

Also for sale are a large dwelling at 301 Washington Ave., which the college also acquired in 2006, for $530,000, and several residential properties on Prospect Street, near the campus just off College Avenue. She said the college “is not liquidating,” but that it has identified the properties being sold as not contributory to its strategic plan.

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Discussion of Council Vote on Pride Event Continues

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Jonathan Chace (at podium) addresses the Chestertown council — (L-R) Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Councilman David Foster

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 4, the main topic of interest was the continuing discussion of the council’s vote on a permit for an LGBTQ Pride event. The vote, at the Feb. 19 meeting, granted the permit by a 3-2 vote, with councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson in dissent. The two opposing votes resulted in considerable adverse comment and controversy following the meeting.

Tolliver, in his regular ward report, said he had reached out to members of the LGBTQ community, including some of the organizers of the festival, after the meeting. “We have sat down, discussed our differences, and made some headway as to how we move forward together, understanding that we all have different opinions about how things should be,” he said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Kingstown resident Jonathan Chace spoke on the controversy. Chace began by thanking Tolliver for his willingness to open dialogue with the festival organizers. “I think that’s important to the town, and I think we need more of it,” he said. He then turned to the council as a whole. He asked them to imagine that they had permit requests from several different groups to hold events in Fountain Park. The groups supported causes including clean rivers, farming, Make America Great, Black Lives Matter, and reproductive rights. “Which one of these do you like?” he asked. “Which ones will you approve? Which ones will you disapprove?”

Jonathan Chace

He then stepped back – “I’ll take you off the hook. You don’t have to decide,” he said. “That’s because the town council, I believe, should not be in the business of approving or disapproving any event based on its content or subject.” Instead, Chace said, the council’s responsibility is “to review each permit in the same way that thousands of towns and cities across America review their permits.” That would mean asking questions about safe and orderly movement of traffic; use of emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulances; whether the event is likely to cause property damage, injuries or disorder; and availability of sanitary facilities, garbage cans, stages, and barricades. “If you on the town council think these questions, not the subject of the event, have been resolved, then you can vote to approve the permit. If not, disapprove it, that’s it.”
Chace concluded that if the council conducts its approval process along those lines, the town “can take great pride in celebrating its First Amendment to the Constitution, the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.”
No-one else on the council or in the audience addressed the issues raised by the Feb. 19 vote. However, before the meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll sent an email message to council members, which he copied to the Spy, outlining the basis in the town’s charter for approving events. The relevant passages are found in the Streets and Sidewalks ordinance, which he attached along with the form for the permit and the Parades ordinance, which he noted does not apply to the Pride event, which is not planning a parade. The full ordinance can be reached from the town’s website

The most pertinent sections are 145-13 A, 145-14, and 145-17. Section 145-13 states “It shall be unlawful for any individual, association, corporation, or organization to use the streets, sidewalks, public rights-of-way, or town-owned property for any event or activity without first obtaining a permit from the town as provided in this article;” Section 145-14 states what information applicants must provide to receive a permit. Section 145-17 says “Whenever the town finds that an activity requested under §145-14 is not in the public interest or represents a threat to public safety or is not an historically accepted event or activity, it shall deny the permit application.” Ingersoll noted that “historically accepted event” simply means one that has been conducted regularly over the years and is therefore considered traditional.

Ingersoll added, “You may recall that your own precedent for a permit to come before the Council on a mandatory basis, a month before an event, is the closing of any street. This last one (the Pride Day) came before you because of the requests being made for the stage, for banner, etc. That is also a precedent that we have.

“I sign many perfunctory permits that don’t require the use of Town streets or do not ask for Town help with stages, police, or street department preparation or cleanup.”

In short, as Ingersoll said in an interview before the meeting, the criterion for a council vote is the use of town resources such as the stage, which requires the town crew to set it up, or police presence, both of which require the town to pay for staff hours, often at the overtime rate. Also relevant is the need to avoid scheduling two events for the same time and place. The Pride event is to take place in Fountain Park directly after Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 4.

