Cancellation of D.R.I. show in Wilkes-Barre sparks debate about the NEPA music scene
Since opening on Aug. 30, 2013, The Other Side in Wilkes-Barre has become an integral part of the Northeastern Pennsylvania music scene, hosting original bands of all genres almost every week, though that role has not come without hard work, sacrifice and, recently, controversy.
It was announced on Feb. 25 that crossover thrash band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles would be headlining an all-day “Memorial Day Madness” music festival with 10 local bands at The Other Side, but by May 12, less than two weeks before the show, D.R.I. announced that they were no longer performing, posting the following message on the Facebook event page:
SORRY FOLKS, THIS SHOW HAS BEEN CANCELED!
(Wilkes-Barre, PA – May 26, 2015 – Memorial Day)
This is the reason we were just given today (May 12) ….
From: Stas’ Marchak
To: D. R.I. – Dirty Rotten Imbeciles Today at 2:55 PM
I’m sorry but the owner of the venue has asked me to cancel the booking. He feels its too big of a financial obligation. Our business is currently suffering and this show would be too risky for us. This is completely beyond my control. I know this is wickedly inconvenient. My apologies.
The show would go on, but with a different lineup. This sparked a comment war on the event page that continues to this day, so just a few hours after the first post, D.R.I. followed up with this:
Sorry Folks. We did not cancel. We were not even given a choice in the matter. We were not asked to play for less. We were just taken off the show, after months of promoting it. We did not slam the venue, we only posted the email we received, so you could see we did not cancel. But to tell ya the truth, to take the headliner off a show because you do not want to pay them what you agreed to months ago, and continue to have the show without them is not right either. The entire show should be canceled. But whatever…. the main thing here is that you guys do not fight over it. Accept it for what it is. Work on improving your scene, so that bands like DRI will come play. and hopefully in that process you don’t blame us for not playing…. cuz we really wanted to.
This further fueled the fire of the debate. Does the local music scene need improvement? Who is to blame when cancellations like this occur? Are local bands enough to attract a crowd or do they need an out-of-town headliner? The comments ranged from accusatory to angry ranting to disputes over what the scene could or should be. A few of the more impassioned samples are below, in order and using first names only, though the full threads can be viewed here:
This venue usually only showcases local talent.
This venue just complained that business is poor.
So their first idea is to cut a major band that would have brought 10x the amount of people. People who may have never been there before.
Then it would have created a nice wave of support for the locals. New ears hearing new music. So the next time two local bands played there someone would go “ah I saw those guys with DRI. they were good. Let’s go check them out”
That’s how it always was back in the day.
There are two amazing nights out local music STILL going on Memorial Day weekend so don’t be a fucking puss. Nothing good will ever come to people who don’t give a shit.
Keeping DRI on the roster would have been a win win for this scene and venue because Ive never even heard of it until now. DRI would have surely been a good long term investment as long as immediate pay off. Lets also not forget, even if there was some sort of risk, business always is. At least put on an act thats gonna draw some attention to people who care about local scenes i.e. underground punk and thrashaholics.
D.R.I. also posted a screenshot of a direct message exchange with one commenter:
Many commenters specifically took aim at the venue and promoters, so NEPA Scene contacted them directly to hear their side of the story. The Other Side manager Stas Marchak said it was owner Brian Urbanas’ decision to take D.R.I. off the bill, and it was not made lightly.
“This was an extremely difficult decision. The simplest version is that we have not been seeing the level of support at recent shows that we need to qualify the risk for a bigger show. I know that there has been controversy over our decision to cancel, but this is something that happens in the industry. At the end of the day, we have to keep the doors open, and if any one event jeopardizes that, we need to take a second look,” Marchak explained.
Marchak was “extremely” surprised when D.R.I. posted his e-mail.
“We thought it showed a lack of professionalism, considering it is frowned upon by artists and their management alike to discuss contract info outside of concert negotiations,” he said.
“I do understand that people were excited about the show and would be disappointed by a cancellation, but some of the reactions were wildly immature and accusatory. Although we were upset by some of the comments, it was more disconcerting to realize that they came from people who have never been to The Other Side and do not understand the level of support we provide local as well as touring acts.”
There were a few particular misconceptions that Marchak wanted to clear up.
