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Best Bets This Week

agatha christie_spiderwebThe Tred Avon Players (TAP) begin their 2013 season this week with Agatha Christie’s “The Spider’s  Web,”  an intriguing comedy murder mystery. Christie, “spins a web of deceit that proves  humorous yet fatal.”  The 1954 play was apparently written specifically for its original star, Margaret Lockwood, who wished a role in a comedy thriller in lieu of her usual portrayal of an evil woman.  This was during what many consider  the peak of Christie’s West End career.

The New Yorker describes John Mayall as “..the headmaster of the British blues-rock scene,” and reminded this reader recently that his Bluesbreakers band at various times included Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Mick Taylor, to name a few. Mayall and his current band will be stopping in Easton at the Avalon Theatre this Saturday. He’s known predominantly for his guitar playing, but boomers may know him best from his harmonica solo in “Room to Move.”

John Mayall - blues guitar master plays the Avalon Theatre Saturday, February 9.

John Mayall – blues guitar master plays the Avalon Theatre Saturday, February 9.

Thursday, February 7 – 7 pm:  TAP Presents The Spider’s Web  Also showing Friday and Saturday, February 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23 – 8pm, Sunday February 10, 17, 24 at 2 pm.  Oxford Community Center, Oxford, MD.  410-226-0061

Saturday, February 9 –  8 pm: John Mayall at the Avalon Theatre  The legendary blues guitarist returns.  Tickets $50. 40 E Dover St., Easton, MD  21601  410 822 7299.


Best Bets This Week


Marian Paroo (Claire Anovick) and Harold Hill (Erik Bell)

There is  “Trouble in River City”  when Easton Middle School presents the Tony Award winning (five of them, including Best Musical), Grammy winning (Best Cast Album) show The Music Man this weekend and next in the Easton High Auditorium. The plot: con man Harold Hill poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk before skipping town with the cash. Librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo sees through him but falls in love with him – and he with her, despite the risks. Grab the kids for a fun and quality family evening.

Looking ahead – Monday,  the Easton branch of Talbot County Free Library presents “An Evening of Jazz Guitar” featuring the Bob Johnson Trio. The trio will be performing selections from the Great American Songbook in this hour – long program.

And on Tuesday, February 5, the Maritime Museum presents Elizabeth Beckley of Preservation Maryland, who has spent her professional personal life, “..in, on, and under old Chesapeake houses.” The talk is part of the museum’s This Old Chesapeake House winter speaker series.

Friday, February 1 – 7:30 pm: The Music Man  Tickets are $10  adults/ $5  children, can be  purchased in advance from Easton Middle School, Crackerjacks, Little Rascals, Old Mill Deli or by contacting 410-829-9811. Shows 2, 8 & 9 at 7:30 pm and February 3 at 2:00 pm.

Monday, February 4 – 6:30 pm: Evening of Jazz Guitar with the Bob Johnson Trio   Free.   Talbot County Free Library, Easton, MD 21601

Tuesday, February 5- 1 pm: This Old Chesapeake House Winter Speaker Series  Space limited and pre-registration is required for all events. Call 410-745-4941.  $6 members, $8 non-members. Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St Michaels, MD


Best Bets This Week

Designed and Manufactured by Vivian Beer (b. 1977), Penland, NCCurrent, 2004 Photo by Douglas J. Eng

Designed and Manufactured by Vivian Beer (b. 1977), Penland, NC
Current, 2004 Photo by Douglas J. Eng

If you haven’t seen the Art of Seating exhibit at the Academy Art Museum – or even if you have – at noon on Thursday the museum is offering a curator led tour of this survey of exceptional  American chair design from early 19th century to the present. The show runs through February 10, don’t miss it. And here is a link to a review  published  December 10 in the Spy.

It’s party time this Friday night at the Avalon with The Wailers- the pre-eminent  reggae band.  Koolant Brown,  the Wailers’  lead singer, will be channeling Bob Marley on stage. The perfect cure for cabin fever or whatever ails you.  The Spy was informed that the Wailers will perform the classic Marley album “Survival” in full for the Easton show.

Sunday, Adkins Arboretum is offering an afternoon of winter fun for families, with a wildlife hike, birdfeeder crafting and plenty of  hot chocolate. The extended weather forecast is for a relatively balmy 30 degrees.