At the meeting, the council also approved an update to the Critical Areas portion of the zoning ordinance and heard complaints from a Queen Street resident about the condition of the street. The council was also advised that Washington College is planning to sell some surplus property, including a house on Washington Avenue and the large vacant lot at the corner of Route 213 and the bypass. Look for additional town council reports in future editions of the Chestertown Spy.

Main Street Looking to Buy Portable Stage for Town

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Stage Line 75 portable stage, for which Main Street Chestertown is raising funds to purchase for the town. The stage is made in Canada and can be installed by two workers in 30 minutes.

At the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 19, Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown told the council about plans to acquire a portable stage for town events. The stage, which can be hauled by a pickup truck and set up by two people in about 30 minutes, would replace the town’s current stage.

The stage, from Stage Line, a Canadian firm, offers a 16-by-20-foot covered performance surface, with mounting brackets for lights. It folds into a road-legal trailer, which means it can easily be moved to and from the sites where it is needed, and it could be stored in the town yard between uses.

MacIntosh said that Main Street plans to apply for a matching grant from the Maryland Heritage Authority to fund the purchase, which she said would total about $103,000. She said the idea came up because of the time and manpower the town street crew needs to set up the town’s current plywood stage every time it’s needed for an event. She said she had looked into several suppliers, and the Stage Line model appeared to have the best quality. “It should last 20 years,” she said. The stage also has removable back and side panels which can be put up or left off depending on weather.

Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown

She asked the town for a $5,000 commitment toward the purchase. She said the pledge would show the granting foundations that the town supported the project. Main Street would donate the stage to the town. She said that because of the timing of the grant process, the funds for the stage might not be available until the end of the summer. The price quoted includes all the accessories for the stage, plus two days of training to ensure that the local crew can set it up efficiently.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I think we could probably sell off our old stage, which someone might want for a more permanent installation.” He said the sale would possibly recoup the town’s investment in the new stage. He said it takes four men about four hours and requires the use of heavy equipment to move the stage from storage and set it up. Last summer, the stage was left standing in Fountain Park for the entire season so it wouldn’t have to be taken down and set up every two weeks for the Music in the Park concerts. Ingersoll also commented that the stage would cause much less damage to the park, since it could be wheeled into place. He also noted that the stage has a plug to allow amplifiers or other sound equipment to be attached directly.

Mayor Chris Cerino said it would be a good idea to sell the current stage. Ingersoll said he would advertise it as soon as the new one arrives.

Councilman Marty Stetson said he remembered when the town purchased its current stage, which he said had been a real improvement over the “cement blocks and plywood” that were used before the purchase. “I certainly would be in favor of something newer,” he said. He said it could also be taken to Wilmer Park for events there.

MacIntosh said the stage’s portability would allow the town to set it up for a morning event and take it down and move it for another event later in the day. “I think it’ll help every nonprofit and civic group that has events.” She said it might also increase the number of town events because it would make hosting them easier. She said she wanted to talk to Farmers Market manager Sabine Harvey about using it in the park.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, a member of the Tea Party Festival committee, said the group would be interested in using the town’s stage for this year’s festival.

The council voted to set aside $5,000 contingent upon Main Street Chestertown obtaining the grants, and authorized Cerino to send a letter of support for the grant applications.
MacIntosh also reported that Main Street Chestertown is sponsoring a “bluegrass block party” from noon to 3 p.m. April 20, which is also the date for the town’s Earth Day celebration. The concert, rescheduled from the fall, features the Baltimore-based Dirty Grass Players. Beer and barbecue will be available.

The stage will be set up on High Street between Cross St. and Lawyer’s Row, and there will be no parking on that block. McIntosh said that between the Earth Day festivities and an Easter egg hunt in Wilmer Park, it should be a “great day for Chestertown.” The council approved permits for the event.

In response to a question by Councilman David Foster, Ingersoll said the “MVA on Wheels” bus has been having trouble getting wi-fi service for its computers at the Fountain Park site where it normally sets up. The bus personnel will be visiting town to explore alternate locations with better service. Possible sites include the uptown shopping centers, which have adequate parking and power hookups. He said he would know within a week or so what site has been chosen for March.

