Maestro of the new Elkton Music HallJun 29, 2023 01:01PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Ric Cunningham was a high schooler playing the guitar in punk bands in West Virginia when he told himself that some day he wanted to run his own performance space.
That some day arrives July 15, with the opening of the Elkton Music Hall, a new use for a storied building in Elkton’s Arts & Entertainment District. He co-owns it with his wife, Katie Salsbury.
He grew up “with music always around the house.” Tagging along with his parents to a lot of live performances hooked him on music. “I just loved going to concerts,” he said. “I love listening to music. My dad played guitar, and I started playing guitar.” His early interests were rock, punk and bluegrass.
In high school, he learned how to become a promoter by finding venues for his bands to perform in, and then finding spaces and equipment for other bands. “I was really taking on the role of a promoter and producing shows,” he said. “And I enjoyed that just as much as I enjoyed being in the band.”
After his high-school epiphany, he built up a different career, with the corporate peak being head of production for a video and animation studio. Three years ago, he chose to move into freelance production and planned to make a documentary on how country music influences counterculture and punk rock. His first big interview was scheduled for March of 2020.
With the pandemic scotching shows to be filmed, “I found myself with time to fulfill my dream.”
What the building offers
“Music is something we all love and it’s a big part of our life,” Cunningham and Salsbury write on www.elktonmusichall.com. “Playing music constantly, late-night karaoke sessions on weekends (sorry not sorry to our neighbors), and going to concerts as much as possible makes up a good portion of our life (well, until our life became about opening a music venue).”
Salsbury is an attorney who grew up in Colorado. They met eight or nine years ago in Washington, D.C. They moved five or six years ago to Earleville to be near his family. Her office remains in D.C.
Her formative years included being around musicians. She plays the piano and sings.
They realized that Elkton would be a great location for a venue, halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia, and convenient from Interstate 95. Its arts district was growing, enabling music fans to eat at a nearby restaurant before the show and drink somewhere else afterwards and be able to quickly walk between all three destinations. “They are really doing a lot of things downtown,” he said.
They looked online for properties downtown and on Elkton’s outskirts and considered constructing their own building. At the end of August in 2021, he first walked into the building at 107 North St., which had been constructed in 1915 as an auto dealership, last used for Cecil County government offices and vacant for a decade.
“I got super-excited,” he recalled, citing the vintage architectural elements and the potential to open up a large space, with ceilings 20 feet high. Meetings with Mayor Robert Alt and other stakeholders revealed that their plans were “right in line” for the arts district. “I would say we were off and running, but considering it was two years ago, it’s better to say we’re off and walking in a positive way.”
They closed on the building in spring of 2022 and got their construction financing that fall.
The Elkton Music Hall is 6,900 square feet on two levels. The performance space on the first floor can hold 300-plus standing, 250-plus in theater seats and 150-plus at tables, with room for dancing. Performers will be on a 500-square-foot stage, raised 3 feet above the audience.
The second floor has space for offices and amenities for performers.
The performers announced so far reflect his eclectic musical tastes.
The opener (an XPN Welcome event) features Oh He Dead (an “amazing” D.C. band that does funk, R&B, rock and pop) and Cosmic Guilt (an “incredible” band from the Philadelphia-Wilmington area that does rock, Americana and roots). “It would be a perfect opening night to have a little bit of everything going on musically,” he said.
The lineup so far is heavy on indie performers, with a few tribute groups, a major announcement in getting Sun Volt to perform their 1994 album “Trace” in its entirety on July 24 and one blast from the past on Dec. 1, with Steve Forbert, who charted on Billboard in 1979 with “Romeo’s Tune.”
Ultimately, he hopes that the Elkton Music Hall will host three or four shows a week, both national tours and local performers. “We want to be supportive of the local arts community.”
Helping to book the shows is Ron Ozer, who for 20 years has booked performances for the Arden Music Gild in Delaware.
Ozer thinks both opening bands could sell out the Elkton Music Hall. “But by combining them and making it a benefit for the National Independent Venue Association (I am on their national advocacy team …) the same week as the second annual NIVA Convention in DC (where we plan to lobby for a new bill for the music industry in Congress …), we hope to build buzz for this new venue.”
Cunningham lunches weekly with Lee Lewis, of Showcase on Main, and meets frequently with other nearby entrepreneurs, such as Beckie McMahon of C3ntral Tavern. “Everybody has a shared vision of what Elkton can do,” Cunningham said. “And we’re all very excited.”
Will he perform at the Elkton Music Hall? “I will not,” Cunningham said. “Someday, I would like to get into a band again, but right now my focus is in bringing in a nice variety of music.”
IF YOU GO
The new Elkton Music Hall is at 107 North St., Elkton.
All tickets are sold through a partner named DICE. “With DICE, the price you see listed is the price you pay for your ticket, no surprises,” the FAQ on www.elktonmusichall.com says. “Tickets are mobile, which … means tickets can’t be bought up and resold at marked -p prices.”
All concerts are 21-plus “at this time.” Doors will typically open around 7 p.m., with shows starting around 8. Most shows will not have assigned seats.
It has a full bar (look soon for an exclusive beer from Elk River Brewery) but does not sell food.
The space is also available for rentals.