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Baltimore’s state-of-the-art arena highlights spring arts scene

Lizzo, Janet, Bruce, Joan Jett and more to christen renovated space

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Monica Ikegwu. Open/Closed. 2021. (Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Myrtis)

For years, Baltimore missed out on performances by big-name musicians, comedians and others because it didn’t have a 14,000-seat arena capable of attracting them, but not anymore.

Starting in April, more than a dozen acts will be coming to town when the CFG Bank Arena at 201 West Baltimore St. — formerly known as the Royal Farms Arena — reopens following a $200-$250 million renovation designed to turn it into a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue.

The arena’s reopening after more than a year of construction is one of the highlights of the spring arts season in Baltimore, along with new exhibits at the Baltimore Museum of Art; new shows at the Hippodrome and Lyric; a new book festival, a John Waters book signing and other events around town. 

On April 7, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band will be the first performers to appear at the CFG Bank Arena, a concert that’s being billed as opening night for the refurbished and rebranded hall.

The Boss will be followed by: Eagles Hotel California Tour, April 8; Straight Jokes No Chaser, April 14; Jeff Dunham Still Not Canceled, April 15; Adam Sandler, April 21; New Edition: Legacy Tour with Keith Sweat, Guy and Special Guest Tank, April 22; Monster Jam, April 28 to 30; AEW Dynamite, May 3; Lizzo, May 9; Janet Jackson: Together Again with Special Guest Ludacris, May 13; Anita Baker: The Songstress with the Legendary Babyface, May 14; blink-182 Tour 2023, May 26; Stars on Ice, June 2; Bryan Adams: So Happy It Hurts 2023 with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, June 6, and Dude Perfect PandaMonium, June 25.

Performances scheduled for later in 2023: Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show; Thomas Rhett, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind & Fire, and Kiss – the End of the Road Tour. The CFG Bank Arena website is cfgbankarena.com.   

Owned by the City of Baltimore, the arena opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center and later was renamed the 1st Mariner Arena (2003 to 2013) and the Royal Farms Arena (2014 to 2022). It was one of the first places The Beatles appeared during their augural trip to America in 1964, and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there in 1966. The Baltimore Bullets and Baltimore Clippers played there for many years. 

As the arena grew older, city officials contemplated constructing a replacement elsewhere but couldn’t decide on a location. They eventually opted to keep the existing venue and bring in a new management team to upgrade it to be competitive with other East Coast arenas. The decision was part of a larger effort to revitalize the west side of downtown Baltimore, where a new building for the city’s historic Lexington Market recently opened several blocks away.

The CFG Bank Arena team is led by the Oak View Group of Los Angeles, in association with Thirty Five Ventures, the investment company of NBA player Kevin Durant and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, and recording artist Pharrell Williams. The Oak View Group team funded the improvements in return for rights to manage and lease the facility, and it’s offering seat leases as part of the ticketing options.

Renovation work began in early 2022 and included a revamped seating configuration; new concourses, restrooms, and concessions areas; updated mechanical systems and a redesigned exterior. The refurbished arena had a test run last month, when Baltimore hosted the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, but there was still more work to finish. Starting in April, managers say, all the renovations will be complete and it will be ready for the entertainers.

Visual arts events

Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive (artbma.org): From April 5 to July 16, the BMA will present “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century.” Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the emergence of hip hop in the 1970s, the exhibit will examine the global phenomenon of hip hop and its impact on music, fashion, technology and the visual and performing arts.

More than 90 works of art and fashion, including many by LGBTQ artists, will show the many ways hip hop has influenced contemporary society. According to the BMA, queer artists with work in the exhibit include: Lauren Halsey; Rashaad Newsome; Mark Bradford; Julie Mehretu; Dapper Dan; Telfar Clemens; Tschabalala Self; Amani Lewis; John Edmonds; Nina Chanel Abney; Jonathan Lyndon Chase; Caitlin Cherry; Devan Shimoyama; Texas Isaiah; Shabez Jamal; Eric N. Mack and Rozeal. Non-cisgender artists include Isaiah, Chase, Lewis and Jamal. 

The exhibit is co-organized by the BMA and the Saint Louis Art Museum. One of the curators is Asma Naeem, the BMA’s new Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. Other curators include Gamynne Guillotte, the BMA’s chief education officer, and Hannah Klemm and Andrea Purnell, from the Saint Louis museum.

Also opening at the BMA this spring: “Histories Collide: Jackie Milad x Fred Wilson x Nekisha Durrett,” April 26, 2023 to March 17, 2024: New works by Milad and Durrent in dialogue with Wilson’s Artemis/Bast (1992); “Martha Jackson Jarvis: What the Trees Have Seen,” May 7 to October 1, 2023, featuring mixed media works by Jarvis that imaginatively trace a free Black militiaman’s journey from Virginia to South Carolina in the American Revolution; “Recasting Colonialism: Michelle Erickson Ceramics,” May 7 to October 1, 2023; “The Matter of Bark Cloth,” May 7 to October 1, 2023, and “Wild Forms: Fauve Woodcuts,” May 14 to October 15, 2023.

American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway: The main exhibit is “ABUNDANCE: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right” (Championing good, honest work from the hand and the heart), curated by Gage Branda. Also: AVAM’s Logan Visionary Conference 2023, March 19, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Kinetic Sculpture Race, May 6.

Walters Art Museum: 600 North Charles St. (thewalters.org): “Quiet Beauty: The Watercolors of Leon Bonvin,” opened in February; “Arts of the Medieval Mediterranean,” is ongoing, and “Across Asia: Arts of Asia and the Islamic World,” a new installation of the museum’s Asian and Islamic collections, opens April 23.  

The Peale, 225 Holliday St. (thepeale.org): “Compensation for Loss” exhibition, March 19 to April 30, and Submersive Productions Performances: Katalepsis, March 24 to April 30.

Maryland Center for History and Culture, 610 Park Avenue (mdhistory.org): “Claire/McCardell,” an exhibit about Claire McCardell, an influential designer of women’s clothing from the 1930s to the 1950s and beyond; “Discover Maryland;” “The Unfinished Revolution: Maryland in the Wars for Independence,” and “Passion and Purpose: Voices of Maryland’s Civil Rights Activists.”

Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway (thebmi.org): “Fire & Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Bethlehem Steel,” documenting the 125-history of the Sparrows Point steel mill.

B&O Railroad Museum, 901 West Pratt Street (borail.org):  New permanent exhibit: “Freedom Seekers on the B&O Railroad.”

Waverly Book Festival (waverlymainstreet.org): A new book festival organized to replace the Baltimore Book Festival, 32nd and Barclay streets and other locations, April 28 to 30.

John Waters at Atomic Books, 3620 Falls Road (atomicbooks.com): As part of a book tour for the release of the paperback version of his novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel Bad Romance,” writer and filmmaker John Waters will sign books on May 12 starting at 7 p.m. 

Performing arts events

Hippodrome Theatre, 12 South Eutaw St., (Baltimore.broadway.com): Spring shows include: To Kill A Mockingbird, March 14 to 19; Respect – Aretha Franklin Tribute, March 23; Aziza, March 25; Lewis Black, April 2; Hadestown, April 12 to 22; Rock From The Heart, April 22; Shen Yun Performing Arts, April 28-30; Dino Ranch Live, May 6; Six the Musical, May 9 to 14, and Frozen, June 7 to 18.

The Lyric Baltimore, 140 West Mount Royal Ave., (lyric.baltimore.com): Royal Comedy 2023: Sommore, Bruce Bruce, Lavell Crawford and Special K, March 18; Hits! The Musical, March 19; Killer Queen, March 25; Bored Teacher Comedy Hour, March 31; Good Friday: Carl Thomas, Lyfe Jennings and Christopher Williams, April 7; Brit Floyd, April 15; Soul Marathon: Bloodstone, April 22; Yes Epics & Classics featuring Jon Anderson and The Band Geeks, May 6; Fortune Feimster, May 19; Boz Scaggs, May 20; Puscifer, June 1; John Mellencamp, June 2; Kansas – The Band, June 3; Luis Angel, June 4; Bad Friends Podcast: Andrew Santino and Bobby Lee, June 16; Stephen Sharer, June 17, and Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and W.I.T.C.H. 

Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. (creativealliance.org): The High & Wides with Hannah Lee Thompson, March 31; 2023 Marquee Ball, April 22; Alison Crockett Presents Echoes of an Era: The Jazz Sides of Chaka Kahn, April 28, Ngaiire, May 5; Brandee Younger, June 22, and Madison McFerrin, June 23. 

Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert St., (centerstage.org): Tiny Beautiful Things, March 9 to April 2.

Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette St. (everymantheatre.org): The Sound Inside, March 7 to April 2; Harvey, April 25 to May 21, and The World Goes Round, June 6 to July 2.

Arena Players, 801 McCulloh Street (arenaplayersinc.com): Open Admissions and When Men Reduce as Women Do, March 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 31 and April 1 and 3; Sizwe Banzi is Dead, April 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, May 5, 6, and 7, and Nina, May 26, 27, 28, June 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18.

Live! Casino Hotel Maryland, 7002 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, Md., (maryland.livecasinohotel.com): Patti LaBelle, March 10; Air Supply, March 11; Hoops Fest Watch Parties, March 14; Lovers in the Night Spring Concert, March 19; Mixed Martial Arts: Shogun Fights, March 25; Jerry Seinfeld, May 19, and Kevin Hart, June 11. 

Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place, presents the Hell in the Harbor Festival over the Memorial Day weekend, May 27 and 28. Its complete spring lineup for March to June, with dozens of acts, is on its website, Baltimoresoundstage.com.

