Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Ever since the announcement of the IndianapolisMusic.Net 10-year “anniversary/reunion” show, I’ve been on a trip down memory lane.  Of course, the local music scene in Indianapolis had a wealth of bands and shows long before, but there was something special about the years 2001-2004 in this city for bands and followers.   There was a sense of unity, a sense that folks here in Indy could be as proud of their scene as people had been in Seattle in the late ‘80’s (just one example that people would occasionally vocalize)… things like IMN showcases, the Midwest Music Summit, or the original Battle of the Bands at The Patio (RIP) actually added fuel to the talk fire that we could have some break-out acts and major-label signings.  IMN was the sounding board, and a gathering place for musicians and fans to not just support each other, but explore their own creativity, as well.  There were many times when people not associated with bands or music would collect and share poetry, photos, or random thoughts, things that tied them into the overall movement.  The message board of IMN was the local internet watering hole, so to speak, and every day you were presented with various show postings, reviews, rants and arguments.  The scene was flourishing; not just at local clubs, but on our home computers, as well. 
I came to Indy back in 2001, after trying out for a lead singer/guitarist position for a band called Chuck Marten.  I was soon introduced not only to, but Matt Fetcher.  He was a magnet for show promotion, and I will never forget when I walked up to him at Birdy’s one night, looking to promote.   One of the “rules”, if you’d call it that, was that he would put your band on the next IMN showcase if you came out and supported.  I walked up to him, told him my name and band, and slyly asked if we could be in the next showcase… he said “of course”, but I went a step further, and told him that we wanted a prime slot.  Not opening, not mop-up, but a sweet set around 11:30ish… and he gave me his word.  Matt worked hard in making sure that everyone got their chance in the local spotlight, and, from that very moment, I knew that there was a community brewing.  That showcase is the highlight for me, above almost all other shows.  He understood that if you give bands and fans a chance, they’ll take to the message, and reciprocate.  We would buy into his formula without a second thought.
At one point, our band was set to play at The Melody Inn.  Being new to the area, I had heard of the venue from when I lived previously in Muncie, but had never heard of Punk Rock Night.  A man with long hair walked into the bar, before we took the stage, and set up recording equipment.  I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Greg.  We talked for a bit about local punk rock acts, and I briefly mentioned my only tie to a “certified” local punk rock band that I knew about (The Retreads, guys I had gone to school with up in Muncie, and a kick-ass band BTW).  That conversation was the only thing we had in common… until I joined up with three very cool musicians and came into my first punk rock outfit, NowhereGoodFast.  Greg Brenner was very supportive of us, and I look back fondly on those early shows- the ties between PRN’s early days and IMN are absolute, in my book.  Brenner became a rock star without even being in a band- all of us on the IMN message boards knew it. 
There are so many stories I could share, I don’t even know where to start.  I can remember vividly (was it 2002?) “kidnapping” Steve Hammer, who was the local music writer at the time for Nuvo.  We had decided to put together something with members of NowhereGoodFast, Man-E-Taboada, and the Punk Rock Prof (Jill) for a set at The Patio Battle of the Bands, called The Danny Rollings Band.   It was a one-off, horror-flick scene based on the true story of a murderer in Florida, and Hammer had agreed to do a write-up for the show.  But, in order for him to do the story, we would pick him up at the McDonalds in Broad Ripple, blind-folded, and transport him to Scott H8’s basement (lovingly named Super Trashed Headquarters, or STHQ to local music historians).  This is where the tables were turned, and we interrogated him.   We finished 3rd that night, not advancing in The Battle, but we enjoyed our own theater by  throwing fake blood and  body parts into the crowd (hitting Indy Star music writer Dave Linquist), and destroying equipment (ok, so that was me that smashed my Dean guitar into The Patio floor, much to the horror of the crowd).
So many things changed in a heartbeat- an almost run-down old school Butler hang out at 38th and Illinois became one of the best dive bars in the nation overnight.  Greg Brenner and his Punk Rock Night following started the annual PRN music awards, and even had their own limo to escort the faithful to shows.   During the days of the Midwest Music Summit, Broad Ripple was hotter than hot, and bar-hopping to see the best local and regional acts became mandatory.  So many playing at one time, you couldn’t see them all at once, and you’d have to map out your schedule just so you could fit all of the set times in.  The Patio always reigned supreme, but another outfit on the north side of town, Birdy’s, became the hot spot for touring bands.  There were also amazing shows at all-ages clubs… I’ll never forget Smedley, and The Festivilla.  Even after all of his past venues, he was resolute that bands and the under-21 scene would always have a gathering place, no matter where or when.  Smedley probably encapsulates the vision of “the scene” at the time better than most… the “underground” would always be important to him, and eventually graduate into something larger.  Maybe he understood something in encouraging young bands that the rest of us would take for granted.       
Something else happened around that time… someone had declared that the local music scene was dead… when, in fact, it was far from it.  I had railed against the accusation on the IMN message boards, and declared that an upcoming show at The Mel would prove otherwise.  During our show, someone had set a copy of that week’s Nuvo on fire, and handed it to me while I was on the mic.  What else could I do except stand on stage and hold the flaming paper… denounce it?  No.  The scene was far from dead back then, and it has continued to prosper ten years on.  It might not be as fashionable or glittery like it was a decade ago, but it has held its own.  Things on the IMN message board have slowed to a crawl, and Facebook has taken over in the promotion department.  But kudos to Steve Hayes and Ryan Williams, who have kept IMN up in a different manner: offering the top ten shows of the week, an awesome podcast, and weekly spotlights on local up-and-coming acts. 
I am so proud to not only have been involved with IMN’s glory days, but to see other musicians that were involved at the time go on to keep making music and tour… folks like Otis Gibbs and the Reverend Peytons Big Damn Band make their living entirely on the road; Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s and We Are Hex have created their own national buzz, and there are countless other musicians from here in Indy who have done very well outside our comfortable confines.   The local music scene shifts and changes… I will admit to being an outsider now, barely playing and going to local shows less than I should.  But I will always (and have been) keep my eye on what’s happening, simply because of IndianapolisMusic.Net, and the experiences I’ve had with some amazing people.  People that continue to invest in this “scene”, enriching it with fuel for the future.  The scene is not dead, long live the scene! 
Happy 10th anniversary, IMN!  And thank you, because it was an incredible ride I’ll never forget.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Straight from The Huffington Post:

