Baltimore is a city I've been wanting to visit for a long time.
I can't say that I knew anything about the area until I became obsessed with Dan Deacon, Death Set, and anything connected to the Wham City collective over a decade ago. I realized that this place was fostering a scene that clicked with me for some reason.
The first time it hit me that the fascination was real was in 2009 when I flew to Chicago to see the Wham City Round Robin tour with my friend, Miranda. Split over two nights in a reclaimed church, the event consisted of 8-10 bands in a near circle, trading sets every few songs. The idea was that there was no front row and it was pure party. The two nights, Eyes night for slower and visual music and Feet for the dance and punk acts, were my first introduction to Showbeast, Future Islands, Beach House, and many others including my re-intro to Jana Hunter, the Houstonian-turned-Baltimorean that had left for greener pastures. The bands were driven from city to city in retired school busses that were fitted with engines that could run on discarded vegetable oil. There were frequent posts on multiple bands' Myspace page asking for oil donations to keep tour costs low.
Whenever this city is mentioned in the news, it carries the Rust Belt narrative of a former industrial city, ravaged by crime and unemployment. Straying more than six blocks from the harbor in Inner Harbor or Fell's Point could affirm those views. I can't speak from a deep pocket of knowledge but I can speak from what I've seen here and in other cities in the area.
I usually find a strong community of people that pulled together after the bottom fell out of the only industry in town. During boom years, poor commercial planning led cities to lean on one prosperous industry (cars, steel, etc) and once it started to wain, companies cut their losses. This left a void where well-paying jobs and futures existed and is now being filled with anti-capitalist sentiment and a lack of faith in a system that failed them by individual narrow vision.
What this does is create a community that is detached enough from current prosperous industries that there's a lack of influx from Young Urban Professionals to skew the cost of living or cultural landscape. This leaves a city that's large enough to have a scene while leaving artists to have the luxuries of low rent and strong community.
There's something about cities that lost their charm that breeds these new cultures. New York City in the 70's and 80's gave us inventive punk, Seattle gave us grunge, Omaha set the course for indie bands in the early 00's, and Baltimore produced some of the most amazing and weird content I've seen in years. The infrastructure is there, there's a surge of young spirits from colleges, and all that's missing in some cases is the right confluence of minds.
Having that isolation can be key to creating something wonderful.
Baltimore is wonderful.