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Theater

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ an irreverent romp at Woolly Mammoth

Solo performance by John Jarboe offers much to consume

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John Jarboe in ‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’
Though June 23
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.
$60-$82
Woollymammoth.net

With “Rose: You Are Who You Eat,” a solo performance by John Jarboe (she/her), now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, there’s a lot to uncover and consume.  

For much of the show, the appealing Jarboe comes across as a cute cis gay guy playing dress up in a pair of tighty-whities and sparkly go-go boots, but it’s something else and she’s ready to go there. 

Jarboe is a cannibal. Not in the usual sense. She learned from a well-meaning aunt that while still in the womb, she ate her twin, and that’s what made Jarboe the way she is (a reference to gender queerness).

Despite the aunt’s awkward delivery of family dish, the prenatal news struck a chord with Jarboe: the vanishing twin who would have been named Rose, became increasingly connected to her own identity. Along with the inevitable jokes about eating her sister’s spaghetti thin hair and tasty eyeballs, there’s meaty matter unfolding onstage. 

Not entirely unexpected, Jarboe also harbors mommy issues. Mom, here referred to as “Mother” for the sake of anonymity, is a buttoned-down tax accountant who the more perturbed she becomes the wider her forced smile grows. And while Jarboe needs to have that long overdue talk with Mother, something always seems to get in the way; invariably it’s tax season.

Assisted by some primary source props (a baby book, notes, a string of pearls filched from Mother’s jewelry box), Jarboe further digs into gender expression and identity. Her performance career began in her child bedroom closet with a flashlight and makeshift costume, an obsession to which her parents initially subscribed, later not as much. 

Among the 75-minute-long show’s highlights are five or so songs, rock numbers and redolent ballads composed by Jarboe, Emily Bate, Daniel de Jesús, Pax Ressler and Be Steadwell. 

It’s definitely a solo show conceived and delightfully performed by Jarboe; however, she’s supported by a terrific four-person band (costumed in what appeared from Row D to be rosebush inspired jumpsuits) including Mel Regn, Yifan Huang, Daniel de Jesús, and music director Emily Bate. Bate is a singer, composer and performer who runs a queer and trans community chorus in Philadelphia called Trust Your Moves, an experiment in collective singing designed around liberation and co-creation.

As Jarboe moves into her 30s, she celebrates and incorporates her lost twin as part of herself with a new intensity. She writes letters, yearning for even the most tepid reply. Her obsession with Mother remains a thing too.

Dressed in a sylphlike rosy red gown (by costume designer Rebecca Kanach) Jarboe uses call-and-response (with the audience standing in for Mother) in search of some resolution. It’s beautifully done. 

With various kinds of backing coming from CulturalDC, the Washington Blade, Capital Pride, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and other New York-based groups, there’s nothing itinerant cabaret looking about “Rose.” Directed by MK Tuomanen, it’s an elevated, visually engaging production. 

For instance, set and video designer Christopher Ash’s projections shown on both a serviceable scrim and later a wondrously huge toile curtain, beautifully feature photos from an ostensibly idyllic Midwestern childhood. We see a young Jarboe not only enjoying hockey, fishing, and hunting, but also pulling off a strikingly girly, cheesecake pose.  

At the top of the show, there’s live video of Jarboe’s outsized mouth devouring wings fished from a bucket of fried chicken. Hints of cannibalism? 

“Rose: You Are Who You Eat” is an irreverent romp, deeply personal yet relatable. It’s an evening of poignantly performed moments, off the cuff laughs, and some awkward/sexy audience interaction. 

As a performer, Jarboe lays herself bare, exposing strengths (rich melodious voice, presence, ingenuity) and weaknesses (garrulity and more than a few un-landed jokes) in equal turns. 

Hers is a world that invites audiences to just let go and go with it. Jarboe’s intrepid journey melds the familiar and the startling. In short, it’s a trip worth taking. 

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Photos

PHOTOS: Capital Pride Festival and Concert

Keke Palmer, Billy Porter among entertainers

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Billy Porter performs at the 2024 Capital Pride Festival on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Capital Pride Festival and Concert was held along Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C. on Sunday, June 9. Performers included Sapphira Cristál, Keke Palmer, Ava Max, Billy Porter and Exposé.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Out & About

Get ready for Baltimore Pride

Events scheduled throughout weekend

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Baltimore Pride Parade (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Baltimore Pride begins this weekend on Friday, June 14 in the heart of the city.

There will be a variety of events, the main ones being Mt. Vernon Pride on June 14 at 2 p.m. on the 200 Block of W. Read St., the Parade and Block Party on Saturday, June 15 at 3 p.m. on N. Charles St., and Pride in the Park on Sunday, June 15 at 3 p.m. at Druid Hill Park.

For more event details, visit Baltimore Pride’s website

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