By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun
8:41 PM EDT, March 31, 2013
Deep in the cellar beneath the Recher Theatre, Buddy Hilsberg curates a museum of sorts.
He's got boxes filled with the silly rider demands of every band that's headlined the Towson club. He's saved pieces of wall signed by everyone from Paul Reed Smith to the English Beat to Dick Dale. He's even got the autographs of bus drivers who brought all these musicians to play.
"It's history to me," said the silver-haired manager who's been with the York Road concert hall since it opened 17 years ago.
And it's history for everyone else now, too, as the Recher, one of Maryland's smallest but best known live music venues, held its last concert Sunday.
Despite coinciding with Easter, the event called "The Last Hurrah" sold out — a ticket rush driven by nostalgia and helped along by the last-minute addition of hot Baltimore band All Time Low. The lineup also included more than a dozen other area bands, many that got their start at the Recher.
Though hundreds of people snapped up tickets, Gaye Danowitz might be the only one who traveled from Wisconsin to be there. For the 48-year-old teacher, originally from Pikesville, the Recher had been her hangout and her escape. One of the first dates with the man she's now engaged to happened there, in the dark and smokey air, to the beat of one of her favorite bands.
"It's really special to be here at the end to celebrate," she said. "So many memories here."
In 1996, the Recher brothers — Brian, Steve and Scott — re-opened what had been their family's movie theater as a pool hall called Rec-Room Billiards. They started experimenting with live music the next year and, by 1999, when music had all but taken over, they started calling it Recher Theatre, a name that soon became known as one of the Baltimore area's go-to live music venues.
Over more than a decade the spare, general admission concert hall welcomed musicians of every genre — and some of the industry's biggest names. Aimee Mann. Motorhead. Sonic Youth. Vince Gill. The White Stripes. Ziggy Marley. Patti Smith.
Of course every local band worth its salt played the Recher, too.
Steve Zapp still remembers the delicious bragging rights when he could tell folks his band's first-ever show would be not in some church basement, not at a mall food court, but the Recher. The Recher.
"When we played there we could be like, 'Yeah, we're playing the Recher, man," said Zapp, 25, a stage manager for Sunday's production. "It's never changed."
Evan Kirkendall started as a sound technician at the Recher in 2006 — weekend shows only back then, because he was still in high school. He calls the place not only the best sound room in Maryland, but his second home. As he worked the mechanics for All Time Low and other bands Sunday, he suspected things could easily get a little emotional before the night was through.
"I'm going to miss this place a lot," he said. "It's our dirty little hole in the wall club."
The club is tired, it's true. The purple wall paint has peeled away in numerous spots revealing what was once red. Ground into the carpet is what looks to be the residue of countless concerts. It's probably for the best that the shows happen in the dark.
"She's been ridden hard and put away wet," Brian Recher said. "She needs some love and that's what we're going to do. I said to my mom, we're going to make it a showplace."
The family plans to close the concert hall, polish it back up and then re-open it as a more refined lounge called Torrent Nightclub. Instead of live bands, there will be dee-jays specializing in electronic dance music. Instead of ball caps, hoodies and jeans, there will be a dress code.
"We're just changing things up," Recher said.
A Towson law firm is representing a group of residents opposed to the change, and a county hearing on the Recher's liquor license renewal is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 22.
But from the owners' perspective, Sunday was a swan song.
Hilsberg said he'll miss the backstage lunacy he's come to relish — the panicked hunt for places to park tour busses, the attempts to fill rider requests for whiskey and Lucky Charms, the chance to shake hands with some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll. But he's willing to stick around to see what the fancier, more youthful lounge scene is all about.
"It won't be as exciting," he said. "It's just dealing with bunches of kids jumping up and down who've painted themselves bright orange."
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