There is a rite of passage that most artists or musicians will go through in Baltimore: Somebody calls in a code violation and your DIY space gets shut down. I remember when it happened to CP Photo Editor J.M. Giordano at Load of Fun. And CP photographer Noah Scialom, Barnyard Shark and composer Ruby Fulton, and a bunch of others at the Broom Factory Factory. And dozens of others at dozens of other spaces.
And now it’s happened to me, my band the Barnyard Sharks, and all of the other bands who practice and at the Hour Haus. We’re kicked out and they’re shutting it down and turning it into offices.
I know, I should make the calls and figure what kind of offices are moving in. But really, I’m just too fucking depressed. Does it matter? Load of Fun, er, Motor House across the street already has a floor of offices. Is it the fucking Station North Office and Entertainment District (SNOED)? Cause it sure feels like it. And that Joe Squared is also leaving the block—because the landlord won’t make basic repairs, according to the restaurant’s fundraising announcement—makes it feel like there was already a seal on the future of the corner of Howard Street and North Avenue, and the excuse—the crowd at Future Fest in March—is bunch of bullshit, just like the supposed call reporting code violations at Load of Fun never felt right.
I’m not saying that there is some kind of vast conspiracy and I am certainly not saying BARCO, the current owners of Motor House, dropped the dime on Load of Fun. I’m just saying that there is a pattern of overlooking permits and code violations until the artists have increased the value of the surrounding real estate enough and then cracking down on them.
You know, people talked about Load of Fun as a pioneer kind of place—and for how fucked up that language is, please do yourself a favor and read Eula Biss’ “No Man’s Land”—but Hour Haus predated it by more than a decade. And even now, at the end of its line, it hosts bands as diverse as Infinite Honey, J Pope and Funk Friday, Choke Motel, and the Barnyard Sharks. You never know what you will hear in there. And the view out our window of the train tracks and the light rail and the electrical poles inspired most of our most recent songs.
In a final gift to the world, the Hour Haus birthed 2014’s Best Sport, Kick the Can. And speaking of kicking, apparently they’ve kicked Ratscape out, which is really bullshit if they’d already agreed to the show.
But everything changes. I just moved into the Psychic Annex, on Park Avenue, where Psychic Readings (which really changed the entire landscape of the stage scene with a spectacular two-night run of “Garbage, Death and the City of Baltimore,” which made so much of our local theater feel overproduced and fake), Annex Theater, Le Mondo—the group of several theater companies working to develop three properties on Howard Street—musician Ami Dang, and Ric Royer (who runs Psychic Readings) all have spaces in the new Bromo Arts District. But it is my writing office and it’s not big enough for the band and besides, there are going to be plays there most weekends. And I now feel a certain fear—any success here will ultimately help fuck up the neighborhood and bring in the big rich foundations.
But Ric, who runs the space, returned from Rhode Island, and took care of business and secured the building and got shit going here really quickly. If you want a good investment, open up some practice spaces somewhere that are cool.
Because the thing about our space at the Hour Haus is that it wasn’t just a practice space. We had four bands in our little room and our band is big so it equalled out to $11/month per person (for us). It was worth that amount just to have a little pied-à-terre in the neighborhood, a place to go with a 12-pack after the bars close or for a couple of beers before a show. It was a place where our toys were always out and we could stop by and shoot the shit with our friends. It was our clubhouse. And that is hard to come by. So no thanks to the rent-by-the-hour practice spaces perfect for the tight three-piece. We’re a fucking nine-piece goddamn monstrosity. And we can be, because we’re in Baltimore. Or at least that used to be the case.
But our stories alone are nothing. Take this and think of all the bands and all their stories over the last 25 years. Think of the records recorded, the ideas birthed. However great Scapescape was this year—and it was really fabulous—with its 90 bands, you’ve got to think about what those bands do every other weekend, where they hang out, write, and rehearse.
At this point in the development of the arts district, unless they want to become SNOED, SNAED should make it part of its mission to preserve something of what the neighborhood was before the money of MICA and Hopkins and Deutsch changes it beyond recognition.