Easton’s Growing Music Scene

Shae Springer

Shea Springer

The music scene in Easton may be growing as a result of Sweetfoot Studios, locally owned by Shea Springer.

Since the studio opened a year ago, Springer, 27, has seen the number and quality of musicians increase.

There were a lot of musicians who played together in high school, and when people started growing up and moving away no one replaced them, Springer said. At the time he was part of the band Red Eyed Five.

Springer took some time away from Easton to attend the University of Cincinnati and to design furniture in Los Angeles and he noticed a lull in the music scene when he was back in town on breaks.

However, since he returned to Talbot County and opened Sweetfoot Studios, there has been a reemergence of musicians.

“The studio brought a lot of people back into the fold and started playing again and recording,” said Cody Finkner, 28, a local musician who’s been in bands ranging from the Bitter Creek Bluegrass Band to Press Black, and is currently in The Lunar Era.

Through the studio, Finkner met many older musicians, as well.

There were a lot of musicians in the area, Springer said. “I didn’t even realize they were here.”

The musicians, however, hadn’t previously collectivized in a single location.  “They met at natural studio events,” Springer said.

These events include his grand opening, among other parties, as well as regular recordings and jam sessions.

“It’s the mob mentality. You see a bunch of people playing baseball and you want to play baseball. You see a bunch of people playing music, and you want to play music,” Springer said.

Mark Mangold, 36, was previously a booking agent for the Avalon Theatre and Night Cat, and is currently a senior talent buyer at Live Nation. While he couldn’t comment specifically on the past year, he was positive about the growth of Easton’s music scene over the past five.

More bands have come up, Mangold said. “There’s an increase in quality, and a bigger diversity among the bands.”

Springer also pointed out that musicians from the Baltimore and D.C. area have trekked to his studio as both clients and participants in jam sessions he holds. He observed these musicians exchange contact information with Easton locals.

This exchange has resulted in new bands, collaborations formed, shows played, and songs recorded, Springer said.

Additionally, there has been a rise in the number of younger musicians.

“I grew up around music. We were the next generation, and now I’m seeing the real next generation,” Finkner said.

Finkner attributes that partly to a recording class Springer holds with Mike Elzey, a local guitar teacher.

The class teaches youth from nine to 15 how to play as an ensemble.

“They can apply their skills in the field,” Springer said.

Springer also commented that several bands, such as Radio Edit, have formed from the classes, where the musicians otherwise may have never met, due to barriers such as attending different schools.

In addition to a greater population of active musicians in Easton, the studio has also increased the quality of local music.

“Cross-pollination” is the term Springer used to describe the musical exchange he has seen as a direct result from Sweetfoot Studios.

“There is an exchange of ideas between musicians,” Springer said. He continued that talented musicians inspire one another, and that it creates a level of excitement and enthusiasm.

“I always want to learn about another musician’s art,” Finkner said. “You can hear new music and get input from other people. Who better than another artist?”

“Every music community is defined by the critics and support system,” Mangold said. “That’s usually other musicians.”

Springer also attributes the improved quality of local musicians to the accessibility of being able to record music.

“The recording process puts your performance under the microscope,” he said. “It’s like going through a song with a fine tooth comb.”

Finkner reflected on watching the growth of another Easton band, The Aughts.

“I saw them in the studio, and they became much tighter,” he said, referring to their musical synchronization.

“It gives bands something to strive for,” Mangold said, in reference to music recordings.

The results have already started to affect Easton.

“Businesses downtown are already being geared towards music,” Finkner said. “The Avalon has been really cool to us.”

Good quality records get gigs, Springer said.

Springer can’t say exactly how much the scene has grown since Sweetfoot Studio’s opened, but is certain that it “planted a seed.”

“Shea is a lynchpin in this community,” Mangold said. “He mixes creativity, his profession, and his talent.”

Finkner recognized one pivotal piece to the growth of musicians in the area, regardless of the studio.

“Everyone around here does it because they love it,” Finkner said.

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Special Olympics Challenged by Sparse Population

olympicsSpecial Olympics Maryland has only one paid employee designated for the Eastern Shore, which limits the benefits for the athletes and the effectiveness of fundraising.

The Special Olympics provides completely free practices and competitions to individuals with intellectual disorders and the sports offered include basketball, golf, kayaking, softball, and many more.The organization serves 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities, of the 125,000 in Maryland, says Jason Schriml, Vice President of Communications. This means about five percent of this population is served. Pennsylvania also serves about five percent, but from a pool of over 381,000 intellectually disabled individuals.

Eddie Cherrix, the sole staff member on the Eastern Shore, is the Regional Administrator, and is assisted only by two administrative volunteers for both the upper and lower shores.

“The over 250 Special Olympic athletes on the Eastern Shore can be broken down into two groups: interscholastic and community,” Cherrix said.

The interscholastic program is a unified group offered to high school students.  The program pairs a disabled athlete with a non-disabled athlete, offering a minimum of two 90-minute practices per week, two competitions per season, and a state invitational. It is available to athletes in the fall, winter, and spring. The community program is offered to athletes with intellectual disabilities, from 8-years-old and up.  While still offering three seasons, the program goes year-round with the spring and summer sessions combined, and it’s Cherrix’s responsibility to oversee both programs, the athletes, and their volunteer-based coaches.

The Eastern Shore has two problems impeding the success of Special Olympics Maryland: a large land area with a low population, and a low amount of revenue generated by fundraising compared to other regions in the state. As the Eastern Shore covers a large area, it is geographically difficult for one person to cover it.  Also, because of the sparse population, it is hard to get transportation for the athletes, many of whom, live in group homes. With only two subregions on the shore, transportation is especially important, as athletes may have a long commute.

