Mid-Shore Arts: Composer and Singer Barbara Parker on Being the New Kid on the Block


It is hard to think of another community where such a shockingly large number of people who live here can name at least five of the most outstanding female vocalists in the area. Remarkably different in their gifts and generous in their support, these professional artists have set a high bar for any newcomer.

That is what visual artist and writer Barbara Parker realized when she decided to take her love of words and combine them with music around 2005. That may seem like a long time ago, but in her Spy chat, she still feels she is still just catching up to these masters who she has admired since arriving in Kent County in 1982.

Collaborating with pianist Joe Holt, another great Kent County master, Barbara has started to perfect her performance style. Using a repertoire of her compositions which were developed with Joe’s arrangements, the twosome has steadily grown a following on the Mid-Shore. Many of whom will no doubt be there when the twosome headline a reception and concert at the Brampton Inn on January 19.

In her Spy interview, she talks about her love of lyrics and music, the awe she has the local talent this small rural community has to offer, and how grateful she has been for their influence and guidance.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. Additional video generously provided by Steve Payne.  Tickets and information about the Brampton Inn concert can be found here.


Tradition, Speed and Grace: The Log Canoes of John C. North II


For many on the Mid-Shore, it’s not hard to remember the moment they first saw a Chesapeake Bay log canoe. These majestical floating museums of Bay history, with their simple design lines and overwhelming white blankets of sails, is a remarkable sight on a summer day.

Once hooked, most devotees can never seem to get enough of the images, history, racing, and cultural influence that come with this fleet of remaining log canoes on the Bay.  So it will be a great relief for them to know that Judge John North has just completed a masterful documentation of these unique qualities in the release of Tradition, Speed, and Grace: Chesapeake Bay Sailing Log Canoes, published by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

With the help of the CBMM historian Pete Lesher, photographer and artist Marc Castelli, and the encouragement of friends like Alexa and Tom Seip, Judge North has pulled together a classic summary of the log canoe’s role in Mid-Shore history and current life on the Chesapeake Bay.

The Spy jumped at the chance to talk to Judge North on this remarkable project. In his interview, which is also essential oral history, we focus on the four log canoes that are a special part of the North Family; Island Bird, Island Blossom, Jay Dee, and Persistence.

This video is approximately twenty-two minutes in length. The sale proceeds are to be donated to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  The book is available for purchase at the CBMM store, the Trippe Gallery in Easton, or one can contact CBMM Guest Services Manager Sara McCafferty at smccafferty@cbmm.org to arrange a copy to be shipped.

Mid-Shore Profiles: Ron Liebman, Spiro Agnew, and Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man”


Given the legal discussions now taking place over the Bay Bridge in Washington, it is easy for those of a certain age to have flashbacks to the early 1970s as the drama of Watergate began to unfold, and the future of another sitting president was in doubt. But for many in Maryland, it was the fall of Richard Nixon’s vice president, and  former governor, Spiro Agnew, that comes to mind as law experts once again ponder if a sitting president (or vice president) has prosecutorial immunity from felony charges while in office.

In the case of Agnew, local Baltimore prosecutors, under the leadership of Republican state attorney George Beall, had overwhelming evidence that the sitting vice president had taken bribes for almost a decade, including the acceptance of tens of thousands in cash while in his White House office. The question was not only whether they could indict him, but could they do so in time before Nixon was thrown out of office, hence opening the door for an Agnew presidency.

It just so happens that one of the local Baltimore prosecutors in the center of this remarkable storm is Talbot County’s, Ron Liebman. This fact surfaced recently when Ron and his two other colleagues were the stars of the highly acclaimed “BagMan” podcast by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that turns the Agnew case into a first-class legal thriller.

After retiring as a partner from Patton Boggs, he and his wife, artist Simma Liebman, moved to Easton to begin what has been a extraordinarily successful second career as a legal mystery writer himself, with his fifth book, Big Law: A Novel recently published by Penguin.

The Spy caught up with Ron at the Bullitt House this week to talk about this surreal moment in American history.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. To hear Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man” please go here



LTO on High, Stams, and the Return of Neyah White and Brandywine Hartman to Chestertown


While Chestertown foodies will need to demonstrate a bit more patience over the next few months, there are some promising signs that High Street will soon be the center of a dining revolution in the not too far future.

That’s because of the Mid-Shore return of Neyah White and his wife, Brandywine Hartman, who is heading up a massive effort to restore the building where Andy’s and the Lemon Leaf restaurant called home until a few years ago as well as the old Stam’s Drug Store down the street.

