Archive for December, 2008

Baltimore Round Robin

Baltimore Round Robin

Baltimore Round Robin

The Round Robin tour of Baltimore’s wildest musicians had a happy homecoming last week at the Sonar music club,  just behind city hall, after cris-crossing the country to spread the gospel of Charm City talent. The veggie oil-powered tour bus motored from NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge through sold out shows in cities including Detroit, Boston and Quebec, and puttered home to roost on Saratoga street in front of Sonar on December 18.

What is a Round Robin, you ask? Well, originally, it went something like this. 18th century sailors petitioned the Royal Navy using “round robin” signatories to protest against authority by putting their names on a document in a non-hierarchical circle or ribbon pattern (and so disguising the order in which they have signed) in order that none may be identified as a ringleader.

Our Round Robin was an assemblage of some of the best performers in Baltimore, divided up roughly in terms of artsy bands people stand around and look at, and dance-friendly electronic music–i.e., December 18 was the Eyes night, the following evening was Feet night. No one band was a headliner–all had the spotlight and all rocked it accordingly. Then there were the designated “Weird” acts which I will attempt to describe below.

Unlike British petitioners, this group’s ringleader is well documented, in domestic and international press.  The Wham City arts collective’s lead sorcerer Dan Deacon hob nobbedon Thursday with the “Eyes” performers and enacted his typical dancefloor mayham on Saturday. Beards, giant ‘staches, zebra jumpers, and He and she mullets were the stylistic templates.

Beach House and Teeth Mountain rocked, Dan Deacon launched feet onto the dancefloor and sweat into the air, and the “Weird” and “Eyes” acts blurred into a stream of oddball delights: Blue Leader shouted in a face mask; Santa Dads featureda boy in a plain-Jane 60s dress playing an electronic ukulele, flanked by a girl pumping the air with an inflatable catfish (this might have been classified as a musician act, who can say where the line is); a couple squirmed to the center of the crowd to propose a shampooing competition; a quartet of women called the Lexie Mountain Boys, heads bound with tall headdresses topped by baby doll heads, bobbed up and down, chanting and wailing like an African tribe by a pig spit.

And so Baltimore’s unflinchingly innovative music scene continues to give Detroit a complex.


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Obama’s Whistle Stop in Baltimore

News that Obama plans a whistle stop tour to Washington  must have Baltimore city planners in a tizzy. An expected 150,000 people will show up in Charm City to catch a glimpse as the Audaciously Hopeful President chugs his way towards 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Reporters point out the largest stadium holds just 77,000. Luckily, security threats should be minimal in this solidly pro-Obama city. The prez-to-be — he arrives here on January 17 — could hold court at Patterson Park, below the playful Victorian-style pagoda.

Ideal for a secret service lookout?

Ideal for a secret service lookout?

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Art Marts of Baltimore

Desperate to attempt to avoid Towson Town Center for the holidays (piped in elevator cheer, greasy teryiaki food court samples, chock-a-block scrunchie carts) I have been scouring the City Paper for alternative gift markets.

Last week, we hit the Lyric Opera for the Winter Art Mart , a one-stop gift source if everyone on your Christmas list is a recycled cotton-lunchbag toting, Squidfire tee manequin in a checkered newsboy cap. So yes, I spent every dime I walked in with on DIY Christmas cards and mechanical sketch- covered sketchbooks, and frosted dog biscuits from Love of Dog Bakery. Unfortunately my 8- and 10 year-old cousins that love Polly Pockets won’t appreciate the retro-cool cameras and bicycles the design team Girls Can Tells screenprints onto oven mits and napkins.

So today we headed up to Mount Royal a couple blocks further to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)’s holiday Art Market. In the striking Brown Center lobby and lowerlevel were tables carefully arrayed with an eclectic mix of styles and mediums: ceremic pots and hand-spun yarn shared space with graffiti-style, stencil-sprayed vinyl records and Tupac-inspired graphic posters by Robert Ferrell. Scrabble letter necklaces by Natalie Jacob were a highlight. Downstairs I discovered LaToya Peoples’ haunting silkscreen print of a boy in front of red brick Baltimore block. Best of all, the market’s ingenius system of tag tickets meant you paid once for everything at the end and then went back to collect your loot, so you didn’t ruffle paintings or bother vendors with making change.

Pre-New Year’s Resolution: to fete friends and family without spending money outside my neighborhood?

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An unusually icy wind greeted the Mayor’s Annual Christmas Parade, which kicked off under frosty 2pm sun on Falls Road in Hampden. Children piled with blankets sat on folding chairs next to boozy football fans in maroon or purple, facing off across the street (the Redskins are getting a walloping by the Ravens as I write).

In response to the chilly temps, the parade gritted its teeth, marched in long johns and twirled batons in gloves. Mayor Sheila Dixon waved in the season atop a cream-colored Beetle and a motley crew demonstrating a varying level of performance skills followed.

Innumerable high school marching bands descended on the rowhouse corridor to toot tubas, smash symbols, an pound on drums. A straggling group of dancers, clothed in colorful sweat bands, feather hats and bells, mimed Peruvian dance; the rest of their crew, apparently late, appeared 10 minutes later running down the sidewalk to catch up. Miss Fire Prevention 2008 rode before a couple red engines, which we hope were not missed elsewhere in our beloved firetrap city. Roller derby girls waved brightly to cheering onlookers.

