Yeah, it's not really Helmet anymore. It's Page Hamilton and a bunch of dudes. The Meantime-Betty-Aftertaste lineup was done in 1998 and Hamilton hasn't been able to recapture the glory days with his post-1997 releases. But it's still Helmet. That's not the issue here, nor is the fact that Helmet is playing with two gimmicky 90's alt-rock acts and they're not even headlining. No, the issue here is that the show is taking place at a venue here in town that I have been silently boycotting for a long time, The Thompson House in Newport, KY.
I don't know much about the split that caused The Southgate House to move across town a few years back and re-establish itself in an old church as The Southgate House Revival, with the old building being renamed The Thompson House. That kind of bullshit doesn't interest me. We still have The Southgate House Revival, and that's a good thing. It's an amazing venue and they get good shows on a regular basis. The thing that bothers me about The Thompson House is that they are active participants in a ludicrous practice that has done more to hurt heavy metal than anything else over the years. Worse than nu-metal, rap-metal, VH1's That Metal Show and the marginalization of the genre and its fans by the mainstream press lurks an even more heinous threat to heavy metal, and music in general: pay for play.
For those unfamiliar with the practice of pay for play, a venue decides to forego promoting concerts and instead relies on local bands to sell tickets for them. I was introduced to the scam in the early 2000's when a criminal named Paul Riley came into town and put a lockdown on Never on Sunday, one of the few bars willing to feature local metal acts at the time. Riley was involved in a pyramid scheme, reporting to some sleazeball in Detroit named Bill Horvath who claimed to have ties to the music industry via some shitty, electronic nu-metal band whose name escapes me and who, in hindsight, probably didn’t have their own ties to the industry at that point. The band I was in at the time voted to pay Horvath something like $700 to become our “promoter”. (Sniffing out the scam from the get-go, I was the only dissenting vote. Worth mentioning.) For this sum of money, Horvath set us up with Riley to book us at the local venues that they strong-armed into going along with the scam. The only place he ever booked us was a bar in Amelia called AJ's Alley, which was an absolute dump, but that’s not the point. In exchange for the chance to play at such a spectacular and historical venue, we were given a stack of tickets which we were to sell to our family, friends and nonexistent fan base. Oh, and we were on the hook for any unsold tickets. That was fun. I never personally gave either of these idiots a dime and Riley backed down fairly quickly when I told him that we weren't selling tickets and we weren’t paying him. The scam was pretty much toothless and I think they moved on to prey on Columbus fairly quickly. Regardless, these thugs and their scam were pretty effective at destroying and dividing the local metal scene, which really wasn't much to speak of at the time anyway. Now it's 2014 and we inexplicably still have a venue in town that thinks this whole thing is a good idea.
I don't have any personal beef with The Thompson House. I've never tried to book a show there and I don't intend to anytime soon. I don’t personally know a single employee of the venue. This is not a sour grapes argument. I have several friends who play there and sell the tickets for the venue and I have no problem with that. That’s their personal decision and I don’t think any less of them for it. I also don't know the full extent of The Thompson House’s pay for play scam. I do know that bands are required to sell tickets for the venue in exchange for the chance to open for Dope or Twiztid or some other tired, shitty, random band that was famous for 30 seconds, 15 years ago, even if that chance doesn't even materialize on a stage in the same room as the headlining band. I don't know if bands are on the hook for unsold tickets, either. That's not the point. The point is that pay for play is a lazy and easy way for a venue to extort local musicians, in lieu of promoting the shows themselves. Now, The Thompson House rarely gets any credible acts to grace its stages these days, so I understand that promotion must be difficult. However, why not try booking bands that people actually want to see? The promotional aspect probably gets a whole lot easier when there's actually a market for what you're selling. The local bands that agree to participate in this system are certainly culpable, as well. Instead of selling 30 tickets so that you can open for that guy who played drums one time in that one band, why don't you network with other bands in town and play good shows that attract an audience naturally? You're not making any money playing music in Cincinnati anyway, unless you wear a fake mustache and play cover songs, so why not do it the old-fashioned way? All it takes to end this practice is for the bands to refuse to participate. It really is that easy. Pay for play needs to go away for good and I’m finally putting my foot down.
And that is why I am not going to see one of my all-time favorite bands at a pretty cool historical venue in my home region. I simply can't support The Thompson House in any way, shape or form until they get a grip on the music landscape (and the overall business landscape) of 2014 and start empowering their own employees to promote their venue and shows. There is a ridiculously incredible heavy music scene going on in Cincinnati right now and you NEVER see any of the top-flight local bands book a show at The Thompson House. I don't think that's a coincidence. The local scene has proven that it doesn’t need The Thompson House in order to survive and thrive, but it would be nice to have another mid-sized venue in town where good touring bands can make a stop without the show being tainted by a lazy scam that ran its course 10 years ago. This might all seem like a petty reason to skip a concert to some of you, but I believe that everyone needs to have principles and this happens to be one of mine. I'll see you around next time, Helmet.