No one knows the hardships of the open road better than a touring band: the long drives, eating on the fly, crashing on people’s couches, often getting paid just enough to make it to the next gig. And no one appreciates the comforts of home more than a broke musician, especially if the comforts are free.
Enter Feed the Scene, a two-year-old Highlandtown-based organization that provides free food and lodging to touring bands who can’t afford to stay in a hotel.
Rachel Taft, founder of Feed the Scene, who rents a house on the 3500 block of Bank St., got the idea for a bed and breakfast for musicians two years ago.
“It evolved out of something sad and happy,” she says.
Taft’s mom died four years ago. When music helped her deal with the loss, Taft decided to make a commitment to helping musicians share their craft.
Since then, Feed the Scene has hosted 260 bands from 11 countries. A lot of them play at Charm City Art Space on Maryland Ave. or Sidebar on Lexington St.
The majority of the Feed the Scene bands are not well known, she says, but a few big names—the Dropkick Murphys; Mighty, Mighty Bosstones; Less Than Jake—have enjoyed Baltimore hospitality from Feed the Scene. Taft says most bands stay at her house and eat there, but sometimes she brings dinner and dessert directly to the venues.
“Last month I had 21 people in the house at one time—three Ska bands,” she says.
The Bank St. house is perfect for hosting musicians, Taft notes. “I’m told it used to be a manor house for the area. It used to be called Music House. I like that it has a musical history. That’s pretty neat.”
Taft, who works part-time as a chef, learned cooking from her mom—not by working alongside her in the kitchen, but in the modern way.
“My mom taught me how to cook over the Internet, one recipe a week, while I was in college,” Taft says.
Taft funds the project primarily from her own pocket. She also did a Kickstarter to buy a room full of bunk beds. The rest of Taft’s budget comes from small donations. She funds the project because she believes that musicians and artists need to be supported.
“Bands seldom spend money on hotels; they can’t afford it,” she says. “The musicians have day jobs. Touring actually costs them money a lot of the time.”
Finding a place to sleep, Taft adds, is often an afterthought, especially if they don’t know anyone in town.
“Usually, what ends up happening is at the end of the show, somebody from the band will stand up in front of the crowd shout out: ‘Hey, who has room on their floor for four smelly dudes?’” she says. “You hope someone will put you up. If not, you sleep in your van.”
What kind of meals does Taft feed hungry musicians?
She keeps it simple: a protein, green vegetables, and a starch, though she does take care to address band members’ dietary restrictions and preferences.
“I send out a questionnaire asking about likes, dislikes, vegetarianism, veganism, etc.,” she says. “A typical meat-eater’s meal might be grilled pork chops, herb potatoes, and broccoli.”
Does Taft ever feel weird inviting strangers into her home for dinner and to stay over?
“Not at all. Feed the Scene is referral-based,” she says. “I like people. I sit down to eat with the band, either before or after the show, and we talk about the band and their music.”
And what starts out as cooking for strangers evolves into camaraderie and even friendship.
“Mike,” from a band called The New Lows, characterized Taft as “the matron saint of touring bands.”
“She put us up in her beautiful house, along with two other touring bands, fed us an amazing meal, and hung out with us on her porch…sharing stories of bands, tours, cool folks, crazies, Baltimore, and beyond. And she directed us to a great donut shop across the street.”
Sadly, Taft won’t be enjoying late night suppers, porch-side chats, or donut runs on Bank St. for very long. She has to move to a cheaper building.
“Our landlord here is wonderful. She’s sad we’re leaving,” she says. “I just need to find something that costs less. I’m looking for 1,500 square feet that I can afford. Preferably with three or four bedrooms and a basement.”
Taft wants to rent for a year and then incorporate Feed the Scene as a nonprofit. At that point, the plan is to buy a house and give Feed the Scene a permanent home.
“I plan to stay in Baltimore city,” Taft says. “I’d really like to be in Highlandtown. The bands like it here a lot, and I do too.”
by Danielle Sweeney