Local punk bands unite for upcoming showcase

SEEING ORANGE: Cloud City Caskets, pictured, will play on The Orange Peel’s main stage Thursday, Aug. 4, for Local Punk Showcase, which also features three other Asheville punk bands. Photo by Heather Burditt

Sam Fox, guitarist for Asheville pop-punk trio Busy Weather, has been playing in bands and going to punk shows for nearly 30 years. He recalls his first booked performance was scheduled at the now long-defunct venue the Squashpile, on Riverside Drive. But the space permanently shut down before the show, and his then-band, No Alternative, never made it to the stage.

According to Fox, code enforcement was a go-to tactic for breaking up performances throughout the ’90s. “Police would show up at our shows with the fire marshal to make sure we weren’t over capacity,” he recalls. “They were just looking for reasons to shut us down.”

But it wasn’t just city officials who posed a threat to the punk scene, Fox continues. The guitarist remembers an incident at a former venue, Alternative Pub on Merrimon Avenue, that was disrupted by a large group of UNC Asheville students looking to “pick on the weirdos,” he says. “It turned into your classic bar brawl.”

Undaunted by shutdowns and hostile outsiders, Asheville’s ever-resourceful punk scene simply created its own venues and networks in an effort to build more sustainable show spaces.

By the late-’90s, legendary DIY venues like the Pink House (a long-gone punk house located near Five Points on Broadway) and The Headquarters (now a literal hole in the ground on Merrimon Avenue, across the street from Luella’s Bar-B-Que) were in full swing, with local bands such as Astrid Oto, Excessive Defiance, Christ Filthy Dogs, Pugnacious Bastards, Wartorn Babies and Kakistocracy sharing basement stages and overblown PAs with touring bands such as American Steel, Black Army Jacket, Oi Polloi and Submission Hold.

At that time, continues Fox, the underground DIY punk touring network was massive, thanks in part to publications such as Book Your Own F—in’ Life (the premiere pre-internet networking guide to DIY booking).

“Bands from out of town would just call you up and ask if they could play, and you wouldn’t know who they were,” Fox says. “But, you’d just talk to them a little bit, and the show would be booked.”

Such informal bookings, however, did come with risks, including unannounced cancellations that Fox and his fellow touring bandmates would only discover upon their arrival to a new town. “You were really living on a prayer back then,” he says.

Few and far between

Decades later, cellphones and internet access have replaced collect calls and postage stamps, but the DIY spirit of those halcyon days of punk’s not-so-distant past remains largely unchanged. While hundreds of bands may have come and gone since Asheville’s mid-’90s glory days (not to mention dozens of venues), most wouldn’t know it by examining the scene’s current state. With dedicated venues such as The Odd, Fleetwood’s and Static Age, the Asheville punk scene is arguably stronger than ever and showing no signs of slowing down.

On Thursday, Aug. 4, at 7:30 p.m., The Orange Peel will host Local Punk Showcase on its main stage, highlighting four Asheville punk bands — Busy Weather, Cloud City Caskets, The Deathbots and Pink Eye.

While The Orange Peel has booked a number of national punk acts over the years (including pioneering ’80s hardcore bands Circle Jerks, 7 Seconds and Negative Approach on the same July 20 bill), an all-local show is rare. However, notes Robb McAdams, The Orange Peel’s assistant manager, the venue is always working to place local punk bands as the opener for nationally touring punk acts.

“We try to offer as much opportunity to the local music scene as possible,” he says. “But more and more tours seem to have dedicated support artists locked in, and those chances for a local band to get a slot on a big stage are sadly few and far between.”

Negative stereotypes

Despite limited opportunities to share the stage with bigger names, the bands featured on the Aug. 4 showcase are eager for the chance to reach a larger audience.

JOIN THE PARTY: “I have zero intention of my idea of punk to ever be alienating,” says Chainer (who goes by her first name only), bassist and vocalist for Busy Weather. “I hope it’s always inviting.” Photo by Scott Sturdy

“It’s about time to kind of change the perception of what the Asheville music scene really is,” says Alex Deutsch, bassist for The Deathbots.

Along with finding a broader audience, the members of the four bands hope to put to rest certain assumptions about punk shows — namely, that such gatherings are violent and dangerous.

