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Tune town: Maplewood's music scene marches to all kinds of beats

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 10, 2009 - The Delmar Loop. The Central West End. Washington Avenue downtown. The Grove area on Manchester between Vandeventer and Kingshighway. All hip, trendy areas where St. Louisans go in search of entertainment.

But for eclectic variety, downtown Maplewood -- especially the area for several blocks around the intersection of Manchester Road and Sutton Boulevard -- provides an array of entertainment options that competes favorably with any of the better-known entertainment districts.

Here's a quick overview of some of the diverse entertainment in Maplewood, ranging from roots rock and an eclectic mix of folk music from around the world and karaoke, to equity theater, intimate coffeehouse music and high-energy dueling piano showdowns.

Let's start with a look at Sutton Blvd, all within two blocks of Manchester, Maplewood's main drag. Heading south from Manchester on the east side of Sutton, you'll find what looks to be a non-descript storefront at 2720. That's the home of Focal Point, a non-profit, three-decades old institution in St. Louis that is been dedicated to promoting folk music from around the world. Focal Point has been presenting concerts in Maplewood since 2000, and the list of artists who have performed there includes everyone from Norman and Nancy Blake, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Geoff Muldaur to Chris Smither, Spencer Bohren and Bert Jansch. Focal Point's season usually runs from September through June -- with a nice mix of nationally and internationally known artists and fine regional and area musicians as well. Find out more about Focal Point and get a preview of fall concerts at www.thefocalpoint.org.

Continue south on Sutton and you'll see the Black Cat Theater with its large parking lot. The Black Cat, at 2810 Sutton, is home to Piwacket Children's Theater, but also brings in productions of adult plays as well as occasional musical performances. For example, pianist Philip Gomez and his band Clave Sol will be presenting a salsa night on Sat., July 18 -- complete with salsa dancers. For more info on that concert and upcoming events at the Black Cat, go to www.blackcattheatre.org.

Cross to the west side of Sutton from the Black Cat and you'll find CooperElla Cafe and Art House at the intersection of Hazel Ave. The Art House features a gallery, and you'll also encounter a very nice restaurant and coffeehouse when you first enter. CooperElla features live music on its patio from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday -- coinciding with happy hour prices from 5-7 p.m. Upcoming performers include the Fanfare Duo on July 15, June Tellini on July 17, Matthew Elliott on July 22 and Rich Simmons on July 24. For more info, check out www.cooperella.com.

Head back up Sutton toward Manchester and you'll run across one of the more recent additions to the Maplewood scene, the Deluxe Restaurant at 2733. The place opened last September, and has gradually become one of the more interesting venues for rock-roots music in the area. With its large stage and nice sound system, the Deluxe transforms from a local diner with a '50s drive-in/car club vibe during the day to happenin' music scene around 10 p.m. when the music kicks in. The Deluxe features plenty of musical variety, from rockabilly and alt country to more hard-edged indie sounds as well. For a look at the upcoming lineup, go to www.myspace.com/deluxerestaurant.

Up at the southeast corner of Manchester and Sutton, you'll find Jive and Wail, which has built its following on dueling pianos. Two pianists face each other onstage, alternating tunes and attempting to top each other musically with each go-round. Some people love this; for others, the appeal can wear off fairly quickly. Although the pianists on stage are always pros, count me among the latter group. But the lines that form nightly outside Jive and Wail convince me that lots more people enjoy this entertainment strategy than not. Go to www.jiveandwail.com for its Wednesday through Saturday musical lineup.

Heading east on the south side of Manchester, you'll encounter El Scorcho at 7356. Great Tex-Mex food, but the entertainment is limited to trivia on Thursdays starting at 9:30 p.m. -- and occasional karaoke. Further east, you'll see Boogaloo, known for its bar seat swings and Cajun, Caribbean menu. Again, no live music, but DJ Anisto spins on Friday nights; and every third Wednesday, there's a reggae music spin starting at 10 pm.

As you head east, live music reappears at the Foundation Grounds, a coffeehouse at the intersection of Marshall Ave. Not surprisingly, the focus is on intimate, folky music here. For a place that focuses on quality organic products on the menu, there's plenty of quality on the musical schedule as well, with talented musicians such as Kevin Bilchik, Leslie Sanazaro-Santi and Auset on the Wednesday and Saturday evening schedule. For a complete schedule, check out www.myspace.com/foundationgroundscoffee.

Finally a jog left off Manchester down Southwest Avenue will lead you to Schlafly Bottleworks, and the pervasive aroma of hops emanating from the brew tanks. Besides great beer and good food, quality music is also a staple. You can catch live music at the Bottleworks every Thursday through Saturday from 9 p.m.-midnight, and there's an eclectic mix of folk, jazz and bluegrass to choose from. In addition, coinciding with the Farmer's Market every Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. in the Bottleworks parking lot, there's live music on the patio from 5-8 p.m. featuring musicians like Dave Black and Charlie Pfeffer. For the complete lineup, go to www.schlafly.com.

Terry Perkins, a freelance writer in St. Louis, has long covered the local music scene.