+ By Patty Speakman Hamsher + Photos by Tami Huber
You’re out for dinner, the food is good, and the company is entertaining. A one-man band is setting up. Quietly plucked notes soon turn into songs, and before long the mood in the room is uplifted—by the music.
On any given day, you can find live music playing somewhere in downtown Annapolis. Behind the scenes is an artistically thriving community, rich with musicians and songwriters. Many of them are self-employed—living gig-to-gig and musical endeavor-to-musical endeavor—and rely on the regularity of bars and restaurants and their patrons to welcome them back and keep them financially afloat.
Matt McConville has been part of the Annapolis music scene since the early 1990s. When the songwriter landed here from the Pittsburgh area, he was humbled by the depth of talent he saw and heard. He began playing professionally and meeting other musicians within the community. At the time, the music scene was dominated by cover bands playing in a party atmosphere, and there was no venue for original music.
McConville became instrumental in creating an Annapolis songwriters’ performance series called Homemade Wine. It brought together three or four musicians during a night to play to an attentive audience. Song lyrics and subtle musical presentation were not lost to a loud party scene.
Along with many other Annapolis musicians, McConville found himself playing routinely for benefit concerts around town. People such as Larry Freed and Larry Griffin would bring musicians together to raise funds for service organizations—such as Help and We Care and Friends—for people who were knocked down by unexpected life events.
When a good friend lost his apartment to a fire and another songwriter was diagnosed with progressed Lyme disease, McConville and other players rallied to put together benefit fundraisers. “Then it really hit me,” he says. “These musicians are constantly donating their time for these benefits, but who is taking care of them?”
From that brainstorm, the Annapolis Musicians Fund for Musicians (AMFM) was born. As McConville describes it, the idea was to create something that could be of immediate help to musicians who were often living on the razor’s edge. Losing gigs when they get sick or when a restaurant cuts back on its live music funds can be devastating to an artist.
Martha Jacobs, a local certified public accountant, was paramount in navigating the hurdles and Internal Revenue Service requirements to secure nonprofit status for AMFM. With the help of original board members Meg Murray, Christian Elkington, Sean O’Neill, and Jim Cullen, the organization was off and running.
In its first five years, AMFM operated mostly as a lost gig fundraiser, giving musicians up to $150 for each gig that was cancelled for unexpected reasons. Now, nearly nine years later, it also operates a catastrophic event fund. Last year, it gave more than $40,000 to hardworking musicians who are continuously giving back to and enhancing local businesses and the community.
Through its educational outreach fund, AMFM gives money annually to Creating Communities, a nonprofit organization, and operates a scholarship fund to cover some of the costs for students studying at a music school. It also pays for private lessons for some children in middle school who are eager to learn an instrument.
AMFM’s effectiveness is due to its successful fundraising. At its cornerstone are the annual Christmas shows, which seem to sell out faster than each previous year. Gathering singers and songwriters from the Homemade Wine series and beyond, AMFM presents two evenings of artists performing Christmas songs at Rams Head On Stage. Other fundraising concerts include an “In the Vein of” series, in which musicians play a cover song from a chosen artist, such as Tom Petty or Led Zeppelin, and then perform an original song that was inspired by that artist. In addition, the annual benefit street festival Eastport a Rockin’ has named AMFM as one of its beneficiaries in recent years.
McConville currently serves as AMFM’s board president. He is joined by Sean O’Neill, Jack Morkon, PJ Thomas, Brian Cahalan, and Ben Grant. They do what they can to keep artists on their feet and playing music, not only for the good of the Annapolis community, but also for the love of live music. █