Thursday, January 24 – noon; Art Of Seating Curator Led Tour  Academy Art Museum, 108 South Street, Easton, MD  21601 410 822 ARTS

Friday, January 25- 8 pm: The Wailers at The Avalon Theatre  Tickets

the Avalon Theatre hotsts roots reggae band The Wailers Friday, January 25.

the Avalon Theatre hotsts roots reggae band The Wailers Friday, January 25.

$45.  40 E Dover St., Easton, MD  21601  410 822 7299.

Sunday, January 27 – 1 to 3 pm: Winter Fun for Families at Adkins Arboretum  click here to register  12610 Eveland Rd, Ridgely, MD 21660.  410 634 2847.


Maryland 3.0: Cassinelli Winery

Jennifer and Al Cassinelli with tasting room guests.

Jennifer and Al Cassinelli with tasting room guests.

Those of us in Kent County and northern Queen Anne’s have probably driven by the Cassinelli Winery on route 213 just outside of Church Hill dozens of times without stopping, or realizing that along with their 13 acres of grapes, they have three acres of fruit trees, Wye Angus cows, buffaloes and two  burros.

Those grapes have produced seven award winning wines in the Maryland Governor‘s Cup competition, including a gold this year for their 2009 Merlot Reserve and two bronze medals for ‘09 Rose Barbera and Barbera Reserve.

The Spy dropped in for a visit on a recent weekend to chat with owners Al and Jennifer Cassinelli in their tasting room -actually, Al spoke with the Spy while  Jennifer poured wine and talked with customers.

Those cows and buffaloes are not there just to enhance the bucolic setting. They eat the grass as well as grape skins, bruised or otherwise unusable fruit, and fertilize the fields. Apples, peaches, plums, and Asian pears are offered for sale as ‘pick your own’ and at farmers’ markets.

The winery also plans to offer brandy and grappa – style spirits made from their fruit this fall. Under the 2010 Maryland Winery Modernization Act, wineries may produce 1900 gallons of brandy and port- style wines annually. Their federal distiller’s license is in process and should be completed shortly, according to Al Cassinelli.

cassinelli_award winners

The conversation turned to the business of grape growing, wine producing and selling. Al’s day gig is in financial investing – he’s not quite ready to devote all his time to the winery. High school students prune, weed and position the shoots throughout the summer, with Al doing all the spraying – every ten days June through September. The number one enemy on our humid Eastern Shore  is mildew. Schmidt Vineyard Management handles  the heavy pruning and grape picking. Pruning occurs eight times a year, four minutes  if you’re speedy, to tuck the shoots and sucker each plant.  One of his consultants recommended planting in relatively short rows so pruners don’t face an endless vista of vines. Al estimated  370 hours  spent on each acre;  at 700 plants per acre, the cost is approximately $4,000 per acre just to tend the vines.

Harvesting was early this year – August and September vs late September.  The hot, dry weather produced  high quality grapes, but a low volume. 2010 was the reverse—too much wet weather means low quality but high yield. Kathryn, their wine consultant, arrives the first of March each year from France to taste and smell each one of the 30 barrels of wine. She’ll then separate them into three rows. The first is set aside for single varietals;  Chardonnay, Barbera, etc., the second for blends, and the third designated for the sweeter wines and distilled spirits.  The whites will be bottled in April, the reds at the end of October. Al prefers to have the wines, especially reds, sit in the bottle for at least 90 days prior to selling.

Plans are  underway for a new 10,000 square foot  ‘events’  building complete with  catering kitchen, courtyard, grass lawn and bride dressing room. The winery has hosted twenty plus weddings in the past few years; they turned down a number of requests due to lack of indoor space.  The Cassinellis envision holding a number of wine dinners in addition to renting the building  for private events.  Ground breaking is tentatively scheduled for this October.

Last year saw sales of 6,200 bottles, the goal is 10,000. About half of the wine is sold through their tasting room, 10 to 15% through retail shops, and 30% at festivals. Al expects an uptick in 2013 holiday season sales with the recent passage of the law allowing wineries to sell online. Business has definitely increased with the opening of Crow Winery (Kennedyville, Kent County) and Cascia Vineyards (Stevensville, QA County). The winery receives a number of  tourists following the Chesapeake Wine Trail, which runs through the Upper, Mid  and Lower Eastern Shore counties.

