Jun 16, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
The start of a monthly meeting at Badlands is a little bit like picking teams for gym class.
Westin Czerkies stands with a dry-erase marker in front of a calendar of upcoming events the new arts venue has booked. Beside the dates of the most anticipated shows, volunteers have already scribbled their names to work the events, taking money at the door or manning the merchandise table. Now Czerkies reads the dates and lineups of each of the leftover shows, the events no one is particularly excited about, and waits.
There is some back-and-forth, all of the “I’ll have to checks” and “I think I cans” to be expected for a volunteer-run non-profit. But the process takes all of 10 minutes, and the group moves on to other agenda items: finding fans to cool the space in the summer, stocking the mini-fridge with cold drinks, expanding the zine library and building a bigger shelf to display for-sale records.
It’s been a little more than six months since Badlands, a tiny music and arts collective at 1007 E. Fayette St., hosted its first event, an all-vegan Thanksgiving potluck dinner and fundraiser.
Since then, Badlands has set the stage for upwards of 30 of happenings, mostly hardcore, punk and indie shows, maintaining a strict all-ages show policy, (which means no booze or other “druggery,” as one member puts it), and aims to provide a cheap, reliable and safe space for performances of all kinds.
Located in the same building as SU’s student-run Spark Art Space, Badlands is the sort of place you probably can’t find unless you already know it’s there.
(Oh, that’s also on the agenda for the monthly meeting: signage.)
But to hear the founders and members talk about why and how Badlands came to be, the venue seems to be filling a niche so long lacking that one begins to wonder, what took so long?
“We’re all in bands, we all do shows and there wasn’t really an affordable place to do shows in town,” says Josh Smith, a Badlands founder and musician. “So we decided to start this.”
House shows – shows staged in residential houses, in residential neighborhoods – have been the go-to for underground acts or touring bands without a huge fan base in Syracuse. But the demands of hosting house shows means most places are one-and-done.
“Throughout Syracuse’s history, especially in the punk scene, there’s been a few houses that have done house shows that exist for a little while and then shut down,” says Josh Smith, a Badlands founder and musician.
Most recently, Smith says, house venues Castle Rockmoore and 560 Allen Street, (“one was a basement and one was an attic”) closed their doors to the small-scale show scene.
And while venues like Lost Horizon and Westcott Community Center continue to book bands that can draw a big crowd, there were few options for lesser-known bands.
It’s easy to understand why that model isn’t sustainable: hosting shows in your house is exhausting, even when you like the shows that are going on, Czerkies says.
And then, of course, there are the neighbors. It’s the natural cycle of things: houses host some shows, maybe only one, then another pops up, for a while, and then the next.
But Badlands is attempting to change that by providing a consistent, reliable space to the community, says Ryan Canavan.
“That’s not to say that there aren’t places in Syracuse to have underground music on a smaller scale,” Canavan says. He’s been booking shows for over a decade, and runs a small label, Hanging Hex Music.
Part of Badlands’ appeal, he says, is that it’s completely run by people involved in the community it caters to.
“The people involved here are people who already have a long history of promoting shows,” Canavan says. “We all knew how to get the word out about the show, now you just have to get to the place where it’s happening.”
Another big draw?
“It’s cheap!” Czerkies says.
The optional membership includes $1 off at the door of every show, voting rights and free coffee in exchange for annual dues, currently $30.
Renting the space costs 35 percent of the door with a minimum of $50.
“If you do a show and it bombs you have to pay us $50,” says Smith.
By comparison, Spark Art Space next door costs $150 a night, and booking at Westcott Community Center costs $60 an hour.
Canavan points out those prices are still not outrageous, but are a lot of money for bands who might only get a dozen people in the door.
“There are still shows that should happen at Westcott Community Center, and do,” Smith says. “Bigger shows, we can’t host them, and it’s nice to go to shows at Westcott community Center. Some shows should happen there, just the way some shows should happen at Lost Horizon and some shows should happen at Spark.”
“But if you’re expecting 30, maybe 40, people this is the perfect spot to have it,” Canavan adds.
The support Badlands organizers have experienced in only the first few months has been telling.
The space runs on rental fees and money made at the door, membership fees and donations, and Canavan, Czerkies and Smith all have stories of people who don’t necessarily have time to attend shows but have donated to the venue’s cause.
“Again it’s a new space and its run completely by people who are within that community so that’s an appeal for a lot of people, Canavan says. “We had a lot of support right from the get-go.”
Though Badlands was founded primarily to provide reliable space for the hardcore and punk community, the space has hosted a range of genres and events.
“Last month we had a ska show, the Flyerstorm art show, a straight-up, all-out metal show and a couple college indie rock bands,” Canavan says. “It’s been quite a wide variety, which is great, and I think that’s cool, but by and large our focus is on punk shows.”
The space is as much a music venue as it is a community center for a scene that continues to thrive in Syracuse in spite of the constant change of address.
“So many places pop up and then they go away in like six months or a year,” says Smith.
Czerkies’ lofty goal to “still be here” at the one-year mark would seem tenuous, if not for the support and success Badlands has already experienced.
“This space just keeps growing,” says Smith.