Lively Annapolis Music Scene Draws Loyal Fans
On any given night, you might catch any one of these bands—Skribe, Swampcandy, or Pressing Strings—playing the local Annapolis bar scene. But on a wintry night in January, they were the main act at Ram’s Head On Stage (33 West Street), and their supporters turned out to pack the house.
January 10th marked Volume 1 of the Handmade Quarterly, a revolving concert series presented by DJ Boy & Annapolis Records and showcasing the best of the local music scene, as well as premiering limited edition material to its loyal fan base. The inaugural show kicked off with the incredibly talented Skribe, Swampcandy, and Pressing Strings.
This show, however, became something more. Shockingly and tragically, the Annapolis and global music industry lost one of its best just days earlier. Top sound engineer Jeff Kaplan, who had worked sound in that very room just a few days before, was killed in a car accident on January 7, 2015. Ruben Dobbs, close friend and electric frontman of Swampcandy, welcomed the audience to the first of a sure-to-be successful series and dedicated the night to Kaplan. This show would raise money for a memorial fund to benefit Kaplan’s seven-year-old daughter, Vivien, through album sales, band merchandise, a portion of the waitstaff’s tips, and a collection by the door.
“I know for a fact that Jeff would want us to have a good time tonight, so let’s party!,” announced Dobbs, and so the show commenced.
First Up, Skribe.
They call it “garage folk,” perhaps because the music is crafted without any more polish than it needs to showcase the allure of its soulfully delivered down-to-earth lyrics. The focus of Skribe’s sound is rhythmic acoustic strumming and plucking with emphatic vocals that epitomize the musical landscape of the area’s small-town city feel. The banjo picking and the upright bass balance out this homegrown ensemble. Oh yeah, and the kazoo. Who knew you could elevate a quasi-irritating kid’s birthday party favor to a desirable sounding musical instrument?! Skribe paid tribute to Jeff and his family with the song “Everything’s Changed.”
Next Up, Swampcandy.
Swampcandy is a powerhouse of sound with illustrative, theatrical lyrics. If you were to commit a crime in the likes of a Johnny Cash song and needed a soundtrack for your getaway car, or perhaps something for your fan boat while you catch alligators along the bayou, I’d recommend a Swampcandy album. In any case, when they get going there’s no stopping the STOMP. Ruben’s vocals and presence on stage are as edgy yet smooth as the name Swampcandy might imply. Joey’s hair flies every which way while his bare foot stomps the kick-drum and his hand smacks the upright bass. In memory of Jeff, the band played Christmas song “I Want My Dead Friends Back”, typically retired after the holidays. Ruben improvised a verse to commemorate mischievous times with Jeff and Snoop Dogg, and offered up a promise to take care of his little girl. An energetic, cathartic performance for the small, tight-knit music community.
Last Up, Pressing Strings.
Pressing Strings is characterized by soulful vocals and a strong rhythm that lend a funky sound with something of a reggae undertone. Their song “Back to Where I Started” is SUPER catchy and melodic and was a refreshing vibe for the New Year. It definitely sucks you in as the first song on the Handmade Quarterly album. The band paid their respects to Kaplan with the dedication of “Something Strong.” Sokel belts the line “I’ll never UNDERSTAND…understand this place” and I jot down “ARETHA SOUL” in my sketchbook as it is as much a kick to the gut as Franklin, Cooke, or any of the greats.
After the completion of each band’s set, frontmen Sokel, Dobbs, and Yealdhall came out to premier their powerful, politically-charged new song written and recorded exclusively for the HQ album, “Hands Up Get Down.”
After a week of saddening news and winter weariness, this profound collection of artistry was exactly what I needed to feel and digest. This grassroots music community was the “something strong, something to rely on” I was seeking. The event raised $1700 for Kaplan’s memorial fund, to which you can contribute here.
Volume 1 of the Handmade Quarterly was an indisputable testament to the incredible music being crafted in Annapolis’s local scene. I can’t wait to see what else this series has in store throughout the year. You can find out here.
Lots of new material, events and local shows are on the horizon for each one of these bands. Check them out around town throughout the year. Click here for more information on Skribe, Swampcandy, and Pressing Strings.
Illustrations by Lindsay Bolin Lowery.