“First and foremost, we are here for the artists by providing a professional atmosphere – a 12,000 watt house PA system and sound engineer who also runs lights and graphic projection. 100 percent of the door is guaranteed to the bands, with additional bonuses according to turnout. We pride ourselves on taking care of the bands and, frankly, if you ask artists that have played the club, I’m confident they would testify. By taking this approach, we hoped that we would provide the best venue for our local market, something that would grow symbiotically with the scene,” he continued.
His personal take on the local scene echoes what many expressed in their comments.
“There are an incredible amount of local acts that are right here in front of your ears. I wouldn’t want to post a list for fear of forgetting one. I take great personal joy in being allowed to run sound for all these amazing bands,” Marchak noted.
“But I feel they go underappreciated. They need people to attend the shows. I know some will say that it’s not their style, but I challenge you dig deeper. Listen for the magical uniqueness or raw emotion that some of these artists convey. It’ll bring tears to eyes when you catch it.”
He joked that The Other Side’s role in the scene is “to eviscerate an amalgamation of sounds, sights, and smells the likes [of which] NEPA has never seen” and that their ultimate goal is “world domination,” but at the end of the day, for him, it’s really just about providing “a variety of music that is equally interesting and entertaining for ‘outside the box’ individuals,” and those wishing to help simply need to “attend the shows” more often.
“Even when we have touring acts, we always make sure to include local talent. They are the bread and butter of the local scene. We could never do this without them. That last sentence should be memorialized in the minds of many.”
NEPA Scene also talked to Wilkes-Barre promoter Greg Shaffer of Glory Torch Productions to clarify his role in the Memorial Day show, which starts today at 2 p.m. with Earthmouth, Eye on Attraction, Lionshred, Death Wish Birdie and The Pigeon Lookout Squad, Standoff!, and Ervasa.
“For my part, I am completely disappointed by this situation but understand why this decision was made. Glory Torch Productions was initially brought in to provide the supporting bill and organize the set times and load in,” Shaffer explained.
“After securing the first two openers, the beans where spilled and I was inundated with requests to join the bill. I remembered back to the days of Sea-Sea’s and the Memorial Day shows they threw back in the ‘90s and was stoked to have the response, so I decided to make this a festival atmosphere and do an all-day show. There were some opinions voiced that the room could not support the amount of band members that would entail and still have room for paying customers to pay D.R.I. This is an understandable concern but, unfortunately, many of the people voicing this concern have not had the chance to see the expansion to the room and were unaware that capacity has been nearly doubled.”
He also sought to clear up confusion about the show being changed to a 21 and over event and the subsequent lineup changes.
“To clear up the issue of it being 21+ and not all-ages, unfortunately, during the planning stage of announcing the event, there was a refusal by D.R.I. to work with a promoter; they strictly wanted to work with the venue, which was their choice. The fact that they did so, though, prevented me from providing basic itinerary, and they created an event page with inaccurate info that was quickly scooped up, and even though they updated it as soon as notified, it still left a lot of kids angry about not being able to attend,” he said.
“As for the local bands that were on the bill, both currently and that have dropped, I have nothing but the utmost respect for them all. To clear up any questions, there are no hard feelings towards any act that decided to cancel, and we all look forward to working with you in the future. We all get it. It wasn’t the bill you signed on for and you no longer wanted to be associated with what, by my own admission, was a shit storm. I’m hopeful that after the dust settles and everyone takes a look at the big picture, we can work together towards a greater unity and a stronger scene.
“That being said, to the bands that stuck with the show, they have humbled me to my knees. True to form, I hate canceling dates, and despite the challenges of this particular one, was determined that ‘the show must go on!’ The fact that these acts were willing to continue on, with no other concern but rocking faces off, was incredible. And due to its fluid nature, the lineup has morphed into a huge mixed bag of genres. I’m confident that it is one of the most diverse shows that have been undertaken in quite some time in the area and am looking forward to seeing how fans of one style perceive the others that they may not normally partake of.”
In the end, it appears to be a learning experience for all involved.
“I hope everyone takes this as what it is – an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We as a music community have faced so many setbacks, with closing venues and varying attendance in the last several years, that I would hate to think that one show could trip us up further in this rebuilding period. We are a strong passionate family of incomparable artists, and though we face challenges, I have to believe we are strong enough to get past a single incident,” Shaffer concluded.
“Here’s to you, NEPA! Rock on!”
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.