Tolbert Rowe is the father of 25-year-old Kelsey Rowe, a Special Olympics athlete, and has been involved with the program for about ten years.

“A major drawback is the distance athletes have to travel,” Rowe said.

Cherrix explained that there are not enough athletes to create a team in the mid-shore and that collaborating with Delaware is also not an option because Special Olympics Maryland is separate from the adjacent state’s organization. “Awareness is the best way to get more volunteers and athletes involved, and to encourage community engagement,” he said. This topic directly affects the athletes, as it causes low numbers of participation, resulting in fewer teams and greater travel time.

Rowe is also an active volunteer who’s Special Olympics coaching experience includes basketball and kayaking. “It’s difficult to find coaches,” he said. “It’s difficult to reach out, identify athletes, and get community involvement.”

The spring and summer seasons were original separate. However, when they merged, golf and kayaking began to compete for participants, specifically in the program based on the lower shore at Martinak State Park.  Many of the athletes who previously had participated in both now had to choose.

Rowe was the coach of both sports, and opted to drop kayaking. After the seasons merged, the Martinak group lost Rowe as their coach, and the athletes lost their team.special

Aside from a lack of awareness to recruit volunteers and athletes, Rowe also discussed the difficulties in coaching the Special Olympics athletes.

“You have to be very patient and very understanding. Some athletes will never get past a certain skill level,” Rowe says. “It’s difficult to find coaches who meet those qualifications.”

The Eastern Shore’s low population is also a problem for regional fundraising amplified by the fact that most counties on the shore have average household incomes below state values, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Also, because most of the shore’s athletes live in group homes, fundraising can be a challenge. Cherrix used Little League as an analogy: parents of these athletes will often get their businesses to sponsor their children’s teams, whereas the Special Olympics athlete would not have that option, being cared for by paid staff, rather than parents.

The largest fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland is the Polar Bear Plunge, held every January at Sandy Point State Park.  This year’s plunge raised over $2 million, and is approximately one-third of their total annual fundraising.

Other ways of building revenue come from partnerships with private businesses and a variety of other, smaller fundraisers. The organization receives a minimal amount of funding from a government grant.

With a second Special Olympics Maryland employee based on the Eastern Shore, there would be opportunity for a more concentrated effort to build awareness and to raise funds.

Both Cherrix and Rowe believe an additional staff member would be beneficial.

“It would make it much easier from a managerial standpoint with an extra director and the current regional director has a lot on his plate,” Rowe says.

It would also help the organization’s present goal to double the amount of athletes the non-profit serves in five years, Schriml said. Schriml believes that expanding the programs in both Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as building a strong interscholastic program can help the organization reach it’s goal.

Though the Eastern Shore has comparatively less athletes, funding, staff, and volunteers than the rest of the state, Special Olympics in the area still provides great benefits.

“It’s given her an outlet for exercise,” Rowe said of his daughter. “She gets the opportunity to try her best.”

“The Special Olympics is more a way of life than a program,” Cherrix said. “It teaches life lessons, builds camaraderie, team building skills, and goal setting.”

“It doesn’t take long to get pulled in,” Rowe says. “It’s fun. You just enjoy it.”

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How Safe is the Bay Bridge?

After the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge in the state of Washington, Maryland commuters and beach goers are posed with a question: How safe is it to cross the Bay Bridge?Chesapeake_Bay_Bridge-1

Late last month, a bridge crossing the Skagit River in Washington state collapsed.  The failure resulted in two vehicles plummeting into the water, requiring the rescue of three people.  Currently, authorities claim that an oversized truck that exceeded the height restriction hit one of the bridge’s overhead girders.  Detectives working with the National Transportation Safety Board are still investigating the incident.

How can a similar failure be prevented on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge?  Tamory Winfield with the Maryland Transportation Authority states that the department is already doing all it can to prevent such a failure.

“We take the proactive measures necessary to preserve the Bay Bridge and keep it well maintained and in good repair.”

Annually, the MDTA inspects the bridge through engineering firms.  In compliance with the National Bridge Inspection Standards, an examination must assess the deck, superstructure (including supports such as beams and girders), and the substructure (including piers).

“The MDTA’s inspection program exceeds federal standards,” said Winfield, and that it is “at the forefront of nationwide inspection programs.”

According to the 2012 Annual Report, the 39-year-old eastbound bridge scored a rating of five, six, and six, respectively, out of nine.  The 60-year-old westbound bridge scored sixes across the board.  A “five” is considered “fair,” while a “six” is satisfactory.

Last fall, a project to rewrap the Bay Bridge’s suspension cables, as well as install a dehumidification system began.  This system will inject dry air into the cables, which will prevent moisture.

On an average workday in 2012, over 36,000 vehicles crossed the 4.2-mile long Bay Bridge in one direction.  However, that number can be over 50,000 on a summer weekend day.  Last year, 28.1 million vehicles crossed the bridge, which is over 2 million more than in 2005.

With the continuing traffic increases, the MDTA began a new study last month to determine the necessity of adding a third bridge.  After a similar report’s completion during his time in office, Governor Bob Ehrlich stated an addition would not be completed for at least two decades.

In response to the I-5 bridge collapse, Winfield stated that the MDTA would follow the NTSB’s investigation.  “The Bay Bridge is safe.  Safety is the MDTA’s top priority.”

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