Cerino said that Verizon will be installing a new antenna on its cell tower near Dixon Valve’s High Street headquarters, which is expected to improve service in the downtown area. Ingersoll said installation is tentatively scheduled for April.

Also at the meeting, the council approved setting aside funding for a consultation with a marina management company, Coastal Properties Inc., to explore operational procedures and marketing plans for the town-owned marina with the mayor, Ingersoll, and other town staff who work with the marina. Cerino said a half-day consultation would cost $550. The council approved the funds, which would come from the marina operating account.

Guy Davis Brings Blues and Songster Ramblings to Sumner Hall, March 1

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Guy Davis — photo by Joseph A. Rosen

Anyone who loves traditional blues should be looking forward to March 1, when Guy Davis, “The Ambassador of the Blues,” plays at Sumner Hall. Davis’s show, “On the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings,” is part of Sumner Hall’s concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

African American Legacy & Heritage – Jazz, Blues, and Gospel — Sumner Hall concert series

Davis and McHugh go back a long way. They first met when McHugh was teaching a course in African American music at Vassar College and asked Davis to demonstrate slide guitar to his class. Since McHugh’s move to Kent County, Davis has performed here a number of times, including the first Riverside Blues Festival, several appearances at the Mainstay, and a memorable duo concert with guitarist Reggie Harris at Sumner Hall.

Davis, the son of the late actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, is self-taught on guitar. He picked up tips for listening to and watching other musicians, including a nine-fingered guitarist who taught him finger-picking during a long train ride. He also plays 5-string banjo, which he learned at a music summer camp, and harmonica. Not surprisingly, he has also followed his parents into acting, including a role as legendary Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson in an off-Broadway production.

But as the concert title suggests, Davis’s reach extends beyond the blues, including ragtime tunes, New Orleans jazz sounds, fife-and-drum pieces, folk music – and always something to “make you want to dance.” Don’t be surprised if he includes a tune or two from the repertoire of Pete Seeger, one of his mentors and a strong influence. You can hear Davis’s music on over a dozen albums, most recently “Sonny & Terry’s Last Train,” a tribute to the late blues masters Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Davis credits Terry as his main influence on harmonica.

The Sumner Hall performance begins at 7 p.m. Due to limited space, reservations are strongly recommended. Tickets are available on EventBrite, by email to info@sumnerhall.org or by calling 443-282-0023. Admission is $20.

Council Splits on Support for Midshore Pride Event

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The Chestertown Council in session in 2018. (L-R ) Ward 4 representative Marty Stetson; Ward 3 representative Elsworth Tolliver; Chris Cerino, mayor; Bill Ingersoll, town manager; Ward 2 representative Linda Kuiper, Ward 1 representative David Foster     Photo by Peter Heck

A group seeking permits for a Midshore Pride celebration in Fountain Park ran into unusual opposition at the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 19. Councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson spoke against the celebration and voted against granting the permits. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote.

Jim Bogden gave the council a list of the scheduled events, which include an afternoon of music and speakers in the park Saturday afternoon, May 4. The celebration, sponsored by Midshore Maryland chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), is scheduled for May 3-5 and includes events in Easton, Cambridge and at Washington College as well as in Fountain Park.

Jim Bogden tells the Chestertown Council about plans for the MidShore Pride event

Bogden said the event is the first lesbian and gay pride event to be held on the Eastern Shore. “Hopefully, it will become an annual tradition,” he said. He said he wanted to begin by talking about the purpose of the event.

“That was my first question,” Stetson said. “I’m heterosex, but I don’t feel any need to have a festival to celebrate my sexual orientation. I believe people were born that way.”

“Because every day is a festival for the straight people,” said Bogden. “The Pride celebration is for the LGBTQ community to assemble and celebrate the freedom to be ourselves. Pride gatherings are more than just bright colors and good times. They are rooted in the histories of sexual minority groups who have struggled for decades to overcome prejudice and to be accepted for who we are. We cannot underestimate how wonderful it can be to be surrounded by like-minded people for a change. And that is the essence of it.”

