Adam Whites assumed people were coming to New York’s Alright to see bands from Tokyo, or Barcelona, maybe — but not Brooklyn.
“The first year, when I would ask people who traveled from the U.K. or the West Coast or the Midwest which bands they wanted to see — ‘An international band?’ — they would go, ‘No, I want to see Crazy Spirit or Hank Wood and the Hammerheads!’ or they really wanted to see Anasazi,” Whites says of the annual punk and hardcore festival. “People really wanted to come and see the New York bands.”
Since 2013, Whites, now 27, has shone a light on the city’s vibrant, current punk scene (one rule is no reunion bands) through New York’s Alright. But after this third long weekend, which will take place April 16–19 at select Manhattan and Brooklyn venues, it’s all over.
Whites has said he never wanted the festival to become an institution. With just under 30 bands booked this year, he says it’s at the right size, with the right mix of acts representing both genre and geography. And while the lineup includes hardcore and punk bands from all over (the United States, Japan, Australia, Norway, and Canada), Whites has ensured that at least a third are locally sourced, organic, New York punk bands.
“There were shows that already had over 300 people at them, and that was just locals,” Whites says on a recent afternoon while sitting on the stage at Bushwick venue the Acheron. “Why wouldn’t we be able to do a fest?”
Perhaps because of the ephemeral nature of punk, the only New York bands to play all three editions of New York’s
Alright have been Dawn of Humans and Anasazi. Despite the changing cast of locals, the festival’s attendance has grown each year. An exact number is difficult to pin down; there’s no single festival pass that gets you into every gig, “unofficial” shows take place over the course of the weekend, and a number of people simply come to party. Whites, along with Dan Oestreich, 28, manager at the Acheron, and Marc Grillo, 32, a self-described “helper/fixer,” expect 2,000 attendees this weekend, the festival’s biggest draw yet.
But “it’s easy to say my favorite moment is when it’s over,” Whites jokes.
As Oestreich recounts the most chaotic moment from 2014, it becomes clear how arduous putting on a DIY festival can be and what went into their decision to make 2015 the fest’s final year. It was after midnight and there were about 400 people lined up outside the Acheron, all waiting to get into an after-show, when the NYPD rolled by and examined the size of the crowd relative to the size of the venue. The organizers had a decision to make.
“How many of those people are going to go in?” an officer asked Oestreich. “We might count.”
The organizers quickly moved the show to a larger warehouse space, and the crowd followed. A performance by a band named Lumpy and Dumpers involved fireworks, slime, and naked people — all the mayhem transpired during a fifteen-minute set.
“I remember driving Adam home after the Sunday-night show last year and just talking about it that night, and whether that was kind of it,” Oestreich says.
Since 2014, three DIY venues have closed in Williamsburg: 285 Kent, Death by Audio, and Glasslands. As reported by Billboard in October, Vice Media signed a lease for the 60,000-square-foot warehouse that formerly housed the venues. Grillo, who met Oestreich going to house shows in Crown Heights, says punk will just move to new frontiers where the rent’s less expensive.
“Punk for me was always on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and then it moved across the bridge into Williamsburg, and then it moved further into Brooklyn,” Grillo says. “Punk will always find a place. We’ll always be able to find a place to do the punk shows that we want to do. I don’t think it’s ever going to stop.”
This year, New York’s Alright will take over Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village, Bushwick’s Acheron, Palisades, and the Wick, and Saint Vitus in Greenpoint. And while planning New York’s Alright led to some unpleasant surprises — a scheduled performance at the politically radical arts space ABC No Rio fell through for reasons Oestreich and Whites won’t get into — the addition of a legitimate buzz band to the lineup is an unexpected development. Philadelphia’s garage-rock/soul group Sheer Mag have a minor hit on their hands with “Button Up,” and they’ll be performing at the Acheron on April 18.
“I’ve already gotten emails from Old Navy asking me to put [‘Button Up’] in a commercial,” Whites says, adding he won’t take up the discount clothing company’s offer.
Of all the sets this year, the one its organizers might watch closest is the first. Brooklyn hardcore four-piece Ajax, named the best punk band in New York in 2014 by the Voice, have the honor of rocking that gig.
“I honestly think one of my favorite moments of the fest is during the first main show, just waiting for people to actually start pitting,” Whites says. “Just so I know it’s not a failure.”
According to Oestreich, it’s up to him to reiterate that the fest is going to do anything but bomb. “One of my actual, real jobs at the fest is talking Adam off a ledge when he’s convinced something is going to be a failure,” he says.
“That’s also my job, surprisingly,” Grillo adds without missing a beat.
The festival wraps with a Sunday-afternoon show, barbecue, and flea market at the Wick. And then that will be it for New York’s Alright — both the fest and the name. It was plucked from the Fear song “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones,” released by the L.A. band back in 1982, which ridicules the city for its love of art, jazz, and “homosexuals.”
“It’s just self-loathing enough to fit our personalities, and it’s referential and punk,” Whites says of the name, thought of by co-organizer Mike Hillerson in 2013.
“All of the other fests are very punk-sounding,” Whites says, before rattling off the names of a handful of festivals in Austin, Washington, D.C., and Toronto in a tough-guy voice. “ ’Chaos in Tejas’! ‘Damaged City’! ‘Not Dead Yet’! And it’s like, ‘Eh, New York’s all right,’ ” Grillo adds. “If you ask any of us how the fest was afterwards, we’ll probably be like, ‘Eh, it was all right.’ ”
New York’s Alright kicks off April 17 at Le Poisson Rouge with Kromosom, Blazing Eye and more and concludes April 19 at The Wick with Dawn of Humans, Raw Distractions, Glue and Urbanoia. For more information on New York’s Alright’s lineup, tickets and showtimes, click here.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 14, 2015