My identity was formed at a young age in a dark community center room, with music blaring loudly through amps and speakers. I went to my first arena concert at age 7 (Billy Joel), my first GA concert at 12 (Sum 41), and my first local show at 13 (I honestly couldn’t tell you who I saw for sure, except for one band called FloFFus).
Local shows are different from regular ones. They’re far more intimate, they’re special, they’re almost secretive. I was hitching rides from my mom and my friends parents out to Long Island after high school to go to shows no one else we knew were at, and in that way it felt like a secret from our schoolmates. We’d congregate in dive bars on rare all-ages days, or in dark VFW halls, community centers, synagogues, bowling alleys, and church basements. The lights were never quite right. The sound was always kinda off. The tickets were always less than $10 on the door, and you knew you’d see a lot of music, and make some friends, and be away from your responsibilities for a while. We’d feel like adults as we stood around laughing and taking pictures on lawns and in parking lots, or buying merch, or wandering down main drags until we found a 711 or gas station to buy snacks at.
Because I started going to these local shows in my early teenage years, they absolutely defined who I was as a person. What music I liked, how I dressed, how I acted, how I thought. I would watch friends perform in bands, and eventually become friends with the bands I didn’t know. These shows made me want to work with music. They showed me that when all else seemed to fail me, the music – and the community i found – would still be there. I figured out who I was, and who I would be, in the Glen Head Community Center, in the Downtown, in the hot and sweaty basement of Calvary Lutheran Church, and in so many other spots whose names I’ve long forgotten. That is the power of a local show to a young kid. It’s an opportunity to find your people, and yourself. The people I met at many of these early shows are still in my life, long after the people I went to high school with left it. That speaks volumes. I’m 27 now. I’ve been going to local shows in the tri-state area for fourteen years now. They continue to inform my identity, to be a safe space, to be myself and free.
I just got home from a show in the Hollis Woods Community Church. It’s a spot where I have seen many shows in its’ basement. Today was a show called ParkerFest, organized by a man named Parker who had been putting on shows longer than I’ve been going to them. He booked every local band I loved undoubtedly at one point or another, and if he didn’t he was still at the shows someone else booked. He created the spaces where magic like what I experienced as a young kid could happen for others. The difference tonight was that Parker wasn’t there. I found out he died on Wednesday, earlier this week. But to the credit of the bands and the folks he worked with on the show, it went ahead. And I watched people younger and older than me play frisbee on the lawn, and sit on the steps and smoke, and hang around outside of their cars, and eat pizza, and buy merch, and bop around to songs that moved them, and scream along to those that made them feel alive and maybe a little less alone and sad. When a kid whose name I didn’t catch ended their set with an Against Me cover of “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”, I had the biggest smile on my face. I instantly felt like a teenager again – standing in the back of a dark room with christmas lights around the place, with strangers around me screaming at the top of their lungs. It was the strongest sense of deja vu – I’ve been this before, I’ve lived that moment before, maybe not in that exact room with those exact people, but it’s happened. And the fact that it’s still happening today made me happy. This was everything a local show should be.
Parker and I were not close, but I think we respected what one another were doing. I went to countless shows he had a hand in. When I was in high school and put on two shows there, he turned up for them. He impacted many lives, probably way more than he realized, just by doing what he loved. And that’s really important, and it spread a lot of positivity in the world, and gave people a place to come together to escape whatever else was going on in the world. That went double today, where we all came together to be comforted by music.
Support your local music scenes. Support your DIY spaces. Support your friends when they’re doing something cool. Share what your friends are doing with the world. When we do these things, we can all create magic.
So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls,
And we’re having fun.
And I still believe.
Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something so simple, something so small.
Who’d have thought, that after all it’s rock ‘n’ roll?