Bogden said the celebration is not exclusive. “Everyone can come and participate.” He said the organizers were working with the Social Action Committee to make sure the event was inclusive of African Americans and other communities. He said that PFLAG had been active in Kent County for a number of years, and mentioned that Linda Dutton had been the original organizer. He said the Pride celebration was meant to be youth-focused and family-friendly. “We don’t anticipate anything that will embarrass the town,” he added.

The weekend begins with a Friday night comedy show in Easton and a dance sponsored by the Downtown Chestertown Association. Saturday morning, there is a multicultural festival in Easton, followed by the Fountain Park gathering beginning around 1 p.m., after the Farmers Market closes. Saturday evening there will be a drag show at Washington College, featuring Marti Cummings, a Kennedyville native who has become a Broadway actor in New York. Sunday afternoon, there will be a repeat of the drag show in Cambridge.

The Fountain Park event will feature Cummings as master of ceremonies, with a lineup of speakers. Bodgen invited Cerino to offer opening remarks. The organizers have also invited a speaker from the Gay and Lesbian Educational Network, one from Free State Justice, and Amy Adams, the regional director for PFLAG. Other speakers have been invited but are not confirmed. The Pam Ortiz band has been invited to play, along with several youth groups. The Garfield Center has also been invited to present a scene from Where the Wild Things Are, which will be in production at the time of the celebration.

Bogden then opened the floor for questions. Tolliver asked how the organizers are prepared for any kind of protest or dissent. Bogden said the permit from the town would include police protection.

Stetson said he didn’t recall the council being asked to approve a permit. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the group had been in touch with him about the celebration but hadn’t at that time provided all the details the town needed. He said the group had filed a request for permits in September. He said the group had requested the town stage and a tent to cover it. He said he had asked the group to come to the council to spell out its needs before a formal vote. “We’re in the process of trying to get you a permit,” he said.

Bogden said the group’s request included a police presence. He said Chief Baker told him that additional security would be at the group’s expense, but he said he didn’t think it would be necessary, considering that it is a family-focused event.

Tolliver said, “I’m struggling with the ‘family-focused event’ part of it. How do I explain to my 13-year-old son about a group of men or women hugging and kissing and some of the things I’ve seen in Pride festivals that happened out in the public arena? How do I explain to my child that this is OK?”

“A lot of people believe it is OK, that it’s normal – a normal variation of humanity,” said Bogden. He noted that there have been same-sex relationships in every culture and every period of history.

Stetson asked why the event needs to be public. “I don’t know what you’re doing. Are you exhibitionists? Do you want to show off?” He said that everyone has a gay relative and that there’s nothing wrong with it. “But I don’t understand why you have to celebrate it in such a manner. Why not go down to Wilmer Park and have a party?

Caren Samuels compared the celebration to Legacy Day, which recognizes the African American community’s contributions to society.

Tolliver said, “That’s always the argument, that the LGBT community is somehow tied to the African American struggle, and I have a problem with that.”

Larry Samuels, Caren’s brother, said, “Of course it’s different, but the celebration of people’s humanity in a public way – who could be against that?” Bogden said that Coretta Scott King has spoken out in recognition of the struggle of gay people.

Councilman David Foster said he sees the event as “a celebration of the fact that we are a diverse society; we are a welcoming society.” He noted that people sometimes go to churches other than their own and that they are welcomed. He said he’s been welcomed in other countries, and that he was welcomed to Chestertown when he moved here from India. “I would hope my home town can also be welcoming to other people. It does not mean espousing.”

Bogden said that many gay people grew up “with a deep sense of shame of who we are,” and that it has affected their personalities and careers in negative ways. He said that cultural shifts in recent years have reduced the amount of shame, but young people still feel it and are damaged by it. He said the Pride celebration is an attempt to “bury that shame, to eliminate it.”

Tolliver said that the other events during the weekend are at indoor venues where there is a degree of privacy. He asked whether government permits were needed for those events. Being told that no permits were needed, he pointed out that PFLAG was requesting government permission for the celebration. “That to me is the problem,” he concluded.

Larry Samuels said that New York City, Boston and other major communities around the nation have had Gay Pride parades for many years without problems. “It’s just a celebration of our diversity,” he said.

Mayor Chris Cerino said that he supports the celebration and that he was aware it might be “a little controversial.” He said the reason there hasn’t been a previous pride event on the Shore was that “this is a pretty conservative part of the world.” However, he said, there is a very prestigious LGBTQ community in Chestertown – “These are some of our very finest citizens, and I would feel kind of remiss not to support this.”

Foster said, “At a time when our nation is so horribly divided, I think we do need to make the extra effort to welcome people, shake hands with people who think and act differently from us. It’s not that painful. It’s not that hard to do.”

Kay MacIntosh, manager of the town’s Arts and Entertainment District and the Main Street program, said, “We are trying to build a diverse, vibrant artistic community, and I really support this. I think it would be a black eye on our community if we didn’t.”

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said the Farmer’s Market closing time might need to be adjusted, which would require the market managers’ cooperation. She said that when she took her oath of office upon election to the council, she had promised: “to serve without partiality or prejudice.” She said she couldn’t put her personal beliefs into the decision, and that she didn’t have a problem with the event other than concerns about safety for attendees or the general public.

Cerino said he was sure Police Chief Baker would be able to handle any security issues. He said he didn’t expect violent protests; people with strong objections would probably avoid the event. He added that he favors the event, and wants to support community members. “There are more of them than a lot of people know about,” he said and added that he would support it even if some people turned their backs on him because of it. He asked for a motion from the council, adding that he would vote in favor of the event.

Ingersoll said the organizers had provided most of the information necessary to issue the permits. He said a request to hang banners in the downtown area ran into a problem with trucks running into them. He suggested hanging one over High Street where the rail trail crosses the road. He said the rest of the requests were pretty routine – “We’ll work out the details once the council says yes or no.”

Foster moved to express the council’s support for the celebration and to issue the necessary permits assuming details were worked out. Kuiper seconded the motion, and Cerino joined them in the final vote to approve the event.

Following the meeting, Stetson emailed the other council members, copying the Spy, saying in part, “I am not sure I made myself clear on the opposition to the use of the park by the Midshore Pride people. I think they are making a mistake by showcasing themselves, saying look at me I am different. They should just continue to become a part of society and if asked or feel it necessary to let people know they are gay, do so on a personal basis. To equate their difference as that of being the same as the black people is wrong.  They have never been refused service at a lunch counter or not admitted to a school of their choice because they are gay.”

The motion to approve the permit passed with Cerino, Kuiper, and Foster voting in favor and Stetson and Tolliver voting against.

The council then went on to discuss other matters, including a police report and the possible acquisition of a new portable town stage, which will be covered in a second Chestertown Spy report.

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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a Stunning Production — Review by Peter Heck

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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” cast: on sofa – Brianna Johnson as Honey and Lyle Pinder as Nick, standing Brad Chaires as George, & Jen Friedman as Martha  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Edward Albee’s groundbreaking play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, currently playing at the Garfield Center in Chestertown, brings some of the strongest performances in recent years to the local stage. Directed by Gil Rambach, the play – as Rambach noted before the opening night performance – is challenging, even uncomfortable for audiences. But nobody who enjoys the theater should miss this production. Simply put, it’s electrifying.

Albee’s play had its Broadway debut in 1962, and it won both the Tony Award and the Drama Critics’ Award as best play. It was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award’s drama jury, but the award’s advisory board reportedly overruled the selection because of the play’s use of profanity and its sexual themes, both unusual at the time. No Pulitzer was given for drama that year.

The original cast included Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, Melinda Dillon, and George Grizzard, with Allen Schneider as director. The production at Billy Rose Theatre in New York ran for 664 performances, after which it opened in London. It has been revived numerous times – with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara in 1976, and with Mike Nichols and Elaine May in a 1980 production in New London. A 1994 London production starred David Suchet and Diana Rigg — that’s one I would love to have seen.