Al Cassinelli summed up the winery’s mission succinctly, “Our job is to grow great grapes and sell wine.”

Cassinelli Winery




Best Bets This Week

Baltimore Harbor Lighthouse

Baltimore Harbor Lighthouse

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s Winter Speaker Series, “This Old Chesapeake House” commences this Thursday with the fascinating story of Baltimore Harbor Lighthouse owner Jane Cox, who is restoring the lighthouse, “one load of ferried-in supplies at a time.” And if the plethora of lighthouse replicas in stores and catalogs is any indication, Cox is not alone in her obsession, although she probably would not call it that.

This Spy is seriously considering attending the 23rd Annual Spaghetti Dinner at St Luke’s UM Church in St Michaels this Friday. We have been craving the dish ever since Jean Sander’s Food Friday article, On Top of Spaghetti came out last week. Much better to  not have to wash dishes – sorry, Jean – and there is carry out.

Saturday one of our favorite bands currently touring, Caravan of Thieves, comes to the Avalon. They’re another one of those ‘hard to pigeonhole’ groups. The website describes the music as, “Driving gypsy jazz rhythms, acoustic guitars, upright bass and violin.” That’s just the half of it. They also stomp and clap and insist that you sing along. The best twenty bucks you’ll spend this month.

Thursday, January 17 – 10 am: Preserving Chesapeake Lighthouses   Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Baltimore Light House   Space is limited, pre-registration required. Call 410-745-4941.$6 members, $8 non-members.

Friday, January 18 – 4:30 to 7:30:  23rd Annual Spaghetti Dinner  “All You Can Eat” for only $10.00 (Children 11 and under $4.00). Take-outs will be available. St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 304 Talbot Street, St. Michaels. Info and tickets 410-745-2534

Gypsy swing meets the Beatles?  Caravan of Thieves perform Saturday at Avalon's Stoltz Listening Room

Gypsy swing meets the Beatles? Caravan of Thieves perform Saturday at Avalon’s Stoltz Listening Room

Saturday, January 19 – 8:00 pm: Caravan of Thieves Stoltz Listening Room at Avalon Theatre  “There’s something about Caravan of Thieves’ witty, spirited gypsy folk-jazz that is so new and yet so familiar all at once.” The Washington Post. Video.  Tickets $20.  40 E Dover St., Easton, MD,  21601.   410 822 7299.


Best Bets This Week

eagle in nestIt is winter, even though your thermometer may be telling you otherwise, the perfect time to purchase vegetable seeds and oogle those gorgeous perennials in the catalogs; and if you’ve ever considered adding chickens to the mix (so in right now) Adkins Arboretum is offering a Homegrown Series beginning this Friday. The three sessions include Backyard Chickens, Beginning Vegetable Gardening, and Growing With Kids. You can sign up for one, two, or all three.

Here’s a last minute addition:  Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is looking for volunteers to assist in their annual mid-winter eagle survey this Thursday. The eagle count is conducted in two parts. The non-roost count, or morning count, takes place from 10:00 – 10:30 am, while the roost count, or evening count, takes place from 4:00 – 5:30 pm. Weather is looking perfect. More info below.

If you are a KISS fan – don’t miss the tribute band, Rock Bottom, at the Avalon on Friday. Rock’n roll, hon.

If you’re a fan of a slightly different style of costumed entertainment, we believe there are still tickets available for Saturday’s War of 1812 Ball, at the Miles River Yacht Club, dinner included.

Time traveling in Talbot County.

Thursday, January 10 – 8am & 3 pm: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge 

Friday, January 11 – 10 am to noon: Homegrown Series: Backyard Chickens at Adkins Arboretumchicken_fancy

In this three-part series, writer and educator Elizabeth Beggins will teach participants the basics of producing food. 12610 Eveland Rd. Ridgley, MD 21660

Friday, January 11 – 8 pm:  KISS Tribute Band – Rock Bottom @ Avalon Theatre  The Mid-Atlantic’s premiere KISS tribute band from Ocean City. Tickets $15.  40 E Dover St., Easton, MD  21601.  410 822 7299.

