Paul Blest on the gig that got out of control, and what he learned from it.
We were seven days into a three week tour and this was the first time I had a knot in my stomach. It was kneading at me for some unknown reason that I brushed off as being in an unfamiliar area. I didn’t have this feeling during the time in Boston where I saw kids doing lines of unknown drugs, nor in Brooklyn, where it downpoured the entire time at a bar that was having it’s last shows in the basement that weekend. Philly was weird, it was at a bar that opened up because there was a show that night, and the only alcohol they had was a few cans of PBR from the last time they opened up.
The town itself seemed nice enough. We got sandwiches at a deli and walked around the town. We saw a “taxi” that was a mid-80’s Buick. The driver had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and she didn’t have any teeth. The noises and fumes emanating from the car made it seem like the car was falling apart in the middle of the fucking street. Jeff said something like, “Welcome to Virginia!” We all kind of laughed nervously and kept walking back to John’s car.
When we got to the show, I saw a bunch of kids with hardcore shirts. I felt at home for a little bit, until I realized that most of the shirts they were wearing were of bands that had a reputation in the Northeast for being in the “tough guy” scene, i.e. the kind of bands that that one kid or group of kids in sheltered suburbs punch unassuming people to. I’d like to say that I don’t judge books by their covers but I do, sometimes.
I attempted to introduce myself to the few kids standing outside, but I got short, curt answers. The band we were touring with, another band, pulled up and we were glad to have someone to talk to. We were hanging out outside and more and more kids started to show up. Two kids announced that they were going to get ice cream across the street. I saw one of them jokingly grab the other one’s hand and start skipping, calling him and his friend “faggots who were going to go eat Chik Fil’A.” I looked at Jeff and he shook his head.
When we met the kid running the show, my fears were somewhat assuaged. He seemed nice enough, and he and Steven from the band we were touring with had been good friends when Steven’s old band Reignition used to play towns like this a ton. The first band went on and it was a local emo band. It seemed like it was one of their first shows, but it was decent. Everyone was polite, everyone clapped, the next band set up. This band was a local hardcore band that I had heard of through the internet, and I was interested to see them because they were a last-minute addition. The first notes rang out and the feedback started.
Almost immediately, a kid with a shaved head began throwing himself and his fists into everyone around him, hitting five or six people with the kind of force I imagine comes out of a bull. The sinking feeling I had in my stomach all day became very apparent. I stood behind the merch table in disbelief as the kid clocked everyone – kids smaller than him, bigger than him, whoever – with no remorse. Soon after, the same man full on tackled me, Mike, Jeff, and Justin and Andy from The band we were touring with, knocking over Andy’s half-stack and cab. The song stopped and Andy and Justin began screaming at the kid. The kid called them “faggots” and told them to “do something about it.” I walked out.
We all stood outside and wondered why the fuck we were there. For the first and last time all tour, I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to be in the South. I didn’t want to know that these people existed on the same planet, let alone the same seaboard as me. We decided, begrudgingly, to play our set.
The next band that played was a last-minute addition because a show fell through on their way to This Is Hardcore in Philly. I stood downstairs for a second during that set, long enough to see the kid punch what looked to be a sixteen year old girl in the face and throw a chair at Jeff. I left right after that.
We all wanted to just pack up our shit and leave at this point, but why we didn’t, I will never know. Mike began our set by yelling “This is for anyone who makes it unsafe for girls at shows and thinks it’s okay to call someone a ‘faggot’!” Two or three morons cheered. Mike yelled back, “That’s not a good thing!” We kicked into a song by a gay punk band called Limp Wrist. During the set I saw the kid who had previously punched everyone being dragged up the stairs. I found out later that if someone hadn’t held him back, he would have come after me and Mike.
Incredibly, the only thing that stopped him from going after all of us was Mike yelling out, “I have a lot of fucking friends that play in touring bands, and I’m telling all of them to never fucking play this town again.” With that, a bunch of kids grabbed him and told him it wasn’t worth it. Amazingly, he came up to us and shook all of our hands and introduced himself. I shook his hand, which was a huge source of frustration for me after the show – I felt like I was letting down all of my friends that were women, or gay. It’s alright to be a “wimp”; there’s no shame in refusing to fight someone. It’s not alright, however, to allow someone to assault other people and make them feel uncomfortable. It’s not okay to be physically threatened for voicing that opinion.
The kid bought a few of our shirts after the band we were touring with’s good faith gesture, which also disgusted me, and we packed up our shit and got the fuck out of there. I got in a spat with the rest of my band over selling him the stuff, but in the end, I had watched the sale go down and did nothing. If Jeff or I had said something, it probably would have broken the tension and set the entire place off. We drove four hours to a friend’s house, got there around 1am and told him what happened at the show. He was horrified and told us the area of that state had a bad reputation.
Over a year removed from this situation, it still affects me on a personal level whenever I hear someone claim that homophobia, racism, sexism, etc. aren’t real problems. They are real problems, problems that exist everywhere in America, even if you or I, as people of some kind of privilege, don’t experience them personally every day. For a few hours, we placed ourselves in a hostile situation, one that could have ended badly for us, but didn’t.
That’s why it’s important for us to understand the hostility that comes with being someone who isn’t of the same privilege as us. We committed ourselves to that situation; for the people at that show who are gay, or the young girl who was punched in the face for standing in a man’s way while he slam danced, their commitment was simply being there.