Baltimore rejoiced in May of 2019 when longtime employee Tecla Tesnau purchased the Ottobar, long celebrated as one of the city’s best live venues. Now, another staple of the city’s underground scene is for sale – The Sidebar – with Feed the Scene Foundation Inc. now having launched a GoFundMe Campaign to obtain it. Founded by Rachel Taft in 2011, Feed the Scene began as a non-profit “Band & Breakfast” to provide touring bands a home for the evening, housing them at a historical “Music House” on Bank Street, with Taft utilizing her excellent culinary skills; over the years, the foundation has treated over 1,500 individual bands from 28 countries around the world, run entirely by Taft with a bevy of volunteers and donations. Some years ago, ReGen Magazine had the opportunity InterView Taft, but the audio recording had been lost prior to transcription; now, we once again had the chance to speak with her about Feed the Scene and her initiative to rescue one of the city’s beloved venues and keep its legacy as a powerhouse for the sub-mainstream music scene.
Would you tell us about your first experience at The Sidebar? What bands were performing, and what your first impression of the venue was at the time?
Taft: Dear, I’ve been going to Sidebar since I was 17. Im almost 41. I have no idea what the first show I saw there was. I’m pretty sure it was a hardcore show and I was probably following someone cooler than me and went because it sounded fun. I do definitely remember the early days when Sidebar and the old Ottobar were back-to-back and we ran between the venues through the hole in the fence and hung out in the parking lot between sets. The impression that sits in my mind was that it was a space that was way too cool and underground for some wannabe punk kid from Annapolis who drove herself up to the city, but I loved live music and had been going to Pat Martin’s old shows at the VFW, so it was the next likely stop in my matriculation since it was all ages.
As you’ve undoubtedly seen many shows there, are there any particular memories that you’d like to share – anything that stands out as exemplary of why The Sidebar matters to you and to Baltimore?
Taft: I couldn’t even fathom a guess of how many shows I’ve been to there over my time there. It’s always a place I’m happy to be in. I’ve seen bigger bands play there because they loved the history of the place, I’ve cooked in the basement to feed bands… the first show I ever booked was at The Sidebar – FTS’s one year anniversary show. I had 12 bands, we had doors at 3:00pm, so by 7:00pm, I was tired and my headliner had to drop because of a family emergency. Bumpin Uglies rolled up completely last minute and played the last spot for all the leftovers I had, some beer tickets, and I don’t even remember if they asked for money. That’s the kind of solid music community Baltimore, Maryland has.
Located at the corner of E. Lexington and Guilford in downtown Baltimore, The Sidebar is an all-ages venue, “going strong since 1998.” Heralded as the city’s primary home for punk, metal, hardcore, and indie bands, the venues has also seen its share of industrial, post-punk, and underground electronic shows – ReGen has seen performances by the likes of Ganser, Worms of the Earth, Compactor, Red This Ever, and White Shadow. ReGen editor-in-chief Ilker Yücel laments, “I was looking forward to seeing renowned saxophonist Tim Capello perform there, but the Covid lockdowns took effect literally the day this show was to take place.” Taft explains further the significance of The Sidebar’s presence as a home for burgeoning musicians, bands, and more.
Obviously, the smaller size of The Sidebar has helped to make it the best place for indie and punk rock. What are your thoughts on this?
Taft: The size of The Sidebar and its ability to have all-ages shows is what makes it so important in the music community. Bands need places to grow, places to move from ‘bands with friends’ to ‘bands with fans.’ Moving up from playing house shows to a ‘real’ music venue is a huge step in the learning process of being part of the music industry. A lot of bands had their first real experience playing places like The Sidebar, a lot before they were actually old enough to drink. The Sidebar is the last small cap all-ages room in downtown Baltimore. We need this stepping stone for our future musicians and for a lot of our old heads who are bringing their kids to shows now.
Sidebar is a place for everyone. Because of its location near the courthouse, we could have a happy hour largely full of lawyers straight into a metal show; a changing of the guard happens nightly. The bar was also in The Wire – many people may recognize it as Kavanaugh’s. Its a small spot full of history that deserves to be here for the next generation of musicians and fans.
Launched just prior to Christmas of 2021, the GoFundMe Campaign to save The Sidebar currently has a projected goal of $80,000. With the lockdowns affecting the stability of live music venues throughout the city, and the country at large, legislative relief to help them had been lax to nonexistent, with Feed the Scene hoping to purchase The Sidebar and run it as an “open source non-profit.” With $50,000 going toward aspects of property transfer, liquor license, sound system, and utilities, the remaining $30,000 would be to cover repair and upgrade costs for permits under new ownership and passing health and safety inspections. At the time of this article’s publication, the campaign has raised $16,555 of its goal.
The campaign explains the plan to focus on the longevity of the venue to provide livable wages for bartenders and staff, with profits to go toward upgrades and guarantees for bands, including the creation of a usable greenroom; as ell, with Feed the Scene’s non-profit status, donations are 100% tax deductible, “so your giving helps you too!” Drawing on the inspiration of Mike Riley’s Charm City Art Space, Feed the Scene plans to make The Sidebar “a place for everyone with a collective of promoters and other volunteers who care to help keep it running.” Taft explains further…
Taft: It’s not a hope – it’s a will. We will not fail. A lot of local people may remember the Charm City Art Space, a beautiful old hollowed out townhome with a stage in it. It ran as a collective. That’s the way for this space to survive. We will have something akin to a board of directors or vested parties who will help run the bar without taking a salary. Any money the bar generates over its expenses will go to enrich or endow the bar – sound, door, barstaff will be paid of course. And we plan to invite people to be part of a collective of promoters. If you want to book a show, cool! Come be a part. If you don’t know how to book a show, come learn. The bar can be a teaching tool as well as just a cool entertainment space.