Across from the Baltimore Bike Share station, around the corner from the trendy & pizza shop, in the Federal Hill neighborhood, is Baltimore’s iconic 8 x 10 stage. It was a cold rainy night when Jerry Joseph headlined there a week ago, with Ms. Sara as support, and Americana Highways in attendance. For Americana fans who love the roots rock side of things, it promised to be a night of rock & roll and meaningful connection, and the promise was delivered in spades.
Jerry Joseph has a reputation for profundity, starting with forthrightness about his need to sequester himself to write, as writers have for millennia. For his latest album, Joseph rented a tiny house to write in during the day, in order to shut himself off from life’s daily distractions. He has also spent time in Afghanistan, volunteering at an underground coed rock school; and again in Iraq, with Kurdish refugees. Clearly, this is a man who demonstrates the changes he wishes to see in the world, shining some light of what’s wonderful about the West into some polarized areas of the Middle East where people may not often consider there’s anything of value here.
Inside The 8 x 10 the merch table was set up and waiting long before the music started. Jerry Joseph has several cds, including his recent release Weird Blood, (Cavity Search Records) produced by Dave Schools. He also offered several soft t-shirts, and a beautiful framed print by Zeb Love. Among the smells of burning incense, the merch attendant directed me to a row of imported clothing, and told me the story of the journey the clothing has made from small fair trade operations in villages in Thailand and Guatemala. The 8 x 10 has “Summer of Love Bazaar” run the merch table in exchange for the chance to sell some of these clothes too; it’s a win-win situation and rounds out the options, all for good causes direct to those who made the products, whether musical or cloth. As the merch man said “it’s a mini Grateful Dead Shakedown Street.” There’s a real community feel to the night.
Ms. Sara is a rock band fronted by Sara Kryscio. Ms. Sara is about to release their second album, “Popcorn”, recorded and produced by Frank Marchland. Their performance was a lively blend of rock music with occasional calypso beats, on numbers like “Calypso Indie” and “Rest My Head.” The bottom end rocked the crowd who forgot about the rain outside, with Dave Cavalier on drums and Charles Walsh on bass sustaining Kryscio’s vibrant vocals with Kryscio and James Ibacache on guitars. At times those vocals were reminiscent of Edie Brickell, and throughout the set, the songs were punctuated by Kryscio’s angelic laughter in between songs.
One of the fans, glancing incessantly toward the stage so as not to miss Joseph’s arrival, says he has season’s tickets to the 8 x 10 but he has come to see Jerry Joseph. Then several fans strike up a conversation about the injustice that Washington DC has “all” the bigger venues and attracts “all the good acts.” Are you listening, DC venue investors? Baltimoreans are awaiting you.
Abruptly and without ceremony, Jerry Joseph commanded control of the crowd in his black knit cap, erupting in roots rock freneticism to seize their attention. Joseph has a catalogue of 30 cds and over 250 songs, in addition to his latest Weird Blood. Songs spring from the band organically without interruption, and the storytelling Joseph is known for unfolded to a riveted, standing crowd. “Take a look in my happy book,” he wails. And then, “Sweet Baba Jay” lulls the audience with its twisted tale. With Mookie Siegel on keys, and the Jackmormons, Steve Drizos & Steven James Wright, to hold the rock beat, Joseph sings stories of princesses and kings on wagons, weird blood and religious violence, salvation and redemption and injustice. The songs are meaningful and hard, difficult and sexy all at once. The fans never wavered their focus on him and the band didn’t bring the house down until after midnight. A rock n’ roll adventure at the 8 x 10.