Saturday, January 12 – 6 pm: War of 1812 Ball   Dinner @ 6, ball begins @ 7:30. Dance the night away just like Dolly Madison and Francis Scott Key. Sponsored by the Historical Society of Talbot County. Miles River Yacht Club, 24750 Yacht Club Road, St. Michaels


Best Bets This Week


Rising comedian Hampton Yount performs at the Avalon Theatre in Easton on Friday, January 4.

Easton keeps the celebration going  this weekend with the ‘First’ First Friday Gallery Walk.  Highlights include the Academy Art Museum’s open house featuring demonstrations by the Museum’s fine art instructors of adult classes and the Talbot County Visual Arts Center’s exhibit “Monday Afternoon Painters” at Church Alley Gallery. The exhibit will include paintings of five  local Arts Center members who paint weekly with Easton gallery owner and  landscape painter, David Grafton.

Hampton Yount, named  one of 2012’s best new comedians by Esquire magazine, returns to the Avalon Friday night; the perfect antidote to all those “fiscal cliff” worries.

And just in case you are still really in the mood for partying, local favorite Deanna Bogart will be doing her blues/boogie thing in Annapolis Thursday evening at the Rams Head on Stage. Jump blues Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88s are also on the bill.

 Thursday, January 3 – 7:30 pm Deanna Bogart Band at Rams Head Live    Blues and boogie pianist /saxophonist.  Tickets $23.50.  33 West St., Annapolis, MD  21401.  410 268 4545.


Deanna Bogart & band will rock the Rams Head in Annapolis on Thursday, January 3.

Friday, January 4 – 5 to 7 pm: Academy Art Museum Open House  Don’t miss the fabulous Art of Seating exhibit. 106 South St., Easton, MD 21601. 410-822-2787.

Friday, January 4 – 5 to 8 pm: Monday Afternoon Painters exhibit at Church Alley Gallery 32-34 S. Washington St., Easton, MD 21601

Friday, January 4 – 8 pm:  Comedian Hampton Yount at the Avalon Theatre   “Unflappable devilish intelligence”  Stoltz Listening Room. Tickets $20.  40 E Dover St., Easton, MD 21601.  410 822 7299.


Best Bets This Week

first_night_Talbot_13Downtown Easton is gearing up for First Night Talbot. Festivities begin at 6 pm on Monday with plenty of children’s attractions: jugglers, Jazz for kids, children’s theatre and crafts, and culminating with the “Midnight in the Mid-Atlantic” Crab Drop Celebration and  parade of Dragon Wing’s Sea Creature Puppets.   Adult entertainment includes short films at the Academy Art Museum and reggae music with Mama Jama at the Avalon Theatre.

Weather- wise,  looks like Friday is your best day for a nature walk. Winter is a perfect time for bird watching – don’t forget your binoculars.  Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Pickering Creek , Tuckahoe State Park and the adjacent Adkins Arboretum come to mind.

And if you’re planning to attend the upcoming War of 1812 Ball at the Historical Society of Talbot County or any other costume events, there will be a workshop Saturday morning on how to use your own clothes, sew, or advise on  purchasing. Wonder if that includes dance lessons?

Saturday, December 29 – 11 am: Costume Workshop at Historical Society of Talbot County  Call Beth with questions 410-822-0773 or email curator@hstc.org.  25 S. Washington St., Easton, MD.  21601

Monday, December 31 – 6 pm to Midnight: First Night Talbot  Various venues in downtown Easton. Advance tickets $8/students $4, available at Talbot County Visitor’s Ctr, 11 S Harrison St., Easton, MD 21620. 410 770 8000. Regular price tickets $10/$8 students for sale at most venues. Click here for schedule.


Best Bets This Week

wine basketYour best bet this weekend is to spend those dollars locally. Sure you have some last minute gifts to buy, but why not start at the Easton farmers’ market and work your way through town  from there. We’ll take some fresh bread and local cheese, and toss in some homemade jam, thank you very much.  Is that a handmade basket over there? You get the idea. Much more fun to chat with farmers and crafters than deal with mall crowds, isn’t it?

