Almost two months to the day Guido’s Speakeasy abruptly announced it was shutting its doors, Frederick woke up Monday and realized that The Blue Side Tavern had followed suit. Speculation as to the reasons began almost immediately in various circles around town, but much like Guido’s, the who, what, when, where and why nearly became moot.

Because to so many people, for the second time in two months, a prominent music venue in the city is gone. And when you throw in Area 31, which recently announced its intention to close by February, that means Frederick’s music scene is actually experiencing the one thing about which so many hyperbolic statements have been issued for the last decade or so.

“Frederick needs a music venue.”

“It’s the one thing missing.”

“Why can’t we just have a space dedicated solely for concerts?”

Those are things I’ve been hearing for the nine years I’ve been working at The Frederick News-Post. What so many people never realized when they said those things, however, was that ... well ... it wasn’t all that bad. Guido’s had the punk. The Blue Side had the Americana. Area 31 had the weird. Cafe Nola had the indie. Cafe 611 had the metal (and the hip-hop, depending on the night). Shoot, you could even throw in Vini Culture, which hosted jazz music now and then.

These days? Four of those six businesses are gone. Outside of the Weinberg Center, which rarely provides a stage for the Local Artist, there are really only two spots that remain. So, yeah. You thought you had it bad six months ago? Look at it now.

“There are places,” Marly Hardin, who booked the music for The Blue Side, told me Monday. “Cafe Nola is good. There’s the Eagles Club. [Cafe] 611 — I’ve always wanted to see something done there because they have one of the best physical stages in town. I’m bummed about Area 31 shutting down.

“The thing is, there are a lot of good stages, but we never seem to be able to lock down a solid venue for roots music and do it consistently.”

She’s right. And that doesn’t have to be specific to roots music, either. Perhaps the bigger hit the music scene takes with the closing of The Blue Side Tavern is that it became a tenured place among those who perform. You knew that shows were going on there most every weekend and, if your goal was to see live music, you knew they had you covered.

Now, that’s gone, leaving a trail of immaculate chicken tenders and one of the city’s few true stages behind. Actually, the latter is why my own band, DoubleMotorcycle, decided we wanted to play that room for our second record’s release party back in January. It was the biggest feasible space. It had a real stage, devoid of anything that might obstruct a view. And it was largely known as an Americana club — bringing our hot mess to the equation, we thought, would be ... interesting.

What truly was interesting, however, was how much fun we had, which, from what I gathered Monday, wasn’t singular to us. Nic Cusic, the sous-chef for the place, told me Monday that what he’ll miss the most is being recognized by the restaurant’s clientele.

“I loved that customers actually knew I was back there making their food,” Cusic said.

You might also be amazed to learn that Frederick is in a serious transition period for its music scene. One Social Media Warrior who wondered Monday if we can now proclaim the scene dead with the loss of The Blue Side. In a text exchange with a friend Monday afternoon, he suggested to me that seeing all these music places go under is “starting to feel less and less like a coincidence.”

Maybe. But as I’ve always argued, a scene is what you make it. A lack of places to publicly perform won’t stop a group of people who want to create music from creating music — it’s either in you or it’s not. Still, it sure is curious that after hearing for years about how problematic this city’s lack of places to play is, we now find ourselves wondering what’s next to close, rather than wondering what’s next to open.

Does that mean a scene is dead? No. But does it mean that it’s in serious danger of unceremoniously stunting — or worse, concluding — its evolution? It’s hard to know for sure. But something tells me that after Monday’s announcement, a quick walk down Bentz Street might yield some answers.

Follow Colin McGuire on Twitter: @colinpadraic.

(5) comments


What makes a good music venue is a place that respects the performers by featuring them through smart scheduling, adequate promotion, thoughtful staging, and an atmosphere that encourages people to pay attention to the performance. It's helpful if the entertainment is offered on a consistent basis where people know that on certain nights of the week they know they can go and be entertained. Blueside wasn't great at any of this. There was very little promotion of acts that were playing, TV's were left on all around the room distracting people from the live entertainment.

