Sounds of the Underground: Bringing Bands Back to Erie
After the closing of venues and loss of promoters, Jamie Popeski picks up the pieces to help rebuild the scene.
I've tip-toed along the lines of this topic before, made references to it, included it in parts of my stories. Now I'm finally addressing the issue at hand: Erie's underground music scene, although it's still there, isn't quite what it used to be.
I first noticed the problem when The Hangout in Edinboro closed in early 2011 due to a broken water pipe and vandalism. The closing of this former-movie-theatre-turned-punk-venue crushed me. The Hangout is where I fell in love with In The Day, where I got involved in the scene, and where I had met most of my current friends, as well as one of the main reasons I chose to go to school in Edinboro.
But the problems with closing venues didn't start with The Hangout. Right off of 26th and Peach streets in Erie, Forward Hall was once the place the Erie scene called home. But violence and the constant changing of ownership caused it to close and reopen only periodically over the last few years, leaving it an unreliable place for booking shows before it closed for good last summer.
And even preceding that, other once prominent Erie venues like The Continental Ballroom and IQ Records closed their doors long before I entered the scene back in 2010. These venues, along with The Hangout and Forward Hall, all drew in large touring packages featuring the biggest names in underground music, and in turn, drew equally large crowds.
Eric Schauffele, better known in the scene as EMS, remembers a time when things were different.
"We've definitely become a secondary market as far as touring bands go," said Shauffele, who used to book shows at IQ Records, as well as play bass in Brother's Keeper. "We don't really get national acts at this time – at least as not as much as we used to before The Hangout and Forward Hall shut down – and I think it's hurt the scene to an extent… I know kids would travel from seven to nine hours away just to come to a big Erie show at the time."
From that point on, most shows were held at Edinboro's Off Campus Activity Center, which was an awkwardly large room with terrible acoustics. Then Midtown Oh-Five opened on Poplar Street in Erie, giving some hope towards a stable new venue. Located right next to a tattoo parlor and walls decked out in graffiti, the small venue screamed punk rock. But it only took a handful of shows before the venue was shut down. The last performance was xRepresentx's video shoot for their song "Relentless" (if you look close enough you can see me moshing).
The decline of bigger shows in Erie can't just be attributed to venues closing though. ErieShows, a local booking agency co-ran by Mike Torti and Casey Kuftic was responsible for bringing popular underground bands who would pack the venue on a regular basis, like Comeback Kid, Four Year Strong, Have Heart, As I Lay Dying, The Devil Wears Prada, Terror, and many others to Forward Hall and The Hangout. But when Torti moved to Pittsburgh in the late 2000s, his booking contacts left with him, and bands that drew large crowds stopped coming to Erie.
But there is still hope yet for bringing them back. A number of locals saw what was happening to the scene around them and cared enough to do what had to be done to fix the problem.
Shortly after The Hangout closed its doors, Bob Jensen opened Basement Transmissions, which has served as the new hot spot for all-ages shows and one of the homes for Erie's underground music scene, alongside of The Bearded Lady, which was opened earlier this year by Don Sornberger.
A local record label, Down For Anything Records, has booked hardcore bands on the rise – Code Orange Kids and GhostxShip to St. Corey's Day – which brought along with them large crowds. DFA's biggest show to date was the well-established hardcore band Bane, which brought one of the largest attendances ever to Edinboro's Off Campus Activity center in 2011.
One promoter in particular has been doing the most to try to pick up where ErieShows left off. Jamie Popeski, who runs Erie Entertainment, has been booking shows since 2005 and is working to put Erie back on the map.
"My first show ever was at The Hangout with a band from Poughkeepsie called Just Surrender," Popeski said. "There were like 400 kids there – it was super surreal."
Since that first show, Popeski has continued booking shows that attracted large audiences. He sites The Audition (who have a song dedicated to The Hangout) being one of the best drawing bands he's booked. He also booked the Punchline show that I wrote about earlier this summer. But one of his most successful shows as of recently was the Rise Records Tour, which brought Like Moths To Flames and Crown The Empire to Edinboro.
"There were almost 400 kids there, which was really reassuring with how shows have been struggling," Popeski said. "Kids are starting to realize again that they don't have to drive to Buffalo, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland anymore to see the national acts that they want to see."
Erie Entertainment's work is far from finished yet. There's still quite a way to go before Erie's scene is back to where it used to be. Popeski is working to achieve that end and has upcoming shows with Iwrestledabearonce, Ice Nine Kills, and Capture the Crown, a band from Sydney, Australia with a lot of hype behind them, which is sure to draw a significant crowd. It's also rumored that Terror, a favorite among the hardcore scene, may make their way back to Erie thanks to Popeski.
If you'd like to keep updated on what Erie Entertainment is up to, you can 'like' their facebook page, or go grab tickets which are always available on their website. With the support of new comers and loyal show goers, Erie Entertainment can help keep the local scene alive.
Tommy Shannon can be contacted at tShannon@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @txkx