By Kat Hamilton
Recently I was one of the many organizers on NYC’s Freak Out Fest. Freak Out Fest was created with the intention to amplify queer and trans voices in punk music. I think we succeeded in that intention.
Proceeds were donated to FIERCE, which is a nonprofit that helps homeless queer youth. Beyond that, I witnessed the queer community take care of one another.
This festival had been about two months in the making, and it faced many last minute challenges. Everyone involved handled themselves with grace.
The attendance was passionate, despite fluctuating greatly depending on the day. I was deeply touched. The first night took place at the Silent Barn in Bushwick. After the first band performed, the residents of the Silent Barn informed the Festival that the house had caught fire. This is not only tragic for the venue but for the house itself which is a live-work space for local artists. The organizers onsite were amazing. They retrieved all the gear quickly and ushered everyone to safety. Unfortunately the water damage has left the Silent Barn in dire shape, leaving us venue-less for day three.
When I heard about the fire, I was in California. I panicked; I thought, “we will have to cancel the Sunday shows." But when I landed in JFK, I checked my email and the organizers had managed to find two new venues for Sunday. I went straight to the venue, Cake Shop, to offer my help.
Magically, the room was packed. Leaving all of us feeling pretty good about the next day. The best thing was that people were so curious about our event. I spent the night telling attendees about Punk Out and Freak Out fest. There was a wonderful energy of the crowd at night two. C’yotes, who was the opening band, set the mood right with their energetic banter. I was especially pleased to see strangers walk in and ask about the show. They just wanted to do something cool and we were that thing.
I worked both shows on day three. We weren’t expecting much for turnout given the last minute venue switch, but the crowd we did have was so supportive. During the matinee, I was moved by an unplugged set by Possum. One of the bands got caught in traffic and missed their set all together. I was impressed not only by the resourcefulness of my fellow organizers, but by the other bands being so flexible.
The crowd ended up getting rocked by an extended set by Freya Wilcox. The night show took place at Trans Pecos, which inhabits the old space of the Silent Barn. The crowd felt much more like a family than the previous shows. It seemed like the queer punks had all huddled together. The night ended with a stellar set by PWR BTTM, who insisted that the audience donate to the Silent Barn repair instead of buying merch. After the organizers gave out free shirts and we all sighed in relief.
We did it, and now had a framework to create better festivals.
The NYC queer community often feels disjointed. There are small pockets of activity, but overall the scene can be isolating.
Manic Pixi often plays to a mostly straight audience. I look in the crowd and straight white men dominate. The problem with the New York scene isn’t that the queer population isn’t there, but that the queer population isn’t together. Freak Out Fest is a chance to purposefully make that space.
I know plenty of queer bands. Some who haunt DIY spots like Shea Stadium, and some who play more mainstream venues like Arlene's Grocery, but we are all so far apart. Everyone is too busy to really support our scene. Half the time, I’m too busy to support our scene. There is no “our” or “we,” only a mis-mashed scattering of ill attended queer friendships. This festival showed me that the demand really does exist. Not only that, but the seeds of community still exist. People were helping each other and problem solving together.
It’s easy for me to sit back and complain about the lack of a scene. When I was growing up, as isolated as I felt, I could always escape to Berkley, CA and catch a show at The Gilman. During my time in Boston, the house show culture was thriving. People supported bands in a way I haven’t witnessed in NYC. Freak Out Fest, however modest our debut, is a small catalyst of positive change. Its not just another Brooklyn punk festival, it’s a festival run by queers for queers. I think it has the power to create a scene that has been diluted in NYC. I know the desire exists because I saw it at every show I volunteered for. It is befitting that the last night of Freak Out Fest took place during the blood moon eclipse. A group of twenty or thirty people gathered in the back yard of Trans Pecos to watch the moon. Chondria’s distorted guitars hovered over the breezy night. Everyone immersing themselves in a moment of change, unconscious of their role.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner and Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.