By LAUREN LaROCCA
The Frederick News-Post
NEW MARKET, Md. (AP) — Paul Hill grew up in New England, where it was customary to see old churches being reinvented for use as homes and bars and art galleries. In Frederick County, one such venture immediately comes to mind — Beans in the Belfry, a church-turned-coffeehouse in Brunswick — but there’s soon to be another.
Under the care of owners Paul and Kelley Hill, the old Episcopal chapel on East Main Street in New Market will become the Hill Chapel, an acoustic music venue, featuring acts from around the U.S., beginning this week. It will also serve as a space for weddings, vow-renewals, baptisms and other small receptions.
The couple visited the chapel in December for a children’s music recital and realized its potential. These were young kids, still learning their instruments, but the acoustics were phenomenal.
“We stood in the back and just thought, `wow,”‘ Kelley said.
They hung around after the show just to sing Christmas carols in the room.
The chapel was used as Grace Church since it was built about 140 years ago. The last service was held on Easter 2009, before the congregation moved to a new, bigger location, the Hills said.
The couple lived a few miles down the road but always had their eye on the chapel, as it’s been for sale for eight years or so, they said, and they passed by it nearly every day.
The building was gutted by fire in 1902. Its stained glass windows were donated shortly thereafter, and by the 1920s, electricity was hooked up, Paul said. It was renovated in the ’50s and remained in good shape when the Hills purchased it in October (meanwhile, the parish house next door — where the Hills would live — was a disaster).
“I wasn’t sure what to do with it,” Paul admitted, “a restaurant, a bakery, a bar.”
Its fate seemed to show itself quickly as a music venue, as well as a place for ceremonies on the weekends.
Guests will sit on the original wooden pews on Thursday evenings, reserved for the House Concert Series, the first of which will feature the Boyds-based Martin Family Band, on Feb. 23, a favorite traditional group in the area and beyond.
In the small town of New Market, the Hills quickly met Walt Kuhlman, who moved to the area recently from Arizona. A longtime luthier with music connections throughout the country, he was the perfect man to book gigs at Hill Chapel. Within a week, they had 10 artists ready to go, Kelley said. Now they’re booked through June, with the exception of a couple of Thursdays.
They gave him the title “talent procurement director,” the Hills said.
Some of these musicians are internationally known; all of them are gifted and acknowledged in the industry, they said. Kuhlman is booking performers on a blend of acoustic instruments — mandolin, guitar, fiddle, hammered dulcimer.
Kuhlman started listing the upcoming acts recently, his excitement clearly audible in his voice.
Bob Zentz, a folk storyteller. “He’s gonna sit here and he’s gonna entertain you from a historical aspect.”
Walt Michael, an icon in the area as a virtuoso on hammered dulcimer and as the director of the annual Common Ground on the Hill in Westminster.
Woody Lissauer, dubbed an astro-folk artist for his blend of tradition with modern tricks.
Chris Acquavella, a classical mandolinist who, according to Kuhlman, is killer. He has his roots in punk music and played for pennies when he was starting out. Now he plays with such big names as David Grisman and Mike Marshall.
With seating capped at 120, though most comfortable at 100, the idea is to make the venue acoustic and intimate, Kuhlman said, “a get-to-know-the-artist kind of thing.”
He noted the 20-minute intermissions during shows are hoped to be “mingling” intermissions, when guests can talk to the performers.
There will be no amping, no soundboard. “These people know how to play an acoustic house,” Kuhlman said.
“We’re coming out of a recession,” Kuhlman said. “Everyone’s rebuilding.”
They suggest a $15 to $20 donation for shows but no one will be turned away. Seating will be first come, first served, although guests have the option of reserving seats online in advance through Eventbrite.com with a donation.
Hill Chapel plans to partner with nearby restaurants in the future for combination deals, so folks can grab dinner and be entertained for an evening in the quaint town.
“There’s a great synergy going on in the town,” Kelley added.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)