George (Brad Chaires) confronts his wife Martha (Jen Friedman) with Nick (Lyle Pinder) in the background in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jane Jewell

However, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is probably best known from the 1966 film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with George Segal and Sandy Dennis as the younger couple. Directed by Mike Nichols, it was nominated for 13 Academy Awards – every category for which it was eligible – one of only two films ever to do so. It ended up winning five, including Taylor as best actress and Dennis as supporting actress. And, in a sign of the changing times, the script retained much of the provocative language of the stage version. The days of film censorship were over.  This is definitely adult fare – so keep the kiddies at home, except perhaps for very mature teenagers.   But definitely go yourself.  It’s a drama, not a comedy, though there are some ironic chuckles and laugh lines.  Be prepared for an intense evening of drama at its best.

The play explores the complex and embattled relationship of a middle-aged married couple, George and Martha. After a faculty party at the small New England college where George teaches, Martha invites a younger faculty couple, Nick and Honey, to their home. George instantly takes umbrage at her having issued the invitation without consulting him, and the ensuing argument carries on throughout the night and into the next morning, drawing in the younger couple who stay in spite of the raging emotions. In the course of it, much is revealed about the lives and relationships of both couples, though the real explosions take place between George and Martha.

Put that baldly, it sounds as if the play is about nothing much, and in a sense it is. But in another sense, it’s about everything: ambition and failure, love and hate, reality and illusions, innocence and experience – life itself. Albee packs these themes into the interaction of four characters in one tense evening, fueled by way too much to drink and unrestrained libido. A significant portion of the dialogue is delivered at the top of the actors’ voices – it must require incredible vocal stamina for them to keep from burning out after the first act. In a show that runs close to three hours, that’s a lot to ask – but on opening night, the actors delivered.

Director Rambach, who has a long directing career in New Jersey before moving to the Shore, is also a playwright. He said after the performance we saw that he has directed Virginia Woolf once before in the mid-’90s, but his accumulated experience since then has given him a fresh perspective on the play. For this production, he has put together an outstanding cast.

Jen Friedman as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

In the Garfield production of the play, Jen Friedman takes the role of Martha – the Elizabeth Taylor role. Well regarded for her strong comic roles – most recently as Gorgeous Tettlebaum in The Sisters Rosenzsweig at Church Hill – in this play she delivers a powerful, over-the-top performance as a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, lashing out at everything and everyone around her yet sometimes her own vulnerability shows and the audience feels sympathy – and perhaps even identification–with her. Friedman’s character covers an incredible range of emotions, and she makes them all believable. Regular theater-goers have had plenty of opportunities to see her versatility, but this role may be her most impressive yet.

Garfield regular Bradley Chaires plays George, and his energy in the role is a match for Friedman’s. He makes good use of his physical bulk to dominate the stage, even looming over and shoving around the 6’1” actor who plays Nick. He also conveys the character’s mean streak even when he’s not the main focus of a scene, as when he sits and reads a book while Martha makes passes at the younger professor. A strong performance by an actor who has become a valuable featured player at the Garfield.

Brianna Johnson as Honey and Lyle Pinder as Nick in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

Brianna Johnson, who has worked both onstage and behind the scenes at the Garfield and Church Hill Theatre, is quietly brilliant as Honey. The mousy young faculty wife is in one sense a secondary character, far less flamboyant that George or Martha or even her husband. But every time I looked at her, her expression and posture delivered an unmistakable message about how the character felt and responded to what was going on around her. Only 21 years old, Johnson shows uncanny stage presence in this role; let’s hope we see a lot more of her on local stages.

Nick is played by Chestertown native Lyle Pinder, making his Garfield debut after garnering numerous theater and TV and film credits in New York. His experience is easy to see, as he gives the character a combination of arrogance and unexpected vulnerability. An excellent job.

The set, representing George and Martha’s living room, is nicely done, with lots of books on view and ‘60s-looking furniture. And the costumes are right for the period, thanks to Connie Fallon, who also did the set decoration.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is playing through Feb. 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20 general admission; $15 for seniors or military personnel; and $10 for students.   Reservations can be made on the Garfield website, or by calling the theater at 410-810-2060.

Brad Chaires

  Jen Friedman

Brianna Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyle Pinder

Director and Crew for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” –

Brad Chaires as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

Brad Chaires and Jen Friedman as George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf — Photo by Jeff Weber

 

It’s drinks for everyone in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” – Photo by Jeff Weber

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