Of course, it’s pretty much news all over the world about how the Indiana General Assembly is pushing an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriages and same-sex unions.  In light of this being one of the most important pieces of legislation being worked on right now (well, maybe 2nd to appropriating funds making Indy “Super Bowl Ready” by 2012), I have to ask two little questions:  1, is this reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally that important?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on getting decent-paying jobs for Hoosiers?  Maybe working to get the unemployed off of the dole que and transitioning to being self-supporting?  Reforming the education system?   I could go on all day about the things the State of Indiana really needs, and though some of you might disagree, I thoroughly believe this isn’t one of them. 
Second question… how backwards do we really want our state to appear?  The jokes are obvious, and have been for a while.  And, things like this continue to make us the laughing stock, especially on message boards everywhere.  Here’s just one reaction to the gay marriage ban attempt:

rextrek   2 hours ago (2:06 PM)  well thank you Indiana for making sure I'LL NEVER Spend a Penny of tourism Money in your state - EVER! Another Hate State in America to avoid!
Coloradem   24 minutes ago (3:53 PM)  You won't be missing anything anyway.... This would likely be one of the easiest boycotts to launch....­ever!
mammon55   2 minutes ago (4:16 PM)  dont hate all of us. we are held by a politiacal majority. if you visit the major metropolit­ian areas its liberal, so are the universiti­es. but every where else is farm land ( one man one sheep)

See?  Even when someone is trying to DEFEND our state, they come off sounding stupid (one man one sheep?  Seriously?).  At least this episode gives us a slight break from trying to analyze the infamous Indiana “blue laws” that our neighbors find laughable, at best (for those of you who have missed out on the joke machine, you cannot purchase a car or carryout alcohol on Sundays, because… well, just because- ask the one man with one sheep why). 
Just a week ago, Adam Rank wrote the blog for entitled “Is Indy Super Bowl a good idea?” where he questions whether or not Indianapolis has modern conveniences such as traffic lights, and what restaurants have cropped up aside from St. Elmo.  I called him out, and made the point that, every year, we host a sporting event that includes a quarter million racing fans, and none of them seem to have a problem finding something good to eat.  But, again, it’s about perception.  Although we know Rank was half-way kidding, we’re still trapped with the image that we have nothing but farm fields, buggies, and stop signs.  Oh, and St. Elmo Steakhouse.  Apparently, we have one thing that leaves a lasting image for our visitors.  (His blog is here:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The death of the Washington Square Mall...

