The March comes to an end
O'Malley: Baltimore's mayor is leaving his band behind to focus on a run for governor.

By Jill Rosen
Sun Staff

March 16, 2005

On the one hand, he's got a glistening green guitar, late nights with screaming fans and -- ah, yes -- those muscle shirts. On the other, there's a city to run, countless obligations and -- ah, yes -- a possible run for governor.

And the winner? Politics.

Mayor Martin O'Malley is pulling the plug on O'Malley's March, the Irish rock band he's led since 1988. In a letter to fans on the band's Web site this week, O'Malley said he has only so much time, and his day job gets dibs on it from now on.

"At this point in my life, every ounce of my aging creative energies are going to have to be focused on continuing our City's remarkable progress and being laser focused on getting our State moving in the right direction again," he wrote. "I'd love to keep playing, but a vocation is a 'yes' that requires a thousand 'no's.' "

The band's farewell tour will include three St. Patrick's Day shows this week and an O'Malley fund-raiser Sunday. It's unclear when the band will play its last show.

As serious as the mayor was about his band -- he was not only its voice but author of many of its lyrics -- it became increasingly obvious that he would have to choose between being a local rock star and being an ambitious politician. At least that's what his bandmates thought.

"It's never really been the same since he became mayor," said longtime March member Jared Denhard, who plays bagpipes and trombone.

Wary of the ever-critical public eye, the band now had to run their sometimes-bawdy lyrics through a sanitizer. If they played one municipal gig, they had to make sure they didn't disappoint another town. And over the last five years, they have had to turn down a lot more shows than they accepted because of O'Malley's schedule.

But in the beginning, the melding of rocker and politico worked for everyone.

O'Malley gained political mileage from being the youthful, big-city mayor with enough charisma to rock a crowd. And with the mayor as its frontman, the band was suddenly drawing more people than ever before and able to play venerable venues like Washington's 9:30 Club, the Kennedy Center and even a few clubs in Ireland.

For many, O'Malley's March was O'Malley. Catching one of the band's shows was a chance to check out the mayor, hear him sing, see him flaunt his muscles in a sleeveless shirt.

Adrian Stupski, who works at Sound Garden, a Fells Point shop that stocks a number of O'Malley's March albums, said when the band folds, more than the music, Baltimore will miss the idea that their mayor was one that rocked.

"It's a rare occasion when we're afforded the ability to go out to a bar and see a mayor in a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, drinking a Guinness and getting sweaty playing the guitar," Stupski said. "It makes him seem like a real person and not a stuffed-shirt kind of guy. Kind of a poor man's Bill Clinton."

Yet the band's music has its fans, too -- even among authentic Irish. Dave Gallagher, an Ireland transplant who tends bar at Slainte, a Fells Point pub, calls O'Malley's March "good craic." "Craic," which sounds like "crack," translates into fun.

And Ken Krucenski, the not-so-Irish owner of Sean Bolan's in Federal Hill, said news of the band's breakup would crush his customers. "Whether you agree or disagree with his politics," Krucenski said, "on stage he's a showman and a likeable guy."

Even Irishman Ed McBride, who spins his homeland's music each Sunday on his Reflections of Ireland show on Towson's WTMD-FM 89.7, said his hardcore following occasionally calls in to request a March standard, "Baltimore Lullaby." "I think we're going to miss him on the music scene," McBride said.

But with the run for higher office looming, the mayor apparently decided it was time to trade in the leather and guitar licks for a little more pinstriped gravitas.

Perhaps that decision was helped by an opinion piece this weekend in The Washington Post. After taking in a recent O'Malley's March show, the columnist observed, "O'Malley looks like a man without a care in the world ... but you've got to wonder: It's Saturday night -- what are the odds that someone will get murdered in Baltimore before the clock strikes midnight?"

By O'Malley giving up his beloved band, Denhard thinks the mayor is trying to prove just how serious he is about governing.

But even in its breakup, perhaps there's a bit more political cache for O'Malley to wring from the band.

"It's cool to play in an Irish rock band," Denhard said. "But it's maybe even more cool to say that you used to play in an Irish rock band."

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun