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Live!

What: Music showcase featuring Chris Chandler and others When: 7 p.m. Wednesday Where: Stella's, Alexandria

Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page VA06

»This year, singer-songwriter and folk impresario Steve Key celebrates the 15th anniversary of his first move to the Washington area. Local folk music fans should throw this guy a party.

A tireless promoter of local musicians and thoughtful songs (he writes them, too), Key's early days in D.C. resulted in two CD samplers of local artists, "Capital Acoustics," which he helped produce. In the early 1990s, he spent a lot of time touring, opening for classic performers such as Richard Thompson, Christine Lavin, Patty Larkin, Livingston Taylor, Taj Mahal and Tom Paxton. Country star Kathy Mattea recorded his song "Record Time" in 1992.


Chris Chandler calls himself a "troubadour road warrior." He incorporates such things as theater and slam poetry into his folk music concerts. (Wendi Corn)

Key moved to Nashville in 1995 to further pursue his songwriting career, but luckily for our area, he returned in 2000, once again diving into promoting his fellow artists. Even while recording and performing his own material, he became a reliable presence who hosted open-mike nights, presented concerts in churches and arts centers and produced a third volume of "Capital Acoustics."

Key currently hosts a weekly music showcase at Stella's in Old Town. He describes the weekly event as having one featured act and up to eight others playing short sets. "Most are local acoustic solo acts, but I get some touring performers dropping by, too," he said. "Most play original songs, but they are welcome to play whatever they'd like."

Key performs at many of the shows and plans to do so this Wednesday.

There is no admission charge to hear a half-dozen or so folk-oriented performers in a cozy setting (a donation basket is passed around during the featured act's set), so it's one of the best musical bargains in town.

This week's featured performer is Chris Chandler, a true man of the road who has worked with a who's who of the American political-folk scene, including Allen Ginsberg, Ani DiFranco, Pete Seeger and Mojo Nixon.

His 1998 CD, "Collaborations," is true to its title -- a highly charged baker's dozen tracks recorded with friends such as Catie Curtis, the Austin Lounge Lizards, Dan Bern, Martin Sexton and Peter Yarrow. He'll perform at Stella's with pianist David Roe.

Don't expect a typical folkie. Chandler has been called "a performance poet" whose wordy creations owe as much to the traditions of theater and slam poetry as to music. If he had been born in another time, Chandler would have been a roaming minstrel or an edgy court jester. As his press materials assert, "Today, gritty road warriors do the same -- outside the castle walls of corporate America," and Chandler calls himself "a troubadour road warrior."

Born in Georgia and the son of a Baptist minister, Chandler worked as a roadie for bands as a teenager. After graduating from the North Carolina School of the Performing Arts in 1988, he set out as a street performer, living in his car and crossing the country, eventually joining a commune of traveling street musicians that led him into a world of college campuses, music festivals and activism. Last year, Chandler returned to the Washington area after more than 250 dates on the road, so this show may have a bit of a homecoming vibe as well.

You can learn more about Chandler's life and music at his Web site, www.chrischandler.org.

-- MARIANNE MEYER

Stella's is at 1725 Duke St., Alexandria, near the King Street Metro station. The showcase takes place in the Starlight Room. Because Stella's Cafe closes at 7 p.m., enter through the restaurant. Paid parking is available in the underground garage (ask for validation for up to three hours of free parking). For more information, call 703-519-1946 or visit www.stellas.com.


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