Less predictable were the dogs riding on butt-sized, motorized magic carpets driven in circles by an oddball Shriner sect called the Boumi, a posse of old men who prior to the carpet show had made a lot of noise tooling around in all terrain vehicles decorated with stuffed camels (we didn’t get it either). Evangelical churches drove trucks displaying scenes of morners surrounding a giant cross. A large flatbed truck covered in Astroturf was strewn with people clutching blankets, including Santa, who also showed up in a purple Ravens’ fanatic bus. The lone ranger trotted by on a well-dressed horse and a Revolutionary War brigade preceded the Jedi warriers.

It was enough to make us forget the steaming urns of Maryland Crab soup and hot cider inside the house, but not for too long.

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Lyric Opera House hosts art mart


Contemporary Baltimore has been compared to the New York of the 1970s–a raw, dangerous frontier acting as a pockmarked canvas for young artists. This Sunday afternoon, we will forget boarded up housescrossfire and infectious disease to to visit the Lyric Opera House’s annual Winter Art Mart . Organized by the Squidfire clothing design duo, headquartered in Highlandtown (an east Baltimore neighborhood akin to Queens, New York), the art mart will feature visiting artisans from New York and Washington hawking hand-silk screened t-shirts, knit owls, and oven fired jewelry. But most vendors and musicians serenading the shoppers will represent Charm City.

Dangerously Delicious Pies will be hawking their legendary pastries, like Sweet Potato and Mobtown Brown.

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Iffy logo, great idea

Iffy logo, great idea

The Purple Line is a great concept that has been poorly promoted. The low-budget Web site helpfully points out that “existing roads are highly congested, and commuting times continue to increase [and] existing east-west bus services are unreliable and slow.” Hey, people! We Washingtonians may relish the great radio stations that are born out of the ubiquitos traffic snarls, but my guess is that no one likes a car commute that is on average 30 minutes , and often nears 2 hours.

And while all we see in the ‘burbs are seas of car traffic, Washington, D.C. commuters love public transport. We take more public transportation trips than any metropolitan area aside from New York City.  It’s just darn near impossible to take from one side of the suburbs to the other. [Speaking of NYC, unscientific surveys show that their radio stations are way inferior to ours–more pop oriented–because people in New York listen to iPods on the subway. Luckily, WKYS 39.9 and DC101 won’t lose any listeners because you can get radio on light rail]

According to the project’s Web site , the new 16-mile east-west rapid transit line would connect the major central business districts and “activity centers” of Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley Park, College Park/University of Maryland, and New Carrollton. It would be either light rail or bus rapid transit and would take 3-5 years to complete, opening in 2012 at the earliest. It will not be cheap. However, experts call the project “competitive” which it unfortunately must be to compete for scarce transit funding. According to the Washington Post,

“State officials say their ridership and travel-time projections, as well as the estimated cost of up to $1.75 billion, would make the Purple Line competitive with transit proposals from across the country when it vies for a limited pool of federal transit funds. Projects are judged primarily on cost-effectiveness, or whether they would save enough people enough time to be worth the investment.”

Estimates are that Purple Line will take 68,000 trips per day. And think of the economic benefits of attracting some of the 35% of DC residents who don’t own cars to come spend money in Maryland–like at South Indian cuisine mecca Woodlands , in Langley Park.

Have your say at the MTA feedback site here.

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Maryland is a Red State


December 1 being World AIDS Day, I attempted to assauge my conscience from being a pie-slamming turkey junkie all weekend who talked about serving in soup kitchens and then couldn’t bother to wake up in time (there was a 7am call time at My Sister’s Place), by shopping at Starbucks today. The bohemoth coffee corporation pledged to help Bono’s fabulous RED campaign generate more money for AIDS treatment in Africa by giving away a portion of the sales from their STARBUCKS (RED) EXCLUSIVE drinks. Sounded good, but my tall gingerbread latte tasted like cardboard and I left feeling as empty as the throwaway cup was after a few sips. Only $.05 of the drink went to the medicine for HIV-affected Africans.

A more satisfying World AIDS Day diversion was on offer later on. I took a break from my normal lunch time activity (gawking at fried chitlins in the Northeast Market; buying shrubbery-sized mounds of kale) to listen to community activists talk about Baltimore’s immunodeficiency burden. We learned that Maryland is a red state after all, meaning its HIV incidence is very high–the third highest rate of HIV incidence in the country, after neighboring Washington, D.C. and the US Virgin Islands. It’s a very local problem. According to the Maryland AIDS Administration, in 2006, Baltimore-Towson had the second highest AIDS case report rate of any major metropolitan area, 37.7 cases per 100,000 population during 2006.

Local community activists Bernice Tucker of Women Taking Responsibility and Rev. Debra Hickman of Sisters Together and Reaching, Inc. (STAR) expressed hope that CDC can work with the incoming Obama administration to establish a kind of PEPFAR for domestic HIV focused public health programs, that would avert new infections and treat existing AIDS cases. PEPFAR is the US government’s ginormous AIDS outreach effort in Africa. However, some argue that its adhesion to the ABC model (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use Condoms) is not always the best strategy and its adolescent programming is ineffective at best because it ignores the B&C components. Some folks in public health are hoping the incoming administration may tweak this model. In the meantime, Women Taking Responsibility and STAR have taken the helm in Murdaland by offering people in the “ghetto” (their words) $500 worth of health treatment, including HIV testing and counseling, plus a free hot dog.

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