“There’s all these labels put onto the punk-rock scene that typically deals with negative stereotypes,” says Cloud City Caskets guitarist and singer Zachary McMakin. “Folks outside the scene only see Sid Vicious [the late bassist for Sex Pistols].”

“I have zero intention of my idea of punk to ever be alienating,” adds Chainer (who goes by her first name only), bassist and vocalist for Busy Weather. “I hope it’s always inviting.”

As a member of Asheville’s female punk community, such distinctions are important to Chainer. Growing up in the Seattle punk scene, she reveals that not all cities are on equal footing with Asheville. With bands like Bonny Dagger, Harriers of Discord, Fantømex, Bad Vibes and Cam Girl leading the way, Chainer says, “Asheville is one of the most impressive scenes I’ve seen when it comes to women making music.”

This notion of punk as an inviting and safe space may run contrary to the often intentionally confrontational image many punks display in their appearance, artwork and uncompromising music. But inclusivity has been an important aspect of the subculture since its inception in the late ’70s. From London’s gigantic Rock Against Racism shows in the late 1970s (featuring The Clash, X-Ray Spex and others) to more low-key and communal initiatives like Food Not Bombs, Musicians for Overdose Prevention and Asheville Survival Program, punks and punk affiliates have often strived to make differences big and small by creating safe spaces for everyone — especially those most marginalized by structural inequalities.

And while earning a living off punk music is not often a viable option for the vast majority of bands, many within the local scene remain eager to help causes they believe in through their music, when possible.

And now more than ever, says John Kennedy, guitarist and vocalist of Pink Eye, the punk ethos seems essential. “Modern life was supposed to keep us all safe and keep death far away from us,” he says. “But now we have COVID, we have mass shootings, we have an overdose crisis. Death is out there stalking us. And I think that the correct response at this moment is punk rock.”

Invigorated and excited

Back at The Orange Peel, McAdams acknowledges some of the challenges the venue faces in introducing newer acts to the community. Three of the four bands participating in the upcoming concert were established during the pandemic: Busy Weather, The Deathbots and Pink Eye.

“Trying to reach a specific local fan base can be hard for a multigenre venue and event space like ours,” he says. “The fans who are in these niche local movements aren’t usually looking to us for local up-and-coming artists bringing new music and energy.”

However, McAdams and the rest of The Orange Peel brass still recognize the importance of local music scenes, especially as COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen.

“There is a wealth of new bands that have come out of the last two-plus years that are invigorated and excited to get out and play live,” says McAdams. “So when I saw we had some open August dates, I wanted to do my part to support our local [punk] musicians and do something special at the Peel.”

McAdams credits Deutsch for getting the show organized.

“I knew I would need his help to find the right group of bands who would be down to get something in the works,” McAdams notes.

Weathering the storm

When asked what, if anything, is holding Asheville’s punk scene back, the answer is obvious to those in it.

“Money,” says Chainer.

“Gentrification,” clarifies Fox. “The people that create this kind of music are not going to be able to afford to live here much longer.”

Chainer, Fox and drummer Sean Dail do not consider Busy Weather to be an overtly political band, but they note that the economic realities of their lives in Asheville are a driving creative force in their songwriting.

“We write real songs about our real lives, and guess what? That turns it into a political song,” says Chainer. “You’re just heaped with so much that it can’t help but make it into your songs. Isn’t it inevitable that it will end up political?”

It’s these kinds of real-time observations that have always made punk such an urgent and important form of music.

Whether such urgency will register with a larger audience at the upcoming Orange Peel showcase remains to be seen. But, as local punk musicians will tell you, the genre is here to stay — be it in dive bars, garages, dingy basements or even on professionally lit stages.

“The nature of punk rock is to be resilient,” says Fox. “It always resurfaces over and over again in spite of whatever happens.”

WHAT: Local Punk Showcase
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 4, 7:30 p.m., avl.mx/btp
WHERE: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave. All ages. $10-$12

 

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About James Rosario
James is a writer, record collector, wrestling nerd, and tabletop gamer living with his family in Asheville, North Carolina. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and contributes to The Daily Orca, Razorcake Magazine, and Mountain Xpress. Follow me @TheDailyOrca

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