It may be hard to believe that Hot Water Music and Braid, now two of the biggest names in '90s emo-punk, once shared the stage at a $5 show.
Yet that's what happened in July 1997, when the two played together at Tampa's now-defunct punk venue and record store 403 Chaos.
Hot Water Music singer Chuck Ragan said Tampa was important for seeing and playing shows as a band that started out in the smaller-market Sarasota and Bradenton areas.
"Going to Ybor City as a kid felt like going to the Big Apple or something when we first started going there," he said.
The band eventually broke through with albums like Fuel for the Hate Game and Caution, played Warped Tours and even appeared on WB teenybopper drama One Tree Hill before breaking up in 2006.
Now Hot Water Music will return to Ybor City to kick off a tour with the Menzingers and La Dispute at the Orpheum on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Playing the inaugural show on their first headlining tour in eight years in Tampa is fitting. After struggling to score shows in their hometowns during the mid '90s, they found success in the bay area, Orlando and Gainesville — the city with which they would become most associated.
"Where we lived, Sarasota and Bradenton, we really had to work for shows," Ragan said. "They were pretty few and far between, or we had to just create them ourselves."
Hot Water Music is touring off their return album Exister, which was also eight years in the making. After the group went on hiatus, the members moved onto different bands.
Ragan released solo records and guitarist Chris Wollard started a new band called Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves. Bassist Jason Black started playing in Senses Fail, while drummer George Rebelo had a brief stint in Against Me!
That meant when Hot Water Music decided to reunite and write a new album, the band's members were spread apart and often writing music away from each other.
"For the most part, we were just writing and stacking stuff up and communicating quite a bit over email — sending songs back and forth — which was honestly the first time we'd ever worked in that way," he said.
The time apart also influenced the songwriting on Exister, Ragan said, which shows some maturing and darkness on tracks like Mainline and Drag My Body.
"Obviously we've grown older, we've ventured out into the world more," he said. "We've just lived more of our lives as individuals, especially as the band went on hiatus for quite a while."
During that interim, Ragan started the Revival Tour in 2008. The event is a traveling acoustic tour comprising a kind of who's who of punk musicians, such as Frank Turner and Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace.
Among the artists who have played the tour is Brian Fallon, singer and guitarist of the Gaslight Anthem, who Ragan has since become friends with. The two even planned on making an album together, but he said that's been slowed by their schedules.
"We just found out we're both extremely busy," Ragan said. "It's something I would love to do down the road. I love that fella."
After touring with Hot Water Music, Ragan said he is planning a spring Revival run that may include Rocky Votolato, Dave Hause and Rise Against's Tim McIlrath. He said he is also working on his next solo album.
"I don't have any idea when I'm going into the studio," Ragan said. "I'm just enjoying working on some tunes and digging through a lot of stuff I have."