GoFundMe campaign seeks $11K to ‘Save Our Sidebar’

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Doom metal band Windhand performs at the Sidebar in 2013. Image via the Sidebar’s Facebook page.

A month after putting the Sidebar, a heavy music haven, up for sale, owner Travis Hunt has taken it off the market.*

This change of heart comes following an outpouring of support amid some financial setbacks for the Sidebar, including a GoFundMe campaign to get the bar and venue back on solid footing.

“About a month ago I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, but now I’m like, f—, I need to do this for myself and for a bunch of other people,” he says.

Hunt says the Sidebar’s air conditioning broke in August, and while he had some money stashed away for the business, the cost of the repairs required a loan. The terms of that loan proved to be a lot for a venue that punches above its weight in influence–it’s one of the most established clubs in town for all variations of punk, hardcore and metal–but can only accommodate small crowds.

“I’ve had my head slightly underwater the last three months,” he says.

The crowdfunding campaign–which, as of this writing, has raised more than $5,000 of its $11,000 goal after launching earlier today–was put together by supporters of the venue to help pay off a chunk of the loan and some back-rent. Hunt says he would also like to take on some improvements, such as sprucing up the awning outside the building’s entrance and buying new bar stools.

One of the organizers of the GoFundMe effort is Rachel Taft of Feed the Scene, a Highlandtown “band and breakfast” that provides food and lodging for touring bands and sometimes books shows for groups at venues like the Sidebar. In addition to working with the venue on bookings, Taft, 38, has been going there to see bands play since she was a teenager.

“Sidebar has always been a welcoming space. I never felt like I couldn’t go there,” she says, adding it’s one of the last clubs in the city that still hosts all-ages shows.

Hunt says he put the business up for sale nearly a month ago with the hope of finding either a business partner or someone to keep the space going as a venue. The listing, with an asking price of $59,900, included the six-day liquor license and says the Sidebar has a lease signed through July 2020.

But he soon learned most prospective buyers were more interested in transferring the license or turning the bar, situated cater-cornered from City Hall, into a liquor store or some other concept.

That didn’t sit well with Hunt, and the support from music fans and outreach from Feed the Scene inspired him to stick with it.

“It’s this important to these people, I can’t just give up on this,” he says.

There will be more changes to come after the Sidebar takes care of its debts. While business is usually up and down, Hunt says the last year has been especially slow.

It’s tougher to get people to care about DIY music for whatever reason.”

Taft attributes this to a transition period between generations of music fans, with the older guard no longer willing to, say, go to a show on a Tuesday night unless the band is really, really important to them.

Both she and Hunt are going to sit down and come up with programming to draw younger crowds and different audiences, and draw up a plan to reorganize the business to provide more of a financial cushion while also paying acts fairly.

Hunt points to a monthly drag show, hosted by Pariah Sinclair, as one way the Sidebar has successfully branched out in recent years, and he recognizes the importance of providing a safe place for queer people and other groups to go.

The first step is clearing these financial hurdles. All the while, Hunt is mindful of the legacy of the Sidebar, which opened in 1998.

“That’s never been lost on me,” says Hunt, who bought the club nearly eight years ago. “The place is so important to me, too. I’ve put everything I’ve had into it.”

Now that the campaign has launched, seeing the messages of support and donations roll in has been its own form of validation.

“I’ve already cried a little bit today,” says Hunt. “It’s amazing.”

*This story has been updated to reflect the building was taken off the market on Tuesday evening, shortly after this story was published.

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore Business Journal, b and others. Prior to joining Baltimore Fishbowl, he was an editor at City Paper from 2012 to 2017. He can be reached at [email protected]
Brandon Weigel


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