Despite this, I saw some great entertainment there! We have some exceptional musicians in our area that deserve way more attention and recognition than they receive. I was blown away the first time I heard performers like Mindy Miller, Patrick Gulley, Shannon Bielsky and Moonlight Drive, JB Dunn and Plaid the Buffalo, and Scribe (to name a few). Michelle and Jason Hannon with their band One Blue Night have original songs that are on the national Amercana charts but seldom draw a crowd her in Frederick. Why any of these acts don't draw a steady following of supporters in this area is a mystery to me.

Frederick likes to think of itself as a community that appreciates the arts, but for singer/songwriters the area seems a little brain dead. A good music scene requires requires patrons that come out, listen, dance, applaud, and appreciate the artists that perform. It seems like people just come out to socialize and generally treat musical entertainment as background noise. I would cringe in Blueside when a football game was on tv at the same time a musician was performing. People would cheer at the tv set louder than they would for the live person performing on stage. That's just thoughtless.

I've lived near Austin Texas which is a city with a great music scene. I was there in the 1980's when Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats were coming up through the club scene in Austin. People would come out to clubs on 6th Street because they knew there would be good entertainment. The tv's would be turned off, the artist would be introduced and were made the center of attention. People of all ages would dance, clap, and sing along. When this happens, the musicians get inspired and perform even better. Everyone has a great time, and word gets out that the venue is a musician friendly place to play and more and more musicians and people want to come. That's the way it works. It doesn't happen when a musician comes to perform and everybody acts like they're in a sports bar and treats the musician like background noise.

Blueside had its flaws, but it was the best venue for live entertainment in the area. As I write this, I've got JB Dunn's "Goodnight Church Street" running through my head, only in this case it's Goodnight Bentz Street. RIP Blueside. I'm going to miss you, but I hope to see you again one day. And I hope the next time, the community will come out and support the artists for whom you provide the stage.


How about creating a music venue at the mall on route 40? Different local and national music all the time. One of the larger former department stores could make a great place for music, with the proper leadership.


“ a quick walk down Bentz Street might yield some answers.” Very ominous. What does that mean????

The tea shop closed doors too. I live on Bentz street so I’m panicking to know!


Fact is Frederick is not band friendly. I have done sound for numerous bands around Frederick and only recently was the law changed where anyone in the band was not allowed to drink a beer while playing. After Exhale closed many years ago, there's a regulation that prevented a music-only venue from operating unless it also sold meals. Next, a restauranteur I downtown I had a conversation with quit having bands at his restaurant because the police were not equipped to handle any scuffles that broke out and could only keep his venue safe by hiring his own security staff. That became cost prohibitive because, like most restaurants downtown, his venue was small, limiting the number of patrons. The only real music venue we have is Champions, and it is not even downtown and the acoustics are so bad, it takes a real effort to go there. Then there's the issue with driving, whereas downtowners can at least walk home if they've had one too many. The only workaround (until it closed) was bands at the Faux School on Carroll Street, by getting a non-profit to participate in an event and get a temporary liquor license for beer and wine, and smuggle in your bourbon if you risked it. The same little game can be played now at New Spire Stages, but I'm not sure if the bands have discoved it yet, and its still a workaround. Now just down the road in little ole Leesburg, they have a nice music venue called Tally Ho, and they have great bands of all kinds there. Why can't we have something like that? A really great place to put a music venue would be the Antique place on East Street that just closed but are the lawmakers willing to change the laws? Until they do, the economics will dictate and that makes it unfeasible.


Some of these regulations are at the state level and will require some lobbying (on both sides of the aisle, as if Hough and the folks in District 4 decide they don't like something, the county delegation will be deadlocked, providing the General Assembly with enough justification to do nothing.)

Tally Ho was a former first run movie theater up until like 2012. It is also smaller than the Weinberg. They have a mix of cover bands, bands that were big in the 90s and are still around, and a few local artists, although from what I can gather they're kind of heavy on the first two. (And if you think MD alcohol laws are Byzantine, I'm sure the Virginia ABC would enjoy talking with you.)

New Spire Arts/Stages seems to be more noise than signal at this point, what with the sudden firing of over half its staff a few months ago and the absence of any mention of anything they're doing (at least in the FNP).

You'll need a site with maybe 100-200 seats, decent acoustics, an on-site beer/wine license (and ideally liquor) either associated with the venue or on which bands can buy a temporary venue, and security in case fans start getting out of hand (and to prevent neighbors from complaining - it's one thing to have a general dull roar but another to have fights, urination, etc., near your house.)

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