Rock On


“Bowtie” Bob Nelson at The 8×10

Whether you’re wondering if the baby’s going to sleep through the night or crossing your fingers she’ll make it home from a fraternity party by 2 a.m., you might lie in bed at night and think about the person you used to be before you were a parent.

Remember all the concerts you went to? The bands you saw before they got big? In hindsight, you were pretty cool. And you can be pretty cool again, if you know where to start. 

Despite what you may think, Charm City’s music scene doesn’t care how old you are. Just ask “Bowtie” Bob Nelson, a 69-year-old who lives in Mount Vernon and sees more shows than the average MICA student.

“I would go nuts sitting at home, watching TV every night of the week,” Nelson says. “I want to go out; I want to be where there’s music.”

After living in Parkville for more than 30 years, Nelson—who is “more or less retired”—moved to Mount Vernon to be closer to the action. He lives across the street from a senior center, but doesn’t see himself moving in anytime soon. He’s too busy finding new haunts. “I love walking into a place where I’ve never been before and I don’t know everybody,” he said.

Shirlé Hale and her husband, David Koslowski—both in their 40s—moved back to Baltimore two years ago after several years in North Carolina. Here they formed the post-punk trio Small Apartments with drummer Greg Dohler and have been welcomed back with open arms.

“There’s no reason to label yourself as an older person,” Hale says. “How old do you feel?”

Timing couldn’t be better to renew your interest. In the past few years, the Baltimore music scene has exploded. Bands are moving here from around the country to be a part of it. Most of the experimental music happens at DIY venues and also clubs in the emerging Station North Arts and Entertainment District (by the Charles Theater).

Here’s a crib sheet to get you started.

The 8×10

8-10 E. Cross St., 410-625-2000

Wedged into the bustling Federal Hill nightlife scene, The 8×10 has been home to live music for decades. You can drop by on a weeknight to sample some of the city’s best funk, roots rock and jam bands, or buy a ticket for shows by national touring groups like the Honey Island Swamp Band.

Run by the husband-and-wife team of Abigail Janssens and Bryan Shupe, it’s been something of an underdog for years—the little club that could. Janssens and Shupe care deeply about local music and routinely go out on a limb to book bands they believe in.

where to watch: There aren’t many bad places to stand inside The 8×10, but it’s fun to be on the upper balcony if you can get a spot by the railing.

What to wear: The 8×10 can get elbow-to-elbow for some shows, so go with something comfy and durable, especially in the shoe department.

where to Park: Try your luck on the street. (Beware the residential permit section.) Or, for a sure bet, head for the West Street Garage.

Baltimore Arena

201 W. Baltimore St., 410-347-2020

The grand old dame of Baltimore concert spaces. Well, maybe more old than grand. But as much as people love to hate on it, the Baltimore Arena still books great bands. Justin Timberlake and the Black Keys are set to perform in coming months, and Kanye West played there this past Valentine’s Day. We just wish their concession stands weren’t stuck in the 1980s.

where to watch: Try for a seat in sections 103 to 108.

What to wear: Layers to accommodate the AC/body-heat ratio.

where to Park: You can reserve parking in advance at the Arena Garage on Howard Street.

Cat’s Eye Pub

Cat’s Eye Pub

1730 Thames St., 410-276-9866

Walking into this Fells Point bar is like stepping back in time. It’s one of the last bastions of old school Baltimore, with reasonably priced drinks, regular live music and a cast of colorful regulars. Young Tony Cushing took over when his father, Tony, passed away in 2008 and believes in the “wipe but don’t scrub” aesthetic. Area blues, jazz and roots-rock musicians frequent the Cat’s Eye. Go on a night when Ursula Ricks or Carl Filipiak is playing and you’ll walk away smiling.

where to watch: From the bar. And keep an eye out for Bowtie Bob—this is one of his favorite hangouts.

What to wear: Who cares? Just be you.

where to Park: In the ’hood. You might have to circle for a while, but you’ll find a spot.

