Local musicians in Baltimore often discuss the music scene and the falling number of venues that feature original bands in the area. Gone are the days of the Recher Theatre, Red House, Sinix, and a slew of bars and clubs where bands could play their own music to receptive crowds. But just as it seems as though the sun is setting on this once prominent original music scene, a beacon of light pierces through the thickening dusk and the light is coming from Essex, MD. The Circuit emerged from the ashes of what was previously known as The Loft, a hip hop club with a shady history. Rob Burchell, who handles the bookings and all the music related business at The Circuit speaks candidly about the club and how their grassroots approach has created a serious buzz throughout the local music scene. “Venues are dropping off left and right. There really isn’t enough support for [original music]. And that’s a shame because there’s a lot of politics involved. Being a music fan I never realized until I got on this side of it. There used to be Sinix on Eastern Avenue -predominantly a hard rock and metal venue, but to a lot of people around here that place was very special to them. We’re filling that void now, but we’re building our own identity -we’re much different. We feature [many] genres of music, not just rock and metal.” So while many dread the thought of places closing their doors, The Circuit seems to be booming in their honeymoon stage.
The Circuit has only been in existence since September (just a few months), but already bands from all over the Baltimore area have come to support them and make a statement about the strength of the Baltimore music scene. “We’re a band friendly venue,” says Burchell, “It’s about building shows with new bands coming up and playing with established bands with a similar sound to grow fan bases.” This is truly the kind of attitude local musicians have been dreaming about for so long. It’s no wonder so many original musicians flock to this new venue to not only support other musicians, but to ensure it also builds its own patron base. As Burchell explains, “We’re definitely a spot for original bands to showcase the music they’ve written. The Circuit is growing this thing organically. This used to be a hip hop venue, so we’re growing this whole base from people who want to hear something different [from] artists -being they write their own songs.”
The Lehman often just wants to have a good time. Usually, that means they like familiar songs, which is why cover bands are so popular. But without offending cover bands, they usually want to just get paid -and often a lot. They tend to play places that already have at least some established crowd and they generally don’t play original music. Burchell says, “The local, original music scene has been so supportive of this venue because this area is basically cover band land. You can’t be an original band and get gigs everywhere around here. You have to play some Bob Segar covers. But we don’t exclude cover bands either -they’re doing their thing.” Burchell also expresses concern for the idea of “pay to play” and forcing bands to sell a lot of tickets, which is often very stressful for musicians. “We try to avoid making bands sell tickets,” Bruchell explains, “That’s a big thing in the scene. We’re not as hardcore -requiring bands to sell a certain amount of tickets. What it does is make bands work harder and [get their names] out there.” And for many musicians, the notion of “pay to play” leaves a bad taste in their mouths, but it isn’t something that is going away. So, as with many venues, The Circuit makes the best of it and tries to turn everything into a positive experience for all parties involved. At the end of the night, what matters is that people come to see the shows, support the bands, and keep business growing. It’s good for the scene, good for the venue, good for the bands, and good for the community in many respects.
A number of local acts have stamped their presence at The Circuit. Most notably are Bond and Bentley, the Funk Junkies, Kill Betty, Anoxia, Malander And Family, rioLinda and many more. Burchell and many others in the scene understand the importance of name recognition, and musicians are always coming up with creative ways to get noticed. “Like Malander,” Burchell explains, “These guys are just out there playing all the open mics, they’re playing parking lots, they go to parties, and they’re doing it -working hard at it with flyers and posters. That’s what it takes to make it in the business. It’s a lot of hard work.” And in many ways, the venue is much like bands, getting respect through word of mouth and using social media to spread the word and get noticed by the people at large. It is widely believed fans of original music are everywhere. It just takes great effort to inform and entice the masses to get them to shows. So music lovers and supporters of local, original music, like their Facebook page and check out some great bands and music acts from Baltimore.
Check out some recent videos on Youtube shot at The Circuit.