There’s Romance in Dive Bars: Support Your Local Arts Scene
On the final night of my freshman year of college, my friend and I were sharing a bottle of Vodka overlooking the campus he was about to leave. I’ll never forget him telling me that when I went back for summer break, everything would be different.
He told me I’d find myself without the same friends, as being away for a year changes a lot. His eyes were sad and low as he contemplated his own journey back to his hometown, this time without an expiration date. My mind swirled with thoughts of the previous summer that I spent gallivanting Long Island in a drunken daze, I couldn’t bear the thought that things may, in fact, be different this time around.
Fast forward five years and he couldn’t have been more wrong. I very frequently come and go from Long Island. I live mostly on the west coast, or en route to my next adventure. One thing I can count on though, is the support and encouragement that I’ve found in my local south Suffolk county music scene. I don’t like the word home, as in relation to a place, but I can honestly say that coming back to this group of people embodies whatever home is supposed to be. This year in particular, I almost didn’t make it back to the east coast for the holidays, but I did and after a long and diverted flight, I landed right in time for the 11th annual “X-Mas Eve Eve” show put on by Andrew Krolikowski of Yankee Longstraw.
Krolikowski started the tradition 11 years ago when the owner of the then-VP South had asked him to set something up, as December 23rd is a good night for a show. “It has always been primarily about musical friendship between a group of bands that respect and love each other, largely at times for being sort of oddballs,” he explains to me over an online interview, post-show. The VP South has switched names since he started the show many years ago, now existing as Amityville Music Hall; the feeling of camaraderie through music has stayed the same.
The night started out with the same low-lit hue that I remembered from previous shows, and the line-up was stacked with many of my favorite local bands: MoonTooth, Rice Cultivation Society, and Golden Wave, to name a few of many. Each band brought a unique sound and vibe to the place that kept everyone dancing for hours. There were a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new faces, as more and more people are starting to come out to these shows that happen at least twice a week around Suffolk county.
“There was this sense that, hey, none of us really fit in anywhere, so we might as well stick together. All that mattered was that everyone was their own thing and what started as respect slowly turned into love, into family,” Krolikowski sums up the experience of being a part of this tribe very well. This mentality of acceptance and support is one I see a lot at festivals or in alternative communities, but unfortunately not a lot in day to day life. But, with these shifts in perspectives on the arts and music as a staple part of the human experience, I have hope for these spaces to open up more and more.
My interest lies in more than just being involved in these local music and art communities, but looking at them through an anthropological lens. There are bridges that can be built through all mediums of the arts, social, and environmental justice, and it starts with the community. I spoke with Peter Demaio, a long time participant in the scene I’ve mentioned and the founder of the Satellite Tribe (a collective and soon to be label), about what creative communities mean to him. “It means finding [creative] communities that are budding nearby and connecting with musicians, and artists who are putting themselves out there not for self gain but to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Small scenes, tribes, communities, whatever you want to call them, are taking away the Hollywood stigma from the arts and bringing it back to the roots of soul, friendship, passion, and release. Demaio and Krolikowski both describe the step away from monetary motivation and towards the growth of oneself, and one’s audience. “Everyone that does this now, does it out of love. No one is making money. Most of us spend money to do it, and do it because it’s our spiritual life. There’s romance in rock music belonging to dive bars,” is what the Yankee Longstraw front-man left me off with.
The critique of most alternative communities, festivals, Utopian movements is that its always small scale. How could the support, acceptance, and creative ideologies sustain themselves on a larger scale? Well, I don’t have the answer and there’s obviously a lot of work to do within those small communities. It all is going to start with taking these micro examples and branching them out; building bridges, not only through people, but through all art mediums too — music, writing, fine arts, film, dance, etc and then diving even further into connecting those with social and environmental movements.
KeVinn Rinn, a member of two bands Alset Alokin and Wait & Shackle, frequently tours outside of his home scene on Long Island to other states. Rather than feeling estranged from cities he has never been to, he notes the willingness of people to participate. “Every city, every show, every person is different… For the most part, in my experience, people are usually willing to help out in any way they can. Whether it is finding a spot for the band to sleep, paying out of their own pockets to give gas money, or just buying us a beer, so many people do more then they have to, to support us and that is such a gratifying sensation.”
This is the type of community that is essential to forming bonds and creating cultural shifts in thought and interaction. We see these shifts at Burning Man, at Slab City, and a number of other festivals and communities throughout the country. They’re taking the power away from corporations and Hollywood stigmas and bringing a focus back to fostering relationships between artist, audience, and the world around them. And it all starts at a grassroots level, with each of us in our hometown, getting involved and participating where we can.
“All in all, you got to give the same respect and conviviality that you receive to everyone around you. If you have a room full of people willing to listen, and help each other achieve their goals, you have a community,” a final sentiment from Rinn. What my friend told me over a bottle of Vodka in a field was wrong. I didn’t go away and lose anyone, I came back and found a family. And I encourage everyone reading this to get out there and find a show in their town, and explore what can happen when creative minds get together.