Community Has No Age Limit
What is life without breath? What is a heart without blood to carry life throughout it's system? And what is a generation without its youth to succeed it, to carry the torch of culture and livelihood onward?
These are all one and the same. To belittle such things, or to think that we can live without them, is to embrace a swift death impending.
Growing up, I was far from musically inclined. There wasn't much music in my house, and I didn't pick up my first instrument, the bass guitar, until I was twelve years old. It was many years on down the line before I became integrally involved with a local music scene. But long before all of that, I intimately came to understand the value of community. We were designed to be connected together, and I was able to witness it firsthand within my home, as my family continually had people in and out of the house.
Even outside of my home, community was a panoptic experience, in public settings such as school or church or sports. To be together and share your space with one another was to be alive. And to have that lack of community is like having a vital piece of your existence stripped away.
Now, this is not a rant on how social media or the modern age has destroyed the true sense of community, although those play a severe role into the disconnect of our society, but more so a beckoning to take a step back see what truly matters. Community is different for everyone.
I feel most connected by having people I love inside of my home, sharing time and conversation together, but I also get it in a different sense by attending a show and experiencing something larger than myself with those around me through, to me, what is the spiritual motion of music.
Community still exists, for sure, but it just feels so hit and miss. Today I went to my niece's soccer game, and there was field after field of children competing in concert, encompassed by denizens of families there in support, congregating and communing together, and it was beautiful. Yet, conversely, just last night a friend tried to host a cookout, and there was no one in attendance; literally everyone bailed. And I can attest that there is nothing more frustrating than putting love, time, energy, and money into something dear to you, only to be disheartened.
Music scenes often function on a similar level; there is community to be shared, but more often than not, if feels as if no one wishes to participate. It is as if an entire generation has either given up trying, or has not been instructed properly in the first place. Somewhere along the line, and for countless reasons, the ball has been dropped and we have ended up where we are; a void and vacuous plane somewhere in limbo between the strivings for community and vitriolic disconnect.
Personally, I have fought for years to try and incite some kind of movement or rekindling of spirit in my local all-age scene, and I can attest to some amount of impact, yet the sense of community I incessantly long for has never been sustained for very long.
I try to be very purposeful to not live in the past, nor get caught up in the perfunctory rhythm of the day-to-day, but to embrace the current moment as I work toward the visions and visage of what I would like to see myself surrounded by. That is not to say I have not arrived at some serious seasons of banal burnout, and it is very difficult to not become jaded or overcome by cynicism. There are times that I have had to step away to realign myself and get my bearings, but even in those times I still try to help those along who are fighting the good fight against the entropic demagogues we encounter in our scene. Just because I am not hosting shows or out performing, I never wish to become some vacuous entity; I still try to help promote and attend shows as much as I can. I lose count when I try and mentally list off all of the people still
fighting to breathe life into our scene and support it tooth and nail, so I know that I am not alone by any means, but it still often feels pejoratively empty.
At this point you may be wondering where the hell I am going with all of this? I only hope to paint a picture for you that community is entirely within reach. But I believe it all boils down to the up-and-coming youth surrounding us.
"Think of the children!" - Helen Lovejoy, the Simpsons
When I have felt most alive has been in the grips of an all-age environment.
It began with watching Timeless Memory or This World Will Fall in rec centers or low-key locations when I first got exposed to the local all-age scene. At the time, I abhorred heavy music (I only delved deeply into when I was 19 and my roommate would only play Poison the Well, the Chariot, ETID, etc.) but I still felt the power of the music and the community that surrounded it. At the time I was very shy and it was hard for me to connect with people, so I was often the kid standing in the back just observing, longing for the day that I was truly apart of the scene.
The next stage was filling in on bass for some bands at the Brickhouse (a hole-in-the-wall venue in Saint Albans and briefly Nitro, WV in the early 2000's), covering Bright Eyes or shitty renditions of My Chemical Romance and Norma Jean. I was filled with the fury that comes with taking the stage, but something always seemed to get in the way of becoming a permanent facet of the scene, be it not being able to consistently play with a band, or the lack of venues and local all-age shows. The irony continued, as I would go to the HYAMP whenever I could, only to watch T.J. from 'As Cities Burn' climb the rafters, screaming his guts out, or Aaron from mewithoutYou literally eating the zipper off of his denim jacket while sing-speaking "Torches Together" and all I ever wanted was to be in their position.
All-age spots continued to waver and teeter and eventually shut down, so in my late teens I decided to take things into my own hands. I would look for spots to host shows, save up money to rent these spaces out, and host shows (quite similarly to what Ben Hobba has been doing in recent years). But I could financially only do them so often, so it was never consistent. And soon thereafter all local theaters, rec centers, skate parks cut themselves off one by one, and there was literally nowhere to host shows for many years.
My church opened up its basement for a brief period of time, where Matthew Epling and I hosted many shows under the moniker of "Cartref" (which is Welsh for household/home), and it explicitly lived up to it's name. What was cultured and nurtured there was truly a union of friendships and one of the most unified and drama-free music scenes I have ever witnessed. But, as the pattern sustained itself, it ran it's course and eventually waned as we had to move out to let a local YMCA take residence in the basement, as it had caught fire and they needed a space to function while they renovated. I had also started a new job that was demanding of my time and energy, was engaged and soon to be married, and the coalescing of all the events was nudging me to bow out. This, yet again, left a void agape in the all-age scene, but it proved that there was community to be had, and that it was exponentially growing.
The vast lack of all-age spots has definitely left us a detriment to build back up from, but it is entirely attainable.
House shows, which are home to some of my most beloved and cherished memories, are fluid, the spaces often changing as the seasons come and go. And houses can only squeeze in so many bodies, so there is a natural deflection of a scene being able to grow and flourish to it's maximum capacity. All of this not to belittle a very vital part of any town's music scene, but to grow you must have room to do so.
"We made the scene, when we made a scene. " - Every Time I Die, Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space
In Huntington, WV, the Press Club, which is barely out of it's infant stages, has already almost outgrown itself. It is the first all-age spot in an hour radius of myself to consistently host shows since my ventures with the Cartref. And the calendar each month stays jammed pack with local and touring bands alike. This is concrete proof that we need more spots just like the Press Club.
"What better place than here? What better time than now?" - Rage Against the Machine, Guerilla Radio
Commencing in November, Charleston, WV will have it's own all-age venue with the ability to host 500 people within its doors.
Chris Ojeda, frontman of Charleston's own 'Byzantine', has noticed the need for such a space, and wants to incite a love of music in a new generation of youth. He has spearheaded the renovation of one of the many rooms in 'the Bakery' (a recent nomenclature given to an old bread factory in
Charleston that has housed many musicians and artists in the area for several years now, including my own bands) and will soon open it's doors to the all-age populous. The community is there, it only has to be tapped in to and developed.