The Funk Box will revert to its earlier name

Music venue will become 8x10 Club next week

August 25, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

For 22 years, crowds have danced and sweat to live shows inside the club at 8-10 E. Cross St. In that time, a handful of owners have torn it down, built it back and changed its name.

While so much has altered aesthetically, the venue's mission to showcase local and national acts on the cusp of hitting it big is still intact.

On Sept. 1, the club will change again, from the Funk Box to the 8x10 Club. Business owner Tim Walther made the call, which is both a nod to the venue's past and a move he hopes will attract a more diverse lineup.

The club, a staple of Federal Hill's live music scene, opened as the 8x10 in 1983. Original owner Dick Gamerman bought the building at auction for $115,000 with money he received from an auto wreck settlement and poured another $100,000 into renovations. The original interior design consisted of five white lamps hanging over the bar, exposed brick and gray walls and a two-level stage, The Sun reported at the time.

When the club went up for auction in 1988, Washington promoters Giles Cook and then-wife Michelle purchased the place for $250,000. They lived on South Charles Street, a couple of blocks away, and loved the scene back then, Cook said.

"Baltimore was still very wild," Cook said. "Cross Street on the weekends was like out of a Wild West film. ... There were lots of fights, lots of problems - it was crazy, but it was a cool eclectic mix."

The club's popularity among bands and audiences made it a contender in the Baltimore music scene, Cook said. Phish, Green Day, Dave Matthews, Widespread Panic and the Red Hot Chili Peppers played there when they were still semi-unknown. The club also helped launch local groups like the Kelly Bell band, Jimmy's Chicken Shack and the All Mighty Senators, he said.

Toward the end of the '90s, years of crowds and concerts started wearing the club down. Cook said he didn't want to empty his wallet on renovations, so he put the place up for sale. Dave Rather, owner of Mother's Federal Hill Grille, paired up with local promoter Walther and invested $2.5 million into redeveloping the club.

Redeveloping meant bulldozing the place, digging out the basement and starting almost from square one, Walther said.

"When it was inspected, it was deemed `almost' condemned," Walther said. "The question was, `Do we renovate or do we rebuild?' Once it got inspected and we did our homework, we found that it was almost imperative to rebuild, due to the shape of the building."

Walther and Rather renamed it the Funk Box and re-opened it in 2003 with a spring-loaded dance floor and a high-quality sound system.

Rather said that running a live music venue was always one of his dreams, and he used the Funk Box to funnel more New Orleans music into the city. He helped bring in Louisiana acts like the Funky Meters and the Radiators.

"[Dave] just wants there to be live music there," Walther said. "That's why he bought it from Giles in the first place. It was to preserve live music in the Federal Hill area, and he certainly hopes we can keep it going and take it to the next level."

Walther pooled the resources made from last month's All Good festival and used them to buy the business from Rather. Rather will still own the property, but Walther will now be the sole business owner. In addition to the name change, Walther said, the club will also get a new lighting rig and projection screen. The club will not be closed for renovations, he said. A temporary sign will go up Sept. 1, and Walther is shooting for a renaming celebration concert late next month, he said.

Rather said the name the Funk Box was a bit of a deterrent for non-funk bands.

"[Walther] found it a little limiting with booking different genres of music and then that affected the fan base," Rather said. "I think it's a good move to change it back."

When Rather decided to sell the business this year, he said he turned down offers to turn it into a dance club.

"I'm happy that the place is gonna stay live music," Rather said. "I'm glad Tim was able to pull together to buy it, because I think he's going to do the best job with keeping it live music. For Baltimore and Federal Hill, that's a good thing."

For more club events, see Page 27.

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