MY FIRST SHOW : Bowling for Soup @ The Ottobar
It was October of 2003 and I had become infatuated with the Disney musical “Newsies”, which was originally released over a decade earlier. It was a flop at the time but somehow a new generation of teens had discovered the film and adored it. The reason this is relevant is because I had heard one of the actors from the movie was now the lead singer of a pop-punk band called Never Heard Of It (NHOI). I was able to uncover this information through a network of other strangely obsessed Newsies fans on message boards and blogs. At the time, I was listening to similar bands on the radio like Blink 182, The All American Rejects and Good Charlotte. Check out the music video below to get a taste of NHOI in all their glory.
When I found out that NHOI was on tour with none other than Bowling For Soup, I begged my mom to take me to their show at a little place in Baltimore called “The Ottobar”. I remember vividly that my mom called the venue and spoke to someone there about if it were appropriate to bring kids under 21, as I was 14 at the time. I’m not sure what the person at the venue told her, but whatever it was gave her confidence that this was a totally safe atmosphere and she agreed to take me to the show.
We drove the 45 minutes from Silver Spring to Baltimore and parked behind the venue. I got to meet and take a photo with DJ, the singer of the band and Newsies star, before the show even started. I hung out on their RV with members of the NHOI street team, and even had him sign the soundtrack of the film, which he was on the cover of.
On my way into the venue, I got branded with giant sharpie X’s for the first time. We walked in and watched the show together, the atmosphere a rush of stimulation. In 2003, you could still smoke indoors, the venue was covered with bands stickers and there was a moderate crowd ranging in age. The venue had a small stage right next to the main entrance and merch booths, bathrooms and a bar towards the back.
One of the opening bands was a Baltimore local called Karmella’s Game, they had a spunky female lead who also played synths. They also had a female bass player which I thought was really cool, and probably influenced my later stint as a bass player in a local band myself. They were full of energy and wore matching outfits, often singing in harmony. I loved their logo, which was a frightened black cat with it’s back arched.
When it was finally time for Never Heard Of It to hit the stage, I was beyond excited. The not-even-sold-out crowd all danced and sang along. There was a bit of moshing and if I remember correctly, some poorly timed stage diving by DJ himself. By the time Bowling for Soup played I had already had the most incredible day and they were just the icing on the cake. Their set was over-the-top ridiculous and I remember thinking they must be famous because they were on the radio.
After the show, Bowling for Soup had a signing in the back of the venue by the merch area. I had them sign a poster that I took off of one of the venue’s walls. I got to hang out and talk to other members of NHOI as well as the other opening bands. It was so incredible to not only see the bands but to meet them all. I didn’t fully grasp how they were so accessible to me, a High School freshman.
I left that first show with a few autographs and clothes smelling like smoke, but also with a newfound love for live music. We were so impressed with Karmella’s Game that we attended several of their shows, I even sold their merch a few times. We returned to The Ottobar countless times and saw a lot of bands there before they got popular, like All Time Low and Paramore. My younger brother and I would eventually play shows there as well. This year, Rolling Stone named The Ottobar one of the 10 best live music venues in America. Sadly, the venue is being sold to new owners next year. I haven’t been back in years but I will always remember the venue fondly as my first concert experience.
It’s hard to grasp that one event, a Bowling for Soup show nonetheless, really did change my life in such a big way. It was such a fun time to be a teenager going to shows. Pop-punk and emo were on the rise with bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance just gaining buzz. I feel lucky that I got to be a part of that era. I felt a connection to the music scene and I went on to do concert photography and start a local promotions business called Musicbox with my mom… but more on that later.