Rock performer Eli August finds musical home in Howard

Eli August, a “dark Americana” musician who lives in Lochearn, has an ongoing partnership with the Howard County Historical Society in Ellicott City.
Eli August, a “dark Americana” musician who lives in Lochearn, has an ongoing partnership with the Howard County Historical Society in Ellicott City. (submitted photo)

When rock musicians start out, they often have a performing venue they call home. Think of Bruce Springsteen and the Stone Pony nightclub in Asbury Park, N.J.

Then consider Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, who have found a recording and performing home at the Howard County Historical Society museum in Ellicott City.


That's where the band will play Saturday, May 27, to celebrate the release of its newest CD "Cinematic Love."

The band has a four-year history with the museum dating back to a steampunk-themed event where August was the headliner. His ties to the historical society also include a stint working at Belmont Manor in Elkridge.


"His music was immediately very well received. It was gritty and raw — good stuff," said Shawn Gladden, executive director of the historical society.

Put together steampunk, the late Victorian-era science fiction genre, along with the stained glass and vaulted ceiling of the museum and the band's haunting American roots music and you have a compelling combination.

The play begins with two screaming women running across the stage, colliding with each other and tussling furiously. After this explosive opening, "Tunnel Vision," the new play at Laurel's Venus Theatre, is off and running.

For August, 36, its all part of the natural evolution of a band he began organizing in 2011. He's the songwriter, singer and lead guitarist, although he allows that most songs are collaborations with other band members.

The name Abandoned Buildings stems from his time witnessing urban blight while living in Baltimore.

"It all started with finding friends I wanted to play with," he said.

August, a Wisconsin native, is currently a resident of Lochearn in Baltimore County, but he lived a lot of places growing up. He said his musical spark was triggered at age 14. Soon after, a friend put a poem of his to music.

"I said this is what I want to do. I went out and got a guitar," August said.

He listened to everything from John Denver to punk rock. His music also echoes Neil Young, the Band and a multitude of bands who stubbornly adhere to a back-porch music ethic.

He and his band recorded their first album "To the Weak and Weary" in 2012 and the EP "Heartache Suite" in 2014. His 2016 album "Is This Darkness?" was recorded inside the historical society museum to take advantage of the fine acoustics.

Several music videos posted on YouTube reveal a band immersed in what some have called "dark Americana," displaying both sadness and grandeur in earthy settings. There is no ironic detachment in songs like "Honey," "The War" and "Light in This Life," which is about how suicide touches the living.

Then, there is also sprightly foot propellant like "Slow Start," which features clarinet and mandolin.

August, who resembles a Bible salesman with his epic muttonchops, described his minor key songs as "dark, but not hokey gothic."


He continued, "Without darkness, there's no light. The music is not 100 percent sad. It's not totally melancholy. People just need something to connect to when they're down."

The historical society's Gladden said August and his band have made excellent use of the museum for performing and recording.

"His style fits in with our vibe," he said. "It's been a great partnership."

The CD release concert, which also features opening acts Positronic Cats and Wanderlight, is at 8 p.m. at the museum at 8328 Court St. in Ellicott City. Admission is $8 in advance and $10 the day of the show.

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