The death of the Washington Square Mall has not been exaggerated.  Seriously.  And I have recently witnessed this particular death while Christmas shopping. 
For those of you unfamiliar with Ghetto Square (as a few east-siders call it), it has Target, Dicks, Burlington Coat Factory, and that’s about it.  Macy’s pulled up stakes a while back; there used to be a Gap, but they bailed years ago.  Upon entering the mall, the first thing you notice is that every other store is gated and locked.  The mall is literally half-empty, with signs promising us new shops coming in the near future, one-offs like “Ken’s Trinket Hut” or “Gold Diggers- We’ll Pay Top Dollar For Whatever You Steal From Your Grandmothers Jewelry Box.”  A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of walking past the new Hymnal and Prayer Book Shoppe, offering the best in Christian reading and Sandi Patty CD’s.  A few days later, it was closed.  However, the church that has opened in one abandoned store is thriving, giving multiple services through the week.  The lone holdout sprucing the place up a bit is a Victoria’s Secret, and God only knows how long they’ll stay. 
The food court always used to be my favorite part of going to the mall.  When I was a kid, I loved an Orange Julius or hot salted Sam’s pretzel.  Most malls today have anything from a Cinnabon to a Sbarro, some national chain offering halfway-decent food at your normal inflated mall price.   Those do not exist at Ghetto Square.  Instead, you get false and untrue “Asian” cuisine, mom-and-pop grease fryers suffering from an identity crisis because they really don’t know what the special of the day should be, their egg rolls or corn dogs.  And, due to the lack of a hungry throng of shoppers roaming the aisle, the guys behind the counter sulk at the register, staring off into space while their uneaten food broils for hours under the heat lamps.  Of course, you have your mandatory MCL Cafeteria at one end, and a BW3’s on the other.  Add in the Mexican restaurant with the guy playing Beatles covers on his nylon string guitar, and your east-side fine dining choices are complete. 
The kiosks in the middle of the mall aisles are always the most baffling.  One sells nothing but cell phone accessories, which is fine, except they’re hideous.  One will buy your gold at absurdly low-ball prices (man, when they open the Gold Diggers outlet, that kiosk is toast!).  Another does nothing except print dead relatives’ names and photos onto cheap hats and t-shirts.  And almost all of them have a sign on the counter:  “Wanted- full time experienced sales associates to work for a growing company!”  Which really means “We need someone to stand here and pretend like they enjoy selling crap.  By the way, no benefits.”
What makes it worse is the fact that the east side of Indianapolis already has an empty, decaying hulk of concrete and steel that used to be the pride of the shopping community- the former Eastgate Consumer Mall on Shadeland Avenue.  I did some research on the place, and discovered through that (ironic twist alert) one of the reasons Eastgate did not survive is because a lot of their stores left for Washington Square.  The building now sits silently idling- waiting for the big “makeover” while, in the meantime, the United States Marines and Indianapolis Fire Department use the structure for practice drills. 

So, while we understand why Eastgate didn’t make it, what’s the excuse for Washington Square?  Why is it that this side of the city has not one, but two failed shopping centers, and every other area has the gleam of a successful Simon Property investment?  I’m drafting my letter to the Simon Group, and though it might not end up this way, here’s what I have so far:
Dear Simon people,
In case you did not realize it at your headquarters, I thought I’d relay this message to you: the Washington Square Mall is dying.  As a consumer living in the Irvington area of Indianapolis, I enjoy shopping on my side of town without having to deal with the hassle and traffic in Castleton (worst traffic in the state on a Saturday) or Greenwood (the new Castleton, second worst traffic in the state).  However, you leave me with no choice, since you’ve created a watered-down, half-empty insult to the shopping community. 
Instead of quality, nationally-known name brand stores, we’re left with a plethora of knick-knack outfits, offering us items we’d only buy if we needed a $10 or less white elephant gift for the office Christmas party.  Indeed, you have no control when a store bails out due to bad sales, but it seems to me that you could have more influence in changing the image of the mall as a whole.  As much as I appreciate the fact that someone has turned an abandoned store into a miniature Apollo theater, I still have to drive 30 minutes or more to find what I’m looking for… yada yada yada. 
I guess I could say that it’s our fault, as consumers- we decided a few years ago that online shopping was the way of the future, and that places like Circle Center were the best thing since sliced bread.  But I still feel the sting, the slap on the face that only comes when you realize your side of town is considered second-rate, and businesses completely agree with the assessment.