The other day, someone expressed to me the idea that “a city’s artists are a representation of the city’s cultural health.” If that’s the case, I question if the number of Frederick artists that have moved away indicates that we should be concerned.
When I was in high school, the only local shows I attended were the ones my sister would drag me to. I preferred to sit at home on the computer rather than socialize and enjoy local bands. When she would take me out to these shows, we would always end up at a different spot. Once it was the Braddock Heights Community Center, another time it was the Mt. Airy Fire Hall, sometimes they hosted Fredrock at the Moose Lodge. Maybe at one point it was the basement of the All Saints Episcopal Church. I played my first real show there. It was great.
Ask most of the musicians in Frederick, and they will have memories of random places in town that became brief shelters for all-ages shows. Abandoned warehouses, storage units, the houses of college students, you name it, all used as a refuge for original music. Did you know that — in the mid 80s — all-ages shows were held at the Frederick Community Action Agency? They would bring upwards of 50-80 people, and a portion of the proceeds would go toward the nonprofit to benefit the homeless.
As Frederick has grown into what people are billing as “Little D.C.,” it has taken on an incredible amount of new development in the form of downtown housing, bigger events, and greater attempts to get notable people to stop through. It’s incredible to see what we are able to accomplish when we set ourselves to the task.
So why not set ourselves to the task of promoting all-ages venues and shows?
Many of the people who make the decisions regarding music in Frederick (especially in association with its relationship to alcohol), believe that these shows would be unsafe. They believe that these shows promote violence and drug use, and would ultimately be a stain on Frederick’s otherwise prim and proper appearance if they were to be widely promoted and given a permanent location.
I would venture to guess that none of these people have ever been to one of these shows.
When I finally got involved in the Frederick music scene, I attended shows voraciously. On top of that, I’ve personally booked well over 50 shows involving all kinds of different music from Frederick artists as well as touring musicians coming from as far as Oregon and California. This experience has equipped me with a keen awareness of what all-ages shows in Frederick are like, and they are a stark contrast from the “violence and drug use” purported by those who seemingly never attend these shows.
Instead, these shows foster inclusivity and promote an incredible sense of creativity and community. At these shows, you see people of all ages who can express themselves in a way they may not be able to in daily life. There is an accountability at these shows in which everyone in attendance holds each other to a high-standard (i.e. if someone gets drunk and starts acting out, many people will work to de-escalate the situation). All-ages shows breed a very specific kind of generosity, inclusivity and community that I struggle to find anywhere else in town.
Here’s what I imagine to be true: I imagine that those in charge opt for safer alternatives like cover bands when booking their sanctioned events like Alive @ Five. I understand that because I understand that Alive @ Five is a place where people are looking to relax and drink and listen to music that they already know. Despite what a recently published op-ed piece seems to think, the overwhelming majority of musicians in Frederick harbor no ill-will against cover bands. We understand their place, and often enjoy them ourselves.
But I also imagine that these same people in charge often don’t care to support the vast majority of original art in Frederick because they frankly don’t care for it on a personal level. I get it – my band is loud. However, I am here to tell you that support for your local art scene does not come in the form of what you personally enjoy and want to promote. If you want to promote your local art scene, support the fact that you are in a town of people creating things, and give those people the opportunity to create and show off those creations. Trust that they will not betray the opportunity you have given them. If things get out of hand, fine, but do we not deserve the chance?
I implore you, the people in charge of these decisions, the various boards of directors, the Frederick County Liquor Board, etc., to attend an all-ages event like the two upcoming Frederick Jams shows (the next one is Thursday, June 27 — you can come if you want to heckle my band after you read this). If you don’t care for the music, wear earplugs — actually, wear them anyway, it’s a good habit — but pay attention to the crowd. Pay attention to the various age groups and the sense of community you’re fostering. Become involved in the things you are passing judgment on through something more than just a fiscal bottom line.
We cannot allow Frederick to be a town that tells itself it values artistic expression while simultaneously putting down original music and ostracizing those who are too young to attend bar shows. They deserve the opportunity to attend shows in their town that don’t involve some sort of risk.
Zack Willis is a Frederick resident and member of the band Middle Kid.