Note: The below story was written by Cassandra Mullinix. You can check out all the great stuff she has going down on her Facebook page, or, if you’re so inclined, you could follow her on Twitter. For those looking to get tickets to tomorrow night’s Frederick Music Showcase, click here. The below story will appear in this week’s 72 Hours.
Live music shows happen every weekend in Frederick, but the Frederick Music Showcase tonight will be a game-changing event for the town’s growing music scene. The people behind the Frederick News-Post music website Frederick Playlist have been working with the Weinberg Center for the Arts to host four long-standing and hard working local bands for the event. It’s the first time local bands have been featured at the Weinberg Center and for many of the bands, it is a first time to play a seated top-notch venue.
The bands playing the Frederick Music Showcase are The Knolly Moles, The Hard Swimmin’ Fish, Heavy Lights and Old Indian. Each of the bands represents a different popular music genre. The Knolly Moles are a fun-loving funk rock band with steady rotation at Olde Towne Tavern. The Hard Swimmin’ Fish bring energetic blues rock and harmonica to the mix. Café Nola homeboys Heavy Lights represent a sophisticated modern indie rock sound, and Old Indian will shake the seats at the end of the night with their guitar-riff-laden, sometimes heavy, sometimes bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll.
ORGANIZING THE SHOWCASE
It’s going to be a great night of music to say the least, and more importantly it’s all local, including the sponsors. Lane Fields, advertising manager at the News-Post, said Monocacy Brewing will offer a range of their locally brewed beers. Sponsors will set up tables in the Weinberg lobby, though Anthony Owens Remodeling, the presenting sponsor for the event, will donate its table to Heartly House. FNP music writer Colin McGuire, who came up with the idea for the local showcase, said there will be special beer glasses given away at the show and concertgoers can take their ticket stub to local bars around town Thursday night to receive discounts on drinks.
Perhaps Fields put it best when she said, “We want this event to be an experience for people rather than just a concert. We want it to represent the growing local music scene here in our hometown. It should be a fun and interactive night for the audience as well as the performers.”
It’s obviously great that this event is going to be a fun local experience, but that’s not really the heart of this story. This event will affect the music scene on a much deeper level. McGuire explained how the idea started.
“You can’t get bigger than the Weinberg in Frederick,” he said. “It’s the biggest room, the nicest room, the most prestigious room. In half the podcasts that I did (for Frederick Playlist), everybody always said that there was not a good place in Frederick to play, so I figured that if we could get the Weinberg, everybody could stop saying that. Now we’re going to do it.”
“John Healey (Weinberg Executive Theater Manager) really has kind of a soft spot for the local artists,” Fields added. “He’s always been involved with the arts and entertainment, and he saw the value of being able to allow local bands to come onstage.”
“I was thrilled that Colin approached me with this idea,” Healey said. “I know he’s put a lot of hard work into it, and I’m hoping it’s a success for all concerned and that we can establish this type of thing as an annual thing. The ultimate goal is to see if we can set this up and make this something that we all want to continue.”
WHAT THE BANDS ARE SAYING
From the perspective of the bands, this show represents creating a better sense of place and community, as well as an opportunity to improve their professionalism.
Evan Owens, drummer for Old Indian, said, “All four bands play different venues in different states and different cities all the time and have never played the best venue in Frederick. Finally, we all get to come together where we’re from and do it together.”
“Hopefully it will sound good onstage and good in the crowd,” added Old Indian bassist Mark Weeks. “I bet in the back of the room, it will sound pretty sweet.”
“Their sound guy knows how to do it,” Owens said. “It’s not like they just hired a guy who has to figure it out as we go. We get to really play it up.”
Chris Morris, drummer for Heavy Lights, is excited about the idea. “It’s been a cool thing to tell people about. People are like ‘Where’s your next show?’ and we can say, ‘At the Weinberg,’ and people are like, ‘Really? You’re playing at the Weinberg?’”
Acoustics can make a big difference for Heavy Lights. “I like playing big rooms because you can play with a little bit more finesse and more like how you want to play, because it’s naturally a quieter environment and people are listening,” Morris said, “so the vibe is different than a bar.”
Demian Lewis, lead singer and guitarist for The Hard Swimmin’ Fish, said theater shows are a treat.