A basket of cheer with local wines and beers is another option – also makes  a lovely hostess gift. Or consider a restaurant, theatre, shop,  spa, etc. gift certificate, museum membership…. This Spy would be delighted with a week’s worth of free lattes at the local cafe.

As far as entertainment this weekend, you’re on your own, unless you missed the opening of the Santa Diaries at the Avalon, which we highlighted last week. The musical comedy runs through this Sunday.

Saturday, December 22 – 8 am to 1 pm:Easton Farmers’ Market  Harrison Street Public Parking Lot, Easton.latte art

Thursday, December 20 through Sunday, December 23: The Santa Diaries at the Avalon Theatre  Thurs, Fri, Sat – 7 pm. Sunday, 2 pm. $20 adults, $10 students  40 E Dover St., Easton, MD 21601.  410 822 7299.


Profile: Alpacas in Broadneck

Fiona, Autumn and Nikki

Alpacas come in twenty-two colors, from a true black to shades of  brown, gray and white;  two types: huacaya and suri; and are members of the camelid family (two-toed  ruminants with a three- chambered stomach).   In August of this year, Tracy Abram and her mother Connie Gsell introduced four, three-year old huacaya alpacas to their dairy farm on Kent County’s Broadneck. The Spy spent a fascinating afternoon at the farm recently meeting Fiona, Autumn, Nikki, Oso, and their minders.

Abram explained that they want the alpacas both as pets, and for the income;  selling the fleece to a coop and animals to other farms and breeders. They plan to eventually keep  a herd of  about twenty. The three females are all pregnant, and due in the spring. Gestation period is eleven months; it is rare for them to have  twins. The females only come into heat when they are around males. The lone male on the farm, Oso, is gelded.

The first couple of months were spent domesticating and socializing the alpacas, as they were quite shy.  They took them for walks down the farm lane every week, (and still do), petted and  bonded with them. Gsell said in the warmer weather she would bring a chair out to the  pasture and read. She added that the females really like her husband, and give him a kiss every morning when he comes out. They do spit – but at each other, over food quarrels or in asserting dominance.

Alpacas are relatively low maintenance. In addition to grazing in the field, the four eat a bale of hay a week and eight ounces of alpaca feed for their coat twice a day. Carrots and apples are treats, although they must be finely chopped, or the food will get stuck going down that long neck. Gsell said the worst job is poop patrol; which needs to be done daily for parasite prevention. Alpacas don’t like rain, although they love it when Abram and Gsell spray their legs in the summer heat to cool them off.


Shearing is done once a year, in April. The quality of the fleece determines the price.  Abram parted the animals’ coats, demonstrating  the difference between male and female.  The gelded white male will have the best fleece, as all his hormones are directed toward growing a thick coat. It was also considerably softer.

Huayaca alpaca fleece (fiber) grows perpendicular to the skin and gives them a fluffy appearance. Abram parts Oso’s coat to demonstrate.

Alpaca fiber wicks moisture, doesn’t hold odors, is extremely durable and naturally hypo- allergenic. Products made from 100% alpaca tend to be fairly pricey, most are blended with wool or synthetic fibers.  Currently for sale at the farm or on line are  alpaca socks and ‘PacaBuddy’alpaca toys bought from another small producer. Gsell is contemplating buying a loom and weaving a rug, as the fiber is so durable.

If you want  an alpaca of your very own, be warned that they are extremely herd oriented and must have company, so you’ll need at least two. Prices range from $1,000 well up into triple digits.  According to Abram,  the vast majority of alpacas in North America are registered with the Alpaca Registry, Inc. which protects the gene pool, preventing cross-breeding with other camelids.  The registry is not open to imported alpacas.

Gsell and her husband have farmed and lived on the 290 acres since 1974. They purchased it in 1994 from the estate of Wilbur Hubbard, who had put the land in a conservation easement; there are three houses allowed on the property. In addition to the alpacas, there are a hundred head of Holstein dairy cows and beef cattle, along with crops of corn, soybeans, hay, straw, wheat and barley. Gsell hopes to keep it as a family farm for generations to come.

Tag Along Alpacas welcome visitors, by appointment. A highly recommended treat  for all ages.

Tag Along Alpacas

410 778 5224
410 778 4962

Connie Gsell (l) and daughter Tracy Abram displaying alpaca products.


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