If you’ve grown up a music rat, then you know the show. The gritty, sweaty, grungy basement show run by an array of people—some sweet as pie, others tough as nails—they can be fun, or a shit show. The possibilities are endless!
I grew up with no choice but to be immersed in a music scene. My father was a punk rock drummer of a popular Pittsburgh punk rock band. Most people think Philadelphia is the only city to possibly be any sort of cool in all of Pennsylvania, but that is a wild misconception. Pittsburgh is filled to the brim with all kinds of musical history—punk rock, rap, electronica, the city’s got it all. It’s an underground scene, and we like to keep it that way.
Since my dad was chaotic on the drums, I often found myself in wild crowds jumping around at a very young age. I recall hiding under tables at art shows and venues with other musicians’ offspring giggling and idolizing the wild parents we had.
By my early adolescence I was already obsessed with going to shows. I went to art shows, legit venue shows, and, of course, the infamous basement shows. As a rebellious punk rocker and kind of an asshole teenager, I didn’t have a job and didn’t care what other people thought. My friends and I didn’t have $5 to go to these shows that were filled with people who were way older than us anyways. So we’d find ways to sneak in…
The struggle was real. For bar shows, I used to wait out front with my friends until someone said the doorman’s name, then I’d waltz on in full of confidence and say hi to the doorman like we’ve been friends for years. Too embarrassed to confess that they didn’t remember me, they’d go along with it. The technique was flawless!
We’d also do the classic just-run-in-as-fast-as-you-can-past-the-door-guy at shows as well. This sometimes caused quite a stir, but usually, the true punk rockers loved it. However, a lot of the times we’d get chased and thrown out. What can I say? You can’t win them all.
At some places I’d drop my dad’s name, since he is an idol to certain circles of punk rockers in Pittsburgh; sometimes it would work, sometimes people would just roll their eyes. Whatever guys!
Let me explain one thing about these shows I idolized and loved to attend: they were not hip. I mean that in the best way possible. You wouldn’t find the popular crowds there, and I liked it that way. The basement shows were sometimes garage shows or apartment shows, they were always sweaty, no matter how cold the weather got, and they were always gritty. Cops would often show up and my friends and I would have to bolt due to our underage-ness…
When I left Pittsburgh to go to college in Philadelphia, I kept the lifestyle going strong. I made new friends, though I wasn’t studying art, I somehow still found myself making friends within the art and music crowd.
The houses that hosted shows in this city were so infamous, they had names only known to people in the scene, places like The Rat Haus and The Maggot House. Though both had to shut down their little endeavors due to lots of things like breaking the law and house damage, they still live on in the hearts of all the rats that went to their shows.
When I started going to these shows, I think, or at least I hope, I had matured by then and they had developed a different feel to me. Sure, sometimes since I was still struggling in the money department I’d try to sneak in again, but starting a scene wasn’t in my agenda anymore. However, these shows still held the idolization I had for the ones I went to as a kid.
There’s never been a point in my life where I felt sick of going to shows. I’ve been to some bad ones, and some scary ones, and I’ve left with some bruises and a black eye, but they put me in such an inexplicable place and uplifting mood, I’d lose my mind if I stopped going.
After graduating college and moving to New York City, I found myself back in an unfamiliar city with only one contact. NYC is a huge and intimidating city, especially from an outsider’s view on the music scene. In Pittsburgh, whenever an NYC band came into town, it was a big deal, even if they weren’t actually a big deal.
So not really knowing anyone, I just did what I knew best—I went to shows. Alone, I went to see all kinds of bands, I saw Surfbort, Pizza Underground, Grim River, Las Rosas, and so many others. At these shows I’d always make friends with people in the crowd, bathroom, and bar line, but just for the night.
The funny thing is, though these NYC musicians were intimidating to a girl who used to sneak into slimy basement shows and get kicked out, those were the one’s that ended up becoming lasting friends!
I’ve lived in NYC for four years now, and everyday I think about how amazing it is that such a highbrow city has such an embracing and friendly music scene. Just show your face at a few shows and you’ve got real friends!
My first close friend I made in the scene was a manager of a musician who played around town often. She has since moved to Nashville, but she’ll always be dear to my heart. Immediately, she took me by the hand and showed me the ropes of the scene. As a blossoming music reporter, I will forever be grateful to her for that. She introduced me to tons of people and made sure I knew about every must-see underground music show happening in NYC.
After I started working as a legit music reporter, I started getting on lists. Like, not just friends I made who wanted me to come hang, but publicists and managers putting me on lists to cover the show or hear their musicians.
I know most people feel accomplished after graduating college, getting their first salary job, or meeting someone they like, something along those lines, but lordy lord, I’ll tell you what, as someone who started from crossed-fingers running into a basement show to being put on a list before I was even asked—I’ve never felt more accomplished in my life. I’m making my parents proud!
This may sound corny, but what this has taught me is that if you just keep doing what you love, then it will become your life and you can turn it into a career that you absolutely love to do.