Neyah, a native of Kent County, very quickly became one of San Francisco’s best known and successful bartenders in the 2000s when he moved there after college. With a remarkable career launched at some of that city’s most popular bars, including the Clift Hotel, Bacar, Mecca, and Supper Club, and then opening up the legendary Nopalito and Nopa, Neyah swiftly became rose to the top of the mixed drinks hierarchy from almost the day he settled in the Bay Area. But his one consistent long-term plan from day one was to return to Chestertown and open up his own bar.

That plan worked well for his bride to be, Brandywine Hartman, who had created her own remarkable reputation as one of the Fog City’s most applauded pastry chefs. With her background working with two of the city’s two Michelin-rated restaurants, Brandywine found herself as one of the stars of the critically-acclaimed Bar Agricole in the SOMA part of town before the two plotted their exit from California to return to Neyah’s hometown in 2016.

Since that time, life has come with a new baby, a temporary pop-up bar where JR’s and Andy’s was located, and more permanent plans to take the reins of a entirely new bar once the High Street building has been renovated, and the re-establishment of Stam’s a few blocks down as the home of an ice cream parlor and pastry shop.

The Spy caught up with Neyah, Brandywine and their daughter Suzie, a few weeks ago to talk about their new quality of life and their long-term plans of putting Chestertown on the foodie map in the Mid-Atlantic region.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about LTO please go here.


Mid-Shore Food: A Nano Winery Takes Form in Kent County


Enrique Pallares, the president of Casa Carmen, is quick to use the word “nano” rather than “micro” in talking about the family’s new winery less than a mile as the crow flies from Chestertown. And for this student of philosophy, who is just finishing up his Ph.D. dissertation at Catholic University, he likes to be precise in the language he uses.

And a “nano winery” seems like the correct term as you look over Carmen’s one acre of grapes now growing next to Kent County’s old Almshouse and Enrique and his wife’s newly restored farmhouse. Enrique intentionally wants to keep his business (which he shares with his brother and sister as well as father as consultant) as small as possible to keep alive a tradition of family community wineries where the focus is entirely local.

With a family history in Ecuador, and a father’s love of Spanish wine, Enrique, and brother Felipe, both international professional polo players before settling on the Mid-Shore, have just begun as the winery plans to move away from the often repeated mistake of competing with California wines. They envision a new approach that takes into account the Eastern Shore’s remarkable soil to offer unique local blends that also carry on the tradition of a community winery.

The Spy spent some time with Enrique last week to understand more fully the business plan.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Casa Carmen please go here

John O’Brien on Leadership and Self-Awareness in the Trump Era


Given the seemingly endless use of President Donald Trump’s Twitter account to attack political opponents and publically humiliate his own cabinet members, it is unfortunate that the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution does not include a clause that allows the country to formally intervene and send their CEO to a leadership training program before any talk about giving them the heave-ho.

But if the US did have those powers, it is quite likely the our Donald would have been sent to an executive leadership retreat which was run by John O’Brien.

For much of his professional life, Johnny O’Brien has had a very small niche segment in the leadership training industry. O’Brien developed specialized programs for the very elite corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies. It also didn’t hurt that John had “walked the walk” himself for several years as the CEO of the Hershey School and its $14 billion endowment.

Given the national and local conversation we are now having on what leadership means, we thought it would be a good idea to have a check in with Johnny about the state of our union and its leaders.

This video is approximately five minutes in length.




Our Jazz Man: Dr. Mel Rapelyea on the Chestertown Jazz Festival


It seems amazing that a jazz festival that was created in 1996 would still be humming along with the same volunteer director 22 years later. That certainly says a lot about how much Kent County and Chestertown loves the musical form, but it also says volumes about Dr. Mel Rapelyea’s devotion in keeping jazz alive for the countless aficionados in the community but has introduced the genre to hundreds of Kent County students over the years.

Started in 1996 as a project of the Kent County Arts Council (now on their own), Mel and his team of volunteers have built a program that blends the musical  talent of renowned international artists like Cyrus Chestnut and Sean Jones, with the extraordinary local talent such as Karen Somerville and Phil Dutton and the Alligators.

The Spy sat down with Mel at the Spy HQ in Chestertown last week to talk about the festival coming up starting September 5 and his unique vision of how this unique hybrid has now grown to six days of concerts.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Chestertown Jazz Festival – 2018 please go here


Doubling Down: WC’s Board Chair Larry Culp on the Future of Washington College and Chestertown


It isn’t all that shocking that Larry Culp, Washington College’s chair of the school’s Board of Visitors and Governors, would talk enthusiastically about the long-term future of the liberal arts college or the town where it has resided for 238 years.  Governing board leaders, particularly those who are graduates of those institutions like Larry at WC (class of 1985)  are instinctively optimistic about the institutions they lead as well as the municipalities where they are located. It is almost a part of the job description for such positions.

