A Conversation with Local Businessman and Patron of the Arts, Brian Cahalan
In my chat last month with songwriter David Glaser, he referred to local businessman and patron of the arts Brian Cahalan as someone who is eclectic in his musical tastes, running one of the finest listening rooms in Annapolis, 49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar & Gallery. I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Brian about his involvement in the local arts scene and where he’d like to see it go. Here are some excerpts from our conversation…
Brian, where did you come from and what brought you to this point?
Well, it was a collaboration between my mother and father. I grew up in Iowa, about a 22-hour car drive from where we are at now. I was there until I graduated from high school, in a small one-stoplight town called Eagle Grove, Iowa. I wanted to get out of there soon as I could, so I went to a bible college in Chicago, Illinois, where I met my wife. We were there for about six and a half years before I moved here. So that’s where I came from.
I had played music from sixth grade until we graduated. I was in the junior high and high school bands. So I always liked music. In Chicago, I got to meet people from all over the world and fall in love with music that I hadn’t really heard before, which my wife Sarah also turned me onto a lot of that, a lot of things that weren’t big in Iowa.
And then I wanted to go to the grad school at St. John’s College which is why we packed everything we owned up and put it into a U-Haul and our VW golf. We showed up in Annapolis—it was like December 12th of ‘91 and Ian (our oldest son) was about a year and 10 months old; the other one was just a glimmer in our eyes. I never did go to St. John’s. Instead, I was busy feeding mouths and starting businesses.
How would you describe our scene to visitors? What should they not miss?
For quite a few years, I’ve been telling people that I think we’re like a mini-Austin, because of the variety and quality of the musicians that we have here. We have so many people that tour with famous people. They don’t have name recognition, but the people they play with are worldwide, so it’s great to be able to have that kind of talent, that level of talent that can play my little room or anywhere around town.
Metropolitan is two blocks up the street, so they get a lot of similar kind of people (musicians) that I do, although they have a much higher energy in their room. My room can’t handle the energy that they have there. They’re more of a CBGB’s in a way, standing room versus a dinner crowd, but I have all kinds of music and I like all kinds of music.
We have a lot of Jazz, probably four or five nights a week, a very wide variety. We also get Bluegrass, Grammy-winning Bluegrass… along with the latest singer-songwriters, we have people from Austin, Nashville, New York, and Asheville: singer-songwriters, folk musicians, (and) all kinds of Classical players.
In your mind, what is the perfect gig, where would it be, and who would be with you?
That’s a good question because I actually don’t get out as much as I’d like to hear other music ‘cause we have it at our place seven nights a week, but I like the small intimate kind of clubs. I missed the opportunity, once, to see Bob Dylan at the 9:30 Club. But to see somebody as big as him, or the Rolling Stones, in a club like that would be (and with my wife of course, the lovely Sara!) really awesome—to be able to catch one of those because those are always unannounced and hush-hush, so to be in that right place at the right time would be really great.
Where would you like to see our scene go?
Yeah, no offense to DJs but I’d like to see more people taking advantage of the talent that we have here. I think that a lot of club owners have cut back on their live music because of the cost. A DJ’s a lot less expensive than a three-piece or four-piece band, but we just keep going more and more box products, of all sorts, rather than trying to support artists that are creating something.
In the future what you want to be known for, or remembered for?
I guess I’m really proud of the fact that when we started this place, we were told that West Street would never make it—that “if it wasn’t on Main Street, that it wouldn’t work”. Since I opened, we’ve helped to get the street bricked; helped to get the flowers and flags cafes, outdoor cafes, and the public art; and there were a lot of battles that went on at City Hall until 1am in the morning. We helped beat the “No” club and make the town vibrant and exciting for many different types of people.
It’s a beautiful thing that you’ve created. You should be very proud.
I am, I am. It’s good to hear it every once in a while.
Photos courtesy of Joe Heimbach and Justin Trawick, video courtesy of Jeni Parris Brady