The following is written by Katie Powderly and appears in this week’s 72 Hours. She is a graphic designer and songwriter who currently resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Frederick. She has performed live on PBS and NPR and has criss-crossed the country touring from New York to Colorado and Texas to Tennessee. Her singing and harmonies have been likened to Gillian Welch (Isthmus, Madison, Wisconsin) and Gram Parsons (City Paper, Rochester, New York). You can follow her on Twitter here.
The official harbinger of summer in Frederick is upon us. Today brings with it the season opener of Alive @ Five, the weekly 5 p.m. Thursday outdoor concert series at Carroll Creek Amphitheater that runs through September. This year’s kickoff will feature Guys In Thin Ties, an alternative 1980s cover band that performs songs from the early MTV days.
Going into its 14th year, this season of Alive @ Five differs from all its previous seasons in that there are a record-breaking 21 consecutive weeks of music booked. For comparison, the first year of Alive @ Five featured three weeks of music.
“The goal of this event is to continue to serve as our largest fundraiser and to provide attendees with an opportunity to network at an outdoor happy hour after their work day,” explained Cecylia Morrison, Promotion and Events Manager at Downtown Frederick Partnership, which organizes the concert series.
Morrison is also charged with booking the music, a process that begins when Downtown Frederick Partnership solicits a call for bands each December via their website and social media. Local and regional acts of all genres, both cover bands and those performing original music, are encouraged to apply, Morrison explained.
“To select the lineup, we enlist the help of our selection committee that is made up of local Alive @ Five enthusiasts,” she explained. “We listen to all of the band submissions and go from there.”
One act in the lineup that Morrison was particularly looking forward to catching was Guys in Thin Ties, which features Bill Blythe on bass and vocals, Jim Ford on keys, guitars, and vocals, Jeff Carrell on guitars and vocals, John Coghill on lead vocals, and Dave Kramer on the drums. This will be their second Alive @ Five performance.
The gentlemen, known for wearing thin neckties and Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers, converged over a shared love of ‘80s music, said bassist and GITT founder, Bill Blythe.
“I grew up playing music and watching MTV as a child,” he said. “Fast forward several decades later. Dave and Jim and I were already playing music together. We auditioned guitar players, then a lead singer, and we became Guys in Thin Ties.”
The band performs between 21 and 32 shows per year, Blythe said.
“We don’t really tour, but we do some traveling to Ocean City and Delaware, usually in the summer months,” he added.
Though the band is not the full-time occupation for any of its members, Blythe, Ford, and Coghill emphasized that being members of Guys in Thin Ties is a deeply meaningful experience that nobody in the band would consider a hobby.
“It’s not a full-time job, but it’s more than a hobby,” Ford said. “It’s work, but it’s a labor of love. We work hard to learn and perform each song the way our fans remember them, the way you heard them on the radio.”
Vocalist John Coghill echoed these sentiments.
“I don’t like to call it a hobby. It’s a way of life,” he explained.
Though Guys in Thin Ties have only been a band for three years, they have enjoyed many of the benchmarks defining success in this area: multiple performances at Alive @ Five and the Weinberg Center for the Arts, as well as some out of town gigs.
Reflecting on their accomplishments, both Blythe and Ford cited performing at Alive @ Five as a critical opportunity that accelerated the success of the band.
“Ironically, I think one of our biggest breaks was playing Alive @ Five in 2015,” Ford stated. “I think that gig really opened the eyes of a lot of people in Frederick about the different kind of ‘80s show we offer. Sure, we also do some of the more mainstream tunes, but what sets us apart are the tunes that make people come up and say, ‘Wow! I loved that song when I was in college!’”