Seminole Heights has long been a hotbed of DIY home entertainment, with punk houses rising and falling over the years to accommodate the ever-shifting movement of musicians who live, play and work the area’s underground scene and strive to make their community a place they can enjoy.
The current pulsing heart of the Heights’ underground music scene — and one that’s getting ready to expire — is the Hold Tight! House, a squat bungalow within spitting distance of The Independent. When there's a show at the house, people spill out into the front yard, but once the music starts they all pile back inside.
“A lot of times you go to shows, and half the people are talking at the bar and not even watching the band,” said Nicole Kibert, a law-practicing local who also freelances as a photographer (you’ve seen her pics in CL) and has been deeply entrenched in the punk and hardcore scene for several years. “When you’re at a Hold Tight! House show, people are hanging out front in between bands, but when the bands come on, everybody comes in and watches the show. It’s a very intimate community atmosphere, where everybody is really into seeing the bands that are there.”
Hold Tight! began as innumerable DIY punk houses that came before: A group of musicians in the same band or scene moved into a house where they played and hosted shows featuring their own bands and their friends’ bands, and expanded to welcome various other locals and niche touring acts. Hold Tight! thus upholds the long-standing tradition of punk houses becoming performance havens for touring DIY artists who don’t quite fit into a bar or club, prefer the vibe a house show supplies, or just need the bump between dates.
“A lot of bands wouldn’t be able to tour without having these type of the venues available to them,” Kibert explained, adding house shows “can really make or break someone’s tour. If a band has three big shows but then they have three days in the middle where they have to get to Point A to Point B, these type of house shows help them make enough money for gas to get to the next show, and can be hugely important to making tours work.”
Central to Hold Tight! House is Matt Ostraco, the man currently booking shows at Epic Problem (the Skatepark of Tampa venue formerly known as Transitions), and a musician in Criminal Culture and Ink & Sweat. He shares the house (which was named for a now-defunct label he ran with his brother) with several other musicians, among them, Joe Ostraco (said brother), and bandmates Ryan Fouche and James Pendleton. In nearly three years, Ostraco estimates there’s been at least a show a month, usually open to the public. “People are respectful of the space for the most part," he says. "We have been lucky and only had a few situations where we had to ask someone to leave” — and anyway, he’d never bring a band that would draw hundreds of people.
“The idea is right place, right show,” Nicole explained. “If the show is going to be too big, they find somewhere else to have it. The other thing is to be respectful of the neighbors and be respectful of the bands, and what’s the right-size location for them.”
Instead of paying an admission price, attendees make a $3 to $5 donation that goes directly to the bands. “Most of the touring bands do end up staying the night and are always welcome to, unless, of course, they suck as people,” Ostraco joked in a recent correspondence. “It’s important to put up the band, and we try to cook them food when we can; most of us have been on tour so we know how it is.”
Kibert’s favorite experiences at Hold Tight! House are the ones that reflect the area’s unified scene, like the New Bruises’ record release show, “a really great mix of the young and old crowd,” and those surprising touring acts that offer an outsiders’ perspective on the Tampa Bay scene, like female-fronted hardcore outfit Rat Storm. Kibert remembers the lead singer looking up and commenting, “This is the only show that I’ve ever played where there’s all girls up front.” Kibert described a general comfortable vibe and lack of intimidation at Hold Tight! shows, and said women are a common sight there, surprising when you look at the lack of women overall in punk and hardcore music.
As Ostraco put it, “This is a safe space for our DIY punk/community, a space to express yourself in a healthy/safe matter through things like shows and alternative literature … Any sexism, homophobia or racism will not be tolerated! This is a space where you will not be judged for your gender/sexual orientation, race and so on. That being said, this is not just a house that people live in, it’s a space for our DIY punk community, and most involved in that community have done something in some way, shape or form to help out and be a part.”
Hold Tight! has enjoyed a long, near-legendary run with nearly three years of bringing punk, hardcore, noise, garage and various other raucous underground sounds to Seminole Heights. The house closes its doors after a final blow-out on April 27. But why wait until then to check it out? If you have a taste for furiously experimental avant garde hardcore, Burnt Books from Columbia, S.C. hits the house on Friday. Check Facebook for info.
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