It’s fitting, in a way, that Freddie Long is closing this year’s Alive @ 5 season, because there might be no other musician to speak as highly of Frederick as Freddie Long.
“Ever since I started music, it’s a community that’s always had my back,” said the 34-year-old musician. “The Frederick family always has my back, and we always have a good time.”
He grew up outside the city, in Ijamsville, when that part of Frederick County was still mostly cows and the newly opened Urbana High School. Long had “your typical proverbial suburban childhood,” he said in a house down Windsor Road, where he grew up playing the piano. Well, his house had a piano inside it, and Long remembers plunking on its ivory keys and making up little songs when he was only four or five years old. But when his parents asked him if he wanted to take piano lessons, he always said no, until his mother and father finally sold the piano.
“Then, like a week later, I was like, ‘Actually, I do want the lessons,’” Long said good-naturedly. “So I started playing the keyboards when I was around 11.”
Thus began an archetypal musical journey complete with a middle school band that inspired girls to come up to him in the lunchroom. There was the sudden realization that, hey, this whole “musician” thing was pretty cool. Long took “a bunch of music lessons in high school,” he said, then went off to Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania to major in music recording technology with a minor — believe it or not, he said — in physics.
“Physics always interested me and I was always pretty good at math, that side of things,” Long said. “And with the music recording degree, a lot of physics classes were already woven in. So, if you took a few extra classes, like nuclear and atomic physics — which sounds scary, and it is — then it wasn’t too hard to get the minor.”
During the roughly hour and 50 minute drive back to Frederick on trips home from school, Long would listen to popular artists of the day, which — in the early 2000s — happened to be a lot of sensitive singer-songwriters. “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s was released in 2005, and an artist named Edwin McCain had a song called “I’ll Be,” which — though not exactly contemporary, given its 1998 release date — was played over and over and over again on shows like “American Idol.”
Long had been writing his own songs all through college, and had a “solid stock of tunes,” he said, by the time he graduated. He moved back to beautiful, bucolic Frederick and started working part-time in promotions at Key 103, where his boss — a lovely, supportive woman named Jessica Smith — told him the radio station was sponsoring a stage for In The Street. She knew Long played music. Did he and his band want to perform?
“And I was like, ‘Absolutely,’” Long said. “‘I definitely have a band.’”
He had roughly two months to make his little white lie a reality, and so he turned to Craigslist, a virtual repository for local musical talent. In just a couple of weeks, he found and auditioned a full lineup, including drummer Ken Deater, who’s played with The Freddie Long Band for more than 13 years now. Their first show was a success, Long said, and in 2007, the group recorded its debut album, “Strangers and Friends,” which was nominated for three Washington Area Music Awards.
Since then, Long has played around Frederick a lot. One look at his Facebook calendar shows a pretty exhaustive touring schedule, with local shows almost every couple days. He even has a show scheduled immediately after his Alive @ 5 performance on Thursday, just down the street at Shuckin’ Shack. He says it’s a surprisingly uplifting place to perform.
“I like to hang out after my set and just have a beer,” Long said. “It’s funny. Even with all this divisiveness in our country now, there’s no better feeling than walking down from the [Carroll Creek] amphitheater and hanging out with people in the community. It gives you hope.”
He left Frederick once, in 2011, but it didn’t last long. It was at a point of his life when his music was beginning to move beyond the confines of his small home city. Not long after Long’s band recorded its second album, “Shotgun With the Devil,” they were selected to record a new version of the theme song “Shake Your Keys” (played every third inning at Frederick Keys games). In 2010, several of the band’s songs from “Strangers and Friends” wound up being used in Golden Tee, a nationally popular arcade game. The same year, Long and his bandmates opened for bands including Bad Company and Blue Oyster Cult at the Frederick Fairgrounds.
So, in 2011, he was “offered the opportunity,” Long said, “to work with a fairly well-known recording artist at the time.” He declined to say who, but the idea was that he would move down to Nashville to write and perform with the artist, eventually recording an album together.
He moved to Tennessee, but just a few weeks after he arrived, the artist — according to Long’s memory — was offered a lucrative opportunity elsewhere. Long stayed in the city and tried to make it work, but was quickly buffeted by the realities of living and working in one of the most competitive music capitals in America. Sure, he played a handful of times at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe. Once he even performed at the Hard Rock Cafe with Charlie Morgan, a drummer for Elton John, Kate Bush, and Pete Townshend, along with other famous musicians.
Morgan was incredibly welcoming, Long said, and once invited him and a friend — Freddie Long Band guitarist Chris Bell — over to his house in Nashville. Even with those small successes, though, living in the city just wasn’t working.
“Back in Frederick, I performed full-time,” Long said. “But in Nashville, you’re kind of a small fish in a big pond, so I would literally have to go back to Frederick on weekends to make enough money to keep paying my rent. It got to the point where I was like, ‘OK, what am I doing here?’”
So, a year later, he moved back. He lives in Brunswick now, but he still does shows at his usual spots — bars like Bushwaller’s and Shuckin’ Shack. He’s back to being a big fish in a small pond. Just a few weeks ago, he was at Ace Hardware store and heard one of his old jingles, a commercial job for Tri-County Pumps, a local plumbing company. He had recorded it years and years ago with his friend, Phil Briggs, the former morning host at 106.9 The Eagle. But even after his stint in Nashville, Long said, there it was, playing over the airwaves in Frederick County. He didn’t even know the company was still using the song.
“It’s probably one of my biggest hits,” Long said. “When it came on in the store, I was like, ‘That’s wild.’ But that’s why I love it here. I feel extremely fortunate. I feel extremely fortunate to be a full-time musician in Frederick County, Maryland, and to be in a community that has allowed me to do what I love.”