Store owner who brought underground music to the 'burbs to be honored at three-day festival

Scott Hammer, founder and owner of Coda Records, has been missing since Jan. 2 and is presumed dead at the age of 57. Friends are planning a three-day festival, called Hammerfest, dedicated to his legacy, with proceeds going to support his family.

It had always been Hammer's dream to open up a record store, says his son, Nick, and he and a friend partnered to start Coda Records in Parkville in 2010. In 2011, they relocated to a larger space on Main Street in Bel Air, where the store would grow to become a cultural hub for young kids interested in underground music not easily found in the suburbs.

"Scott is almost single-handedly the reason there is a thriving music scene in Harford County today," Bret Lanahan, drummer for Roomrunner, writes in an email. "Before Coda, there really wasn't anywhere to put on a loud show. . . Anyone that asked to play there got to play. He didn't charge any money and never said no."

Kevin Niemann, 19, says the record store changed his perception of Harford County as a "cultural wasteland" and made it easier for him to track down titles and discover new bands. "One day, this record store opened up, and that was more or less unheard of in Bel Air," says Niemann, whose own band, the Libyan Suite, was hatched at Coda. "I didn't have to drive 45 minutes to the city to buy records and talk about music."

Adds Nick: "They all found a place in Coda to hang out and talk with people who have similar interests. It's a huge community that I feel [the store] is kind of at the center of."

Scott's favorite acts included the classics, like the Beatles, Miles Davis, and the Rolling Stones, but he was also a huge fan of Sonic Youth and plenty of punk bands. Lanahan writes that, before he even met Hammer, Scott had a reputation for being the "coolest older guy because he listened to bands like Drive Like Jehu and Black Flag and completely enjoyed disgusting, loud, noisy, in-your-face music-something that most people over the age of 50 in the suburbs wouldn't even know existed."

Nick says he and Sean Gray, one of the owners of Fan Death Records, will continue to operate the store and plan to improve the stock and layout.

They will get a boost this weekend, when dozens of bands with Harford County ties-including Roomrunner and the Libyan Suite-will play Hammerfest, which begins Feb.1, with proceeds from the sales of tickets, food, shirts, and a raffle including autographed items donated by the Orioles benefiting the Hammer family and the store.

"It's amazing to see all the different businesses that donated, people attending, bands playing," says Nick. "I've never seen anything like it."

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