Creative Alliance

3134 Eastern Ave., 410-276-1651

The Creative Alliance breathed new life into the ailing Patterson Theater, staging concerts and burlesque shows alongside cutting-edge art exhibits. It’s even residence for a handful of Baltimore artists—beatboxer Shodekeh and “Love” muralist Michael Owen have both lived there.

From 2012 to 2013, Creative Alliance was also home to a sister location of the standout restaurant Clementine, but the CA took back over the café last February. You can still grab a stiff drink before shows at the Marquee Lounge bar, which has a jaw-dropping orange and red mural.

where to watch: Try to get as close to the middle center rows as you can.

What to wear: Get funky; get crafty.

where to Park: Search for a spot along Eastern Avenue or by Patterson Park. Allow a little extra time to locate.

The Crown

1910 N. Charles St., 410-625-4848

Brendan Sullivan, who plays in the experimental Baltimore band Weekends, opened this Station North lounge in June 2013. It quickly became a go-to for established and emerging Baltimore bands. Dan Deacon tested an intimate set of new material there, and Baltimore Club whiz Blaqstarr recently manned the turntables for a DJ set. It’s a cozy second-floor space, with two small bars and an elevated stage.

where to watch: A barstool or one of the plush chairs.

What to wear: Please don’t go to American Apparel to stock up on the latest hipster garb. Find a way to flash your inner cool.

where to Park: Easy! Outside on Charles Street or nearby on North Avenue.

Joe Squared

133 W. North Ave., 410-545-0444

If there were a Station North 101, it would start at the original Joe Squared. One of the first good restaurants to open on North Avenue in years (there’s also a location in Power Plant Live), Joe Squared has excellent pizza and a surprisingly good rum and beer list. Better still, there’s live music nearly every night, usually for free. The lineup is mostly acoustic—bands start during dinner and are often good enough to hold your attention for a couple hours. Dixieland swing group Sac Au Lait is a perennial favorite, and things get super funky at DIG!, when Landis Expandis of the All Mighty Senators mans the turntables.

where to watch: Sit at a table about halfway back, order some pizza and stay for the music.

What to wear: Keep it casual. You may get tomato sauce on your shirt.

where to Park: There’s plenty of metered neighborhood parking (mostly free after 6 p.m.) and also a parking lot behind Load of Fun, accessible via Maryland Avenue.

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion

10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia 410-715-5550,

Ten years ago, Merriweather was almost left for dead—until the unlikely team of Howard County executive Ken Ulman and concert promoter Seth Hurwitz (who also co-owns the 9:30 Club) brought it back from the brink. These days, the woodsy amphitheater hosts large festivals like Virgin Mobile FreeFest, Sweetlife and Vans Warped Tour, as well as shows from A-listers like Phish, Willie Nelson and Queens of the Stone Age. And you don’t have to stay out late: Since it’s in Columbia, all shows end by 11 p.m.

where to watch: Let the kids stand on the lawn. You deserve a seat in the pavilion. The center section, about halfway back has the best sound, and the roof gives you shelter from the evening sun or any summer storms that may blow through.

What to wear: Linen and other breathable fabrics. Bring a light coat for the walk back to the car, which can be chilly, depending on the month.

where to Park: There is plenty of official Merriweather parking, but if you’re there after business hours, head for one of the free garages just across S. Entrance Road. It’s a longer walk, but you won’t have to wait in an endless line of cars to leave.

Sarah Werner, Metro Gallery

Metro Gallery

1700 N. Charles St., 410-244-0899

When it opened in 2007, the Metro Gallery was a turning point for the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Owner Sarah Werner turned an old dry cleaners into one of Baltimore’s coolest spots for art and live music.

“I get asked so often, ‘Is it a gallery, a bar or a club?’” Werner says. “That question used to annoy me. Now I kind of like the confusion. Usually by the end of the night, they get it.”

Our perfect night: see a movie at the Charles; grab a bite at Tapas Teatro; stroll across the street for music.

where to watch: Try for the corner of the bar, which is shaped like half of a square. From there, you can see the bands without standing, and be an arm’s length away from your next beverage.

