By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
In the west wing of Bellevue Hospital, Yoni David sits dazed in a hospital bed. His shattered left arm is in what the doctor calls an elevation dressing, a cheesecloth-like tube that keeps his hand raised. He's been here since he was shot at the Bushwick DIY arts venue he co-managed, Big Snow Buffalo Lodge, on July 17. He'll spend his 24th birthday in this bed. The hospital staff just transitioned him off morphine to dilantin.
As a result of the shooting, David and his partners at Big Snow Buffalo Lodge—Jeremy Aquilino, RJ Gordon, and Daniel Arnes—have decided to end their run as one of Brooklyn's DIY venues, this one known for everything from grungy rock to borderline acid-house, girded by an unpretentious, welcoming air. The team announced Big Snow's closure via Twitter last week. Concerns over heightened security, the safety of Big Snow patrons, and the stigma of the shooting all led to the decision.
"I don't think anybody can have the same affinity for that place now," David says from his bed. "Had somebody been walking to the door to buy admission at that moment, they could have lost their lives."
One of the leaseholders and the doorman of the nearly two-year-old venue, David says doctors tell him that, had the bullet gone another inch into his abdomen, he would certainly be dead from internal bleeding.
On July 17, around 10 p.m., Big Snow's hired security guard, Edwin Walker, alerted David to a disturbance outside the venue. David went to check it out, which is standard practice for the space, he says. Before he was able to even get outside, a shot—fired during a dispute apparently unrelated to the venue—struck him. It was one of at least two reported shootings in the neighborhood that evening, police told David's father. The shooter fled on foot.
After he was hit, David ran past his post at the door, past the soundboard and couches, and past the stage Aquilino built, and toward the bathroom. His eyes bugged slightly, visibly in shock. He looked for a place to collapse while trying to maintain his composure. A trail of blood ran from the front door, past the psychedelic mural-painted walls.
Many shouted in confusion. I was there and called an ambulance. Many others called 911. David's friend Lydia Velichkovski applied pressure to the wound, leaned her head against David's shoulder, and offered comfort. Aquilino started mopping up the blood. The EMTs arrived within 10 minutes and carted David away; the police arrived within 15. They locked down the street. The lights in the room came up. The music stopped. Chatter idled. Walker tried to keep patrons calm. Someone doled out Poland Spring water from gallon jugs into small plastic cups. Detectives and officers stalked in and out of the space. Arnes mopped up a second time.
"The instant I cleaned up my best friend's blood off the floor I made the decision to close," Arnes says. "Nothing is worth that. We built something that was important and dear to us and hopefully to other people. But anything else in my mind evaporated the second my friend was in danger. It was a shock. Surreal. Extremely unpleasant. We never thought we'd have to deal with something like this."
Since Big Snow Buffalo Lodge opened its doors to the public on October 27, 2011, at 89 Varet Street, the crew had not faced a notable security issue. You can triangulate the place from the roofs of public housing towers in the area: the Bushwick and Williamsburg houses, and the Marcy Projects down the block. A smattering of repurposed buildings dot the area: the McKibben Lofts, the Opera House Lofts, 3rd Ward. The neighborhood is characterized as on the brink of gentrification, perhaps due in part to the crowds and music Big Snow helped bring to the area.
"We were all at the point of trying to figure out what's next for us," Aquilino says. "It's just shitty that it all had to come down to this."
Big Snow favored smaller rock, pop, soul, psychedelic, and experimental acts, and was a frequent stop of Brooklyn bands like Ava Luna, Bueno, Guardian Alien, Beef, Zula, Celestial Shore, and The So So Glos. Baked, Leapling, and Lost Boy? were considered house bands. Many out-of-towners, like Grass Is Green and Speedy Ortiz, shredded their fair share of the stage. Once, Yo La Tenga bassist James McNew strolled in with a guitar strapped to his back to play with Kid Millions of Oneida and Greg Fox of Guardian Alien. Key friends, band members, and volunteers helped run the space. No one on staff, save the security personnel, ever got paid. They did pay every band that ever played Big Snow, says Gordon.
"It had a family sense, and that's what we really liked about it," Aquilino says. "Being part of a family; no judgment, just fun. Good times and good experiences. That's all we were shooting for."
"We were all into doing shows," Arnes says, "but Yoni was the one who spearheaded things. He was the mastermind. I remember, even years ago, we were driving around, probably on the way to band practice, and he said to me with so much conviction: 'I'm going to open a venue and call it Big Snow.'"