“Years ago, the bass player and I played in the lobby of the Weinberg for some kind of community association meeting,” he said, “but we’ve never been on stage at the Weinberg, so this will be a new and exciting event. … It’s such a relief to have the space to spread out and breathe and a first-class sound system and lighting, and an audience that is sitting there attentively and interested in listening to music. I enjoy bar shows, but people have several other things on their minds usually.”
On improving professionalism, Cory Springirth, lead singer and guitarist for Old Indian, chimed in. “Even if it’s only a once a year thing, then bands can be like, ‘Let’s work until we can do this.’ It keeps the ball rolling and there’s another option in Frederick besides just playing Guido’s or Café Nola.”
WHAT DEFINES SUCCESS?
It can be hard to define the criteria that would make an event like this successful, but everyone involved has goals — primarily related to ticket sales.
Fields said the ultimate goal is to sell out the house, while McGuire noted the trickiness of defining a ticket sales goal.
“Let’s just put it this way,” he said. “Let’s just hope that there are more than 100 people. There needs to be more than 100 people there because that room can look very big if there is nobody there.”
So, why haven’t local bands played at the Weinberg Center previously?
Healey said the Weinberg Center’s music mantra is “to be as diverse and as interesting as possible, to bring in stars as well as to discover new artists.” But he added that “It’s tough for me to bring in local bands because they play at some of the other venues, many times for free, and if I tried to add them on as an opener for a headline act … people know, well, we can go see them at Café Nola or somewhere else.”
Healey’s statement points out one of the growing pains of the current Frederick music scene: the struggle for Frederick’s up-and-coming career musicians to not have to play for free or for minimal cover charges, and to have more opportunities to play in professional settings.
Healey said the Weinberg Center has been evolving over the nine seasons that he’s been part of the performance space.
“We have worked hard to change the types of programming that we offer here at the Weinberg Center,” he noted. “Not only the number of shows, but we’ve selected shows that are directed at a demographic that we were not seeing coming through our doors. So, for example our (Tivoli Discovery Series), we’re looking for that music adventurer who is willing to take a chance.
“Let’s see if the local community will support four local bands for a night,” he added.
The bands will have to prepare for the transition of venue as well. Perhaps the most odd fit for the Weinberg Center is the raucous Old Indian. The image of the group playing a seated theater might conjure thoughts of classic rock operas for some (if this were the case, Old Indian said they’d play Queen songs). They plan to play songs from their recent digitally released album, “Mumble,” that will soon be available on vinyl as well. The band hopes that their usually free-form fans stand up in the venue where seating is provided. Springirth made clear that “even if they are sitting down, you can tell when a crowd is bored. You can still feel the energy.”
He continued jokingly, saying, “Hopefully a couple of hippies will start dancing.”
A MUSIC COMMUNITY
“I think the biggest goal was to get as many diverse acts as we could and pull from some of these different crowds (in the downtown Frederick music scene),” McGuire said. “What we want to do is mish and mash all these sort of crowds and clicks.”
The Frederick Music Showcase is a part of the mission of Frederick Playlist. When he started Frederick Playlist at the News-Post, “We wanted to have a centralized place for people to discover Frederick musicians that are very worthy of being discovered.”
In the future, he hopes to host more shows like this if it goes well, but the bigger goal is about raising awareness of Frederick’s music scene.
“The most important thing to me is getting successful artists out of Frederick to have a national reputation,” he said. “That’s when it works.”
Local bands are working hard and starting to collaborate with one another to build a national reputation, also. Old Indian and Heavy Lights were recent tour mates.
“It’s nice to have other bands in the area that are like-minded and to team up with,” Morris said. “On tour, it’s even more important it seems like, because you’re together, representing your hometown, and it’s a good feeling to have a familiar face with you.”
Lewis, a musician in Frederick since about 2002, has noticed changes in the music community. “I grew up right outside of D.C.,” he said, “and for a long time Frederick seemed like the end of the earth. But what I’ve noticed is that the downtown scene has really gotten a lot more lively and well-attended, and people are traveling here to specifically hear music in Frederick, instead of it being just a local thing.”
“I remember thinking to myself for Frederick Playlist, when I got to the area, that Frederick music was very fractured,” McGuire said. “There were so many different people and so many different places, (I thought), let’s go make a scene. … I don’t know if that’s been achieved, but we hope to take another step by putting four local bands in the Weinberg.”