Use It Or Lose It: On the importance of local venues and supporting the scene

Mushroomhead performing at Basement Transmissions

If you’ve ever been to a hometown show for a band and hear one of the musicians onstage talk about how they used to play to 20 people, that musician was probably playing a local venue. Every musician comes from a local music scene. Whether or not this scene is strong, though, is a different story.

“Everyone starts somewhere, and that somewhere at times for a lot of artists is playing in a small venue in front of 10 to 20 people,” says Geo Martinez, guitarist for Revival Recordings band Cabaret Runaway.

The music scene in Erie, Pennsylvania—my hometown—took a hard hit a few years ago. Within a year, we lost two of our most popular venues, Forward Hall and the Hangout. These venues brought in bands like Four Year Strong, the Wonder Years, Every Time I Die, A Day To Remember and many more.

“One of my favorite former venues Erie lost was Forward Hall,” says Zach Kubiak, lead guitarist of Erie metal band Saevitia. “That place was killer. We’ve seen Whitechapel, A Day To Remember and so on come through that place.”

These venues also showcased local acts. Christian metalcore band War Of Ages formed in Erie in 2002 and has been able to tour across the country and around the world. (The band even toured China recently.) I remember seeing them at the Hangout. The whole venue was packed and the crowd was split into two, one moshing and the rest trying not to get hit. Every time they would play a hometown show, it would be insane. The music video for their recent single, “Chaos Theory,” was shot last year at a hometown show:

“Coming out to the local shows is still just as important because hey, you never know, the local bands you support just one day might make it big,” says Barry Eakin, vocalist for Erie metal band Amavasya. “Just look at War Of Ages! But the support all starts right here in each band’s hometown for the most part.”

The only way a local band can reach that success is from playing at local venues and getting support. “Local venues give never-ending opportunities to both bands just starting out and bands that have been around a while,” says Ken Vogler, bassist for Erie metal band Bail Easy.

Since the end of Forward Hall and the Hangout, another venue has surfaced and become the home for local musicians and touring acts in Northwestern Pennsylvania: Basement Transmissions. “Basement Transmissions started off as a record label/promotional company,” says founder Robert Jensen (also known as Bobby J). “I would make handmade packaging for my friends’ bands and set up shows in my dad’s basement. I had a small high school but we had, like, six punk and hardcore bands collectively. We worked together to create our own small scene.”

Basement Transmissions has grown to become a part of Erie’s music scene since the loss of Forward Hall and the Hangout. “Basement Transmissions is open to every single genre and is continually growing,” Vogler says. “From a show-promoting perspective, working with Bob is a great experience. He wants each person who walks through the door to have a great time.”

Jensen says what sets his venue apart from others is never giving up. “It’s not about money for me, and I am willing to stick it out during the hard times. I run this space with my fiancée, Jordan [Walker], and she also is not to attached to worldly possessions or money. We love music, art and neither of us drink, so we need a spot here even if it were just so we had a place to see cool stuff.”

The venue has since moved to a larger location, one more fitting in Jensen’s eyes. “I always loved the Roadhouse Theatre that occupied our new location as a youth and I worked extremely hard to get it. It is a magical location and it is great for both big and small shows. We have nine practice spaces which is an added bonus to the community.”

“Basement Transmissions has survived by the strength of the community it caters to,” says Andrew DeSanctis, guitarist for Erie death metal band Perdition. “Whether it’s by encouraging teens to volunteer and perform day-to-day roles like running the snack bar at shows, or asking friends to help with upkeep of the building, BT survives by the network of artists and art-inclined individuals in the scene.”

Basement Transmissions is an all-ages venue, so there’s no alcohol. Another type of venue that is important to have in a local music scene is a 21-plus venue. Erie lost their primary 21-plus venue, the Crooked I, just last year and the locals are feeling it.

Heresy, a hip-hop artist from Erie, feels that the area lost a venue it needed. “It was the first place, since I had been active, to give a welcoming environment to hip-hop. It was the first place that I had seen in a while that allowed hip-hop to move with any kind of freedom. This is in regards to the variety of artists that were allowed in and the consistency at which they were brought coupled with the many different bands and other acts gave it a unique atmosphere and a mixed crowd. All of this gave many of us an opportunity to gain exposure in so many circles at one time. It’s definitely something I really miss.”

the crooked i

“The Crooked I’s closing has still left a hole to many of the faithful who used to frequent the location,” says Mike Ledden, who runs Lake Erie Live!, an online portal to connect local musicians and bands. “No place in Erie has been better for the scene that I’ve seen so far. [We] still need another Crooked I-type location to open up.”

Local music scenes need venues to shape young musicians and keep the interest of adults. Having a venue for all ages and then somewhere just for adults really keeps the music scene full and compelling to everyone in the area.

“I started jamming more with friends, playing local shows, and all that stuff,” says Tyler James, guitarist for Joe Bachman And The Tailgaters. “My experiences doing that are ultimately what led me down the path that I’m on now. I’m a full-time musician and I get to do amazing things with amazing people for my job, and the first seed was planted at the Hangout.”

One thing that was evident while doing my research was that local venues bring in a sense of community. I interviewed more than two dozen people, and over half of them used the word “community” to describe what local venues provide to their area.

“They bring communities together,” says Vogler. “People of all backgrounds can come together, enjoy some music/art, hang out worry-free and appreciate the talent others in their community can bring to the table.”

There are venues all over the world that cater to the start up of bands and musicians that need support to continue to grow and serve the community in an area that people need.

“With school music programs being cut, local music venues are the only place that adolescents can develop themselves as artists outside of the ‘formal’ arts,” says Garrett Jageman, vocalist for Saevitia.

So what can you do to help? Find a local venue in your area and see what it’s all about. Unless there’s a national act playing, the cover charge should be less than $20 and you’ll probably see five or more local and regional bands. If you don’t support local music and the venues who make it possible for local music to exist, we may lose it entirely.