What to wear: Anything goes. You’ll see hipsters standing next to 40-somethings in button-down shirts.

where to Park: The infamous $2 lot next door (where the attendants are known for playing everything from reggae to opera).

The Ottobar

The Ottobar

2549 N. Howard St., 410-662-0069

You may have been to The Ottobar back in the late ’90s when it was a grungy little club on Davis Street downtown. These days, it’s a grungy mid-size club on North Howard Street, where known and unknown Baltimore bands play alongside nationally touring punk and indie rock artists like King Buzzo of the Melvins and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads. The bathrooms are infamously skeezy, and have spawned their own Tumblr, Ottobar Bathroom Selfies (

where to watch: Get there early enough to snag a seat on the balcony lining one side of the club. Or if you’re really lucky, you can claim the sole table to the right of the stairs leading up to the bar. It only has two or three seats, but a killer view of the stage.

What to wear: Something you won’t mind being ruined by accidental beer spills.

where to Park: If you’re nervous about the neighborhood at night, bring some cash and park in the lot behind the club. Otherwise, you can usually find street parking nearby.

Pier Six Pavilion

Pier Six Pavilion

731 Eastern Ave., 410-783-4189

Pier Six Pavilion doesn’t get enough cred. How many cities have grassy amphitheaters right in the middle of downtown? Concerts tend to skew older (Hall & Oates, Steely Dan), but Pier Six also draws some trendier acts like Panic! At the Disco and Gavin DeGraw. It’s just a shame you face away from the water instead of toward it.

where to watch: On your friend’s yacht, anchored in the Inner Harbor next to the amphitheater. If you’re not so lucky, pavilion seats are worth the extra money.

What to wear: Unless you’re going to dinner at the Ritz-Carlton beforehand, keep it easy. Note: Even on the hottest summer nights, there’s usually a breeze.

where to Park: Plenty of lot parking next to the amphitheater, as well as several nearby garages.

Rams Head Live

Rams Head Live

20 Market Place, Power Plant Live, 410-244-1131

If you’re looking to dip your toe into the mainstream Baltimore concert scene, start here. Rams Head Live is in Power Plant Live, so it’s easy to make a night of it. Have dinner and drinks before the show—or better yet, rent a hotel room. Rams Head Live holds 1,600, making it one of the region’s biggest clubs. Jay-Z, Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys have all played intimate shows here. The usual lineup is a hodgepodge of tribute bands, vintage artists such as Devo and newer groups like Neko Case.

where to watch: Rams Head Live is an oddly shaped space with endless nooks and crannies, and the sound can vary wildly depending on where you are. One of the best spots is near the rear of the lower level, which gives you a good view, quality sound and easy access to the bar.

What to wear: Show off some bling if it’s your thing.

where to Park: Lockwood Place Garage, accessible by Market Place or Lombard Street. It’s only $10 with a voucher from the Rams Head box office.

Windup Space

12 W. North Ave., 410-244-8855

The best time to go here is just after dusk, when you can sip a drink and watch night fall on North Avenue. Take a few minutes to walk around and check out the art. Say hi to Russell de Ocampo, the owner (he’s the guy behind the bar with the black beard). Not long after, the music starts. All kinds of great Baltimore bands play the Windup. If you’re the adventurous type, try the Out of Your Head Improvised Music Collective shows at 9:30 p.m. most Tuesdays.

where to watch: Depending on the show, there are usually tables set back a bit from the stage. If they’re all taken, opt for a barstool.

What to wear: Skinny jeans; dirty hair.

where to Park: Street parking on North Avenue or Charles Street

Sam Sessa is Baltimore Music Coordinator for 89.7 WTMD, which hosts free weekly Live Lunch concerts at noon on Fridays, and also produces the free First Thursday Concerts at Canton Waterfront Park. Sam also hosts Baltimore Hit Parade, a weekly show offering the best of Baltimore’s music scene, at 9 p.m. Tuesdays and 4 p.m. Sundays.

PLAY LIST: Top 5 Baltimore Bands You Should me Listening To…Now >>

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