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.