“OK. So, we do it, and even if nobody makes any money, at least we can look back and say we did something really cool.”
That was what Will Randall, the vice-president and chief operating officer of Randall Family LLC, the company that owns this newspaper, said in a meeting earlier this year. Hearing as much come out of his mouth was beyond a relief. The point behind the project wasn’t to make money. The point behind the project was to bring Frederick together.
And now, after too many false starts, humorously absurd disagreements and a shouting match or three, that project — the “it” in Will’s phrase — could officially move forward.
Local artists could turn random walls into extravagant pieces of art. Local bands could practice in empty, abandoned rooms that they would eventually trick out to make their own. A studio, complete with recording gear donated by local recording studios, could be erected, all to produce a CD in collaboration with Flying Dog Brewery aimed at showcasing great local talent. Boards could be nailed into the walls so locally produced movies could be shown. The Seed Of Life Cafe could serve food made from local agriculture. An all-local art gallery — showing everything from a full-scale bear made of yarn to a photo of a dead deer — could be curated.
“I’m just going to call it the Playlist Funhouse,” Ryan Nicholson, leader of the local band Heavy Lights, eventually told me, while referencing our all-music website Frederick Playlist. But he was wrong.
The name was the 200 East Art Haus. And finally, a year after I first wandered into that empty warehouse at 200 E. Patrick St. — the former home of this newspaper — and walked out with an idea that I would inevitably fight for, yell for, cuss for, sweat for, bleed for, throw things for, and expose every single awful quality I have as a human being for, Will Randall, the only one who mattered, mercifully gave his stamp of approval.
This thing could now come to life. And it was time to get to work.
Saturday, July 11, was the first event. Seaknuckle headlined the show in conjunction with the release of their first LP, “Get Over It.” Roswell Kid, who have since landed a spot on tour with the Get Up Kids (i.e., they are far more popular than the money we could afford to give them suggested) filled in the second spot. Silent Old Mtns., after taking a break for a couple years, opened the musical portion of the evening.
To make things interesting, we organized a beer pong tournament beforehand (using only water), all while playing only local music through the speakers. The crowd nearly rebelled when the drummer for Seaknuckle was part of the team who won the pong tournament. “It was rigged!” some shouted as the rest of his band laughed.
That was the least of our problems, though, until Lane Fields, the other, better (see: more reasonable) half of Frederick Playlist, came up to me, using a fast, terse walk.
“All the power on that side of the building just went out,” she explained, pointing at unlit Christmas lights on our bar and the Seed Of Life Cafe that all of a sudden lost its ability to do business.
“Oh,” I thought. “That’s right. This is an old, abandoned building, isn’t it?”
We eventually figured out how to get through the night, but our next event, just three weeks away on Aug. 8, loomed. Our first-ever Best Of The Best Fest was slated to commence during daytime hours — complete with a battle of the bands that would require power for five acts throughout the afternoon — and another concert was on the books for that evening. It would feature Giraffes? Giraffes!, Time Columns and Kabob-O-Taj.
The problem? The sound crew we hired only brought one sound system. This meant that we couldn’t begin to set up the night’s concert inside until the music outside was finished. In one of my completely thought-out, highly intellectual moments of the past several months, I scheduled the final band outside to go on at 6 p.m. while advertising that doors for the inside concert at night would open at 7 p.m.
Again: Completely thought-out. Highly intellectual. And overwhelmingly dumb.
It might have worked if the sound company we hired would have brought two sound systems, like they had promised, but at that point, it didn’t matter. There I was, yelling at the sound engineers, who in turn, yelled at local band The Few to get off the stage after an unfairly shortened set, to transport the equipment up the stairs and to the inside concert hall, where, by then, I was yelling at members of the bands performing that night, who were (rightly) annoyed that they probably weren’t even going to get a sound check in before the doors were supposed to open.
And my feet were covered in bleeding blisters. And a sunburn I acquired through the day was paralyzing.
So. One more time: Completely thought-out. Highly intellectual. Overwhelmingly dumb.
We instituted a few changes for the next event, the Block Party on Sept. 5, bringing on a new sound company, and lining up a night that most embodied the true eclectic essence of what the 200 East Art Haus was supposed to be. The day began with local films from 72 Film Fest organizers, who screened a best-of slate. A local rock band, The Milestones, then took the stage before Roy Ghim, who has been kind enough to lend a helping hand through all of this, screened one of the year’s more buzzy films, “Ex-Machina.” And then a gigantic slate of local hip-hop talent took the stage for about four hours to showcase a side of the Frederick music community that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves.
“We did it,” I remember Lane telling me at the end of the night after another grueling 15-hour day.
“Not yet,” I said. “We still have 10/10.”
THE END OF THE BEGINNING
A key component to everything that’s occurred at 200 East has been Flying Dog Brewery. Chip Watkins, the company’s de facto events guru, has played two key roles in all of this. 1) He’s talked me down from countless ledges, and 2) He believed in the idea. The idea that something like this could exist in Frederick. The idea that something like this could work.
Which is why one of the most exciting things to come out of the old News-Post building will be a compilation that’s included with the price of admission to Saturday’s first-ever Frederick Fall Fest. Each song was recorded in the building with the engineering help of Derek Salazar, whose work ethic could never be paralleled. The rules were simple: Come record a song. It had to be a song never recorded before. No over-thinking. No post-production. No over-dubs. Make it raw. Make it count. We were lucky enough to get 15 artists to agree to be featured on it, ranging in all types of genres, from hip-hop to bluegrass to rock to folk.
That CD, however, will be only one in a long list of exciting things happening at 200 East Art Haus this Saturday. Heavy Lights, Seaknuckle and Old Indian — three of the bands featured on the compilation — will be opening for J Roddy Walston and The Business on an outside stage that is brand new to the 200 East equation. Meanwhile, a slate of local DJs, featuring Two Teks, Secret Panda Society, The Normal Trade, Statik Skye and Rhill, will perform on our inside stage all day.
A new art gallery featuring the work of students or alumni of Towson University, Shepherd University, Frederick Community College, Hood College and the University of Maryland will be on display in our normal gallery space. The studio in which we recorded the music compilation will be open for all to see, complete with photos of the recording sessions on the walls. A pop-up art mart will be erected outside with the help of the great Goodloe Byron. A wide array of all-local vendors will be present. And, of course, Flying Dog will have its full slate of brews on tap for everyone to drink.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on everything, it all comes down to this. After the lights go down Saturday night, the 200 East Art Haus will take a break until early next year, when we hope to come back with a stronger, larger, more eclectic slate of events. We’ve been scraping our way through the summer to see if something like this could even work, and with the help of, literally, each aspect of Frederick’s artistic community, it’s been proven that not only can it work, but it can thrive.
How do we know? We saw members of local bands help us as they carried out garbage for events at which they weren’t even booked to play. We saw local artists film videos in some of the many hideaway rooms that the building offers. We walked through hallways to see a mother painting an illustration on a random wall as her child watched in awe. We watched as crowds gathered and supported their friends, supported this scene. We lived for what this building could become. We watched other people live for the idea that this old abandoned building could be a new center of art and culture and music that helps bring the people of this county together.
So, Saturday? Well, in essence, it will be the culmination of a months-long celebration of Frederick, Maryland. Or, perhaps Saturday will be, with a little bit of luck at least, something cool, even if nobody makes any money.
We’ll see you there. And thanks for helping make this dream a reality.