The launch of a new Annapolis-based quarterly arts magazine, spawned as a business venture between friends, has ended in a lawsuit, with one partner accusing the other of taking the concept and running with it alone.
Annapolis Underground LLC, spearheaded by local photographer and designer Chris Iatesta, filed a complaint in the Baltimore City Circuit Court last Wednesday against Upstart Annapolis LLC and its publisher, James Davies – known locally as the front-man for rock band Jimmie’s Chicken Shack.
Davies was a partner in Annapolis Underground, the complaint says, the first issue of which came out last June. Less than two months later, according to the lawsuit, Davies told Iatesta he’d decided to publish his own magazine, draining much of the company’s bank account and inducing its contracted advertisers, editor and writers to follow him.
The first issue of quarterly arts magazine Upstart Annapolis – stylized as Up.St.ART Annapolis – was released in December, using content meant for Annapolis Underground’s next issue, according to the complaint. The lawsuit accuses Davies of misappropriation of company assets, breach of fiduciary duty and interference with contract and prospective business advantage.
Annapolis Underground is suing for damages in excess of $75,000 along with what Iatesta and his attorney allege are ill-gotten gains.
Davies declined to comment, other than to write in an email that the “entire situation is of no merit but that will happen in a litigious world.” His attorney, Joe Gormley of Annapolis-based Gormley Jarashow Bowman, followed up in another email, writing, “The complaint is inaccurate, and Mr. Davies has not committed the torts alleged.”
To hear Iatesta tell it, he and Davies were high-school friends in Annapolis, staying in touch when Iatesta moved to California to pursue a career in publication design. When Iatesta returned to his hometown late in 2013, he found a vibrant music and arts community lacking only a unified voice, he said. Magazine pages were more readily devoted instead to such traditional local hallmarks like sailing and crabs.
“There was a huge art scene here. There’s live music here every single night of the week. I guess it was kind of a big deal for me, because I’d been living in this little tiny village in California,” Iatesta said. “I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a magazine or something that spoke to that.”
Iatesta had come home mainly to reconnect with his family, he said. He ended up pursuing a lifelong dream: launching a magazine of his own.
And he had the perfect person in mind to help him pull it off – someone with an intimate knowledge of the arts community who could make introductions and pull in advertising partners. That was Davies, better known to his fans as “Jimi Haha,” front-man for Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, the Annapolis band that came to fame in the late ‘90s and still headlines gigs at venues like Baltimore’s Rams Head Live. He has also since made a name for himself as a local artist.
“Everybody loves him,” Iatesta said. He recalls thinking, “If I’m with Jimi, everything is possible.”
The first issue of Annapolis Underground speaks to the friendship Iatesta describes: A publishers’ note features headshots of the two side by side, and printed underneath in the magazine’s manifesto is this line: “Chris and good friend and artist/musician Jimi Davies have since begun trekking through the Annapolis art scene, seizing the opportunity to shine a spotlight on this underserved segment of the community.”
Iatesta is listed as the publisher, founder and design director; Davies holds the titles of co-publisher, partner, creative director and sales account executive.
“…We couldn’t think of a more appropriate venue for an art and culture magazine designed to highlight the people, places, activities, and characteristics that make this city inspirational,” the note says of the publications subject, Annapolis.
Annapolis Underground includes profiles of local names in art, photography, food and music, along with full-page ads from local businesses. So does Davies’ Upstart Annapolis, also a quarterly, in whose pages there’s a solo publisher’s note: a goofy, fake-mustachioed photo of a young Davies donning a fringed cowboy shirt, and below it, a treble clef with a single F-sharp note.
Upstart Annapolis’ website – which explains that the name stands for Up Street Art, after the city’s Upper West Street arts and entertainment district – proclaims this mission: “From musicians to artist [sic] to community activists to champions of the arts, U.A.’s goal is not just to shine a light on the great works of art created here but to go in depth about the people and businesses behind the arts.”
Multiple names listed in the masthead of Annapolis Underground and among its pages make up the credits of Davies’ Upstart Annapolis; several of the same business partners and advertisers are featured prominently in both.
With Davies’ help, Iatesta said, Annapolis Underground’s first issue — with 10,000 copies printed – was a huge success.
“I was totally thrown into, like, a whirlwind, when this whole thing fell apart,” Iatesta said.
Annapolis Underground has not gone to press since its inaugural issue. According to a Facebook event page, Upstart Annapolis will host its spring issue launch party next month at Red Red Wine Bar. Annapolis Underground’s website, still up and running, lists the restaurant as a business partner.