But what is not in the job description, particularly in the case of Washington College and Chestertown, is how much Culp has not only “talked the talk” but made substantial investments in both the school and the town to show his confidence in both; a “doubling down” on the two places he loves the most as well as a conviction that they can not only successfully recover from Great Recession but be in a real position to thrive in the years ahead.

Culp has the background to support those aspirations through a career that eventually led him to become president of Danaher Corporation at the age of 38, ranked 144 on the Fortune 500 and be listed on the Harvard Business Review’s top 50 best-performing CEOs list. Now a visiting lecturer at Harvard Business School (HBS), a board member of General Electric, T. Rowe Price, and Wake Forest University, Culp continues to maintain his interest in leadership and the ultimate question of what makes good companies and good schools.

And all of these experiences, including the use of HBS’s famed “case method” (Culp is an alum of HBS) and Danaher’s acquisitions of dozens of companies during his twenty-year tenure, has led Culp to a unique understanding and appreciation of what he calls “high performing” institutions, whether they be high tech corporations or small liberal arts colleges.

It is this familiarity with what makes a company/school successful that has turned Culp into a significant philanthropist for Washington College and Chestertown.  Larry and his family have made numerous million-dollar contributions to WC since joining the College’s board, with such diverse donations as the school’s scholarship endowment, the establishment a chair in WC’s psychology department, or more recently, the funding of the school’s “Food Lab” in downtown Chestertown.

These investments, however, have not stopped at the property lines of the College. In recent years, the Culp family has quietly made significant commitments to the Sultana Education Foundation and other nonprofit organizations in Kent County.

This faith in Chestertown has also included the purchase of the building occupied by the now-closed Lemon Leaf restaurant and JR’s Tavern on High Street as well as the beloved Stam’s pharmacy and ice cream fountain a few blocks down the street.

In all three cases, Culp is now making ambitious plans to reactivate those venues over the next two years with “best in class” dining, an unpretentious neighborhood bar, as well as, to relief of hundreds of sweltering Chestertownians during the summer months, a unique homemade ice cream establishment with such an unusual twist which is so hush-hush the owner would not describe the master plan on camera.

In Larry’s first interview with the Spy, which also served to inaugurate the Chestertown Spy’s new “Head’s Quarters” and studio on South Queen Street, he talks candidly about the serious challenges that face both Washington College and Chestertown still face, but also of the extraordinary opportunities that exist that could very well make WC a “top 50” liberal arts college but also move Chestertown into being one of the best known East Coast destinations over the next decade.

This video is approximately fifteen minutes in length.

Profiles in Philanthropy: The Legacy of Benjamin Kohl


It doesn’t take an exceptional eye for the average Chestertownian to see the impact of the late Ben Kohl on Kent County. From the Kohl Gallery at Washington College, the Kohl Lobby at the Garfield Center for the Arts, financing the achieve collection at Miller Library or the contributing to the building of the Betterton Community Center, Ben and his wife, Judy, have played a critical philanthropic role in the life of the Mid-Shore since 2006.

But who was Benjamin Gibbs Kohl? A successful industrialist? A hedge fund manager from New York City? A scion of a family fortune? How about a devoted scholar of Renaissance history.

It turns out that Ben Kohl devoted most of his adult life to scholarship and teaching. With a thirty-five year tenure as a history professor at Vassar College, Kohl became one of the world’s leading experts on fourteenth-century Padua and Venice. In fact, his most significant work was Padua under the Carrera, 1318-1405, which stands today as an extraordinary example of relentless archival research.

While undoubtedly impressive, a career in the academy does not typically produce a philanthropist. And therefore it was moving to hear in a recent Spy interview with Judy Kohl, and Ben’s son, Ben Jr., that the Kohls took almost all the proceeds from the sale of the family farm in Middletown, Delaware, commonly known at Hedgelawn, to give back to his chosen field by funding the electronic achieving of a vast and rare collection of 14th and 15th century historical documents for future scholars, but gave half of the farm’s net return to invest in the arts and culture of Kent County.

Ben Kohl sadly passed away at the relatively young age of 71, but his legacy remains a remarkable testimony to the power of philanthropy that continues to this day with the remaining Kohl family members through the Hedgelawn Foundation.

The Spy spent some time with Judy and Ben Jr. at the family office in Lynch a few weeks ago to take about one of Kent County’s most generous benefactors and his extraordinary legacy in our community and the world’s appreciation of medieval and Renaissance history.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Hedgelawn Foundation please go here.



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