Rich Howells

Cancellation of D.R.I. show in Wilkes-Barre sparks debate about the NEPA music scene

Cancellation of D.R.I. show in Wilkes-Barre sparks debate about the NEPA music scene
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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:

(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:

Chris: I took off work for this show. I haven’t seen d.r.i. Since I lived in Cleveland over 10 years ago. This is bullshit. The music in this area is bullshit. No decent bands ever come thru this area. I was really looking forward to a show that i didn’t have to travel at least 2 hours to get to. Fuck man.

Marrack: Chris way to bitch about your local scene then say I’m not supporting the locals… Venues can’t enough support for the local shows which is a big reason they can’t afford to pay bigger acts like D.R.I. People like you = the problem

Adam: I have no problem with DRI dropping out, business is business. What I have a problem with are the assholes who don’t support their local scene. All of the bands suck? It’s fans support that gets bands to go anywhere. If you only support big acts and not small ones then what kind of music fan are you? You like punk but don’t like the underground local scene?

Elizabeth: Here is something I just don’t understand.

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.

Bob: Wow… Happy I left that shit area. WB scene was once 1 of the best. When all the consistent show goers would go to any show, just because it gave them something to do. Even if ya didnt want to get in or have money, we all still hung outside & skated/enjoyed other misfits company. Cafe metro &/or Homebase packed to the brim for an ALL local bands show. True identity, bedford, abscission(who i saw there with dri when there was good venues in 03ish & prob last time they played WB) , frostbite, albatross….there was a time when the people supported each other. Not this bullshit, sit home on the net & talk shit about people that should be your friends & supported. No support = no bands want to play your city, full of shitheads, local or not. Get a better attitude. Get a venue together. Make moves instead of bashing people who are in bands & actually trying to do something & bring that “legacy” if you will back.

Todd: Shit happens. Sucks big time for the folks in that area who wanted to go. Think of it like this… club owners, are buying the show for that evening. They know they need to make X amount of dollars to break even, and be able to pay the band the guarantee. Yes, D.R.I. is awesome, and legendary. But are they going to draw 500+ plus people on a holiday?? Hopefully, yes! But it was a business decision on the club’s part. Who can afford to potentially lose money right now?? For us locals, let’s hope they can get on a show somewhere else that night!!!!! Regardless, I’m going to the Reading, PA show a few days before.

Howard: As far as the northeast is concerned, there IS NO SCENE in Wilkes barre/Scranton. Ive searched up and down since moving here a year ago and havnt found a decent venue yet. I was hoping like hell to run into some local acts by getting to this show. Maybe its just bc im new here and the local scene is really half assed when it comes to getting the word out. Ive even asked around with locals and metal themed tattoo shops and all they know is Montage Mountain arena shows.

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.

James: This show was booked months ago. If the business has been suffering, you’ve known this for months. Why continue adding bands as it gets closer to the show? Why cancel 2 weeks prior and not 2 months prior? Bring DRI back. Raise the ticket price if you have to. Fuck whoever won’t pay it, otherwise you are only fucking yourself and further flushing this watery stool we call a scene down the toilet.

Jeremy: The scene in this area died in the late 90’s

Mike: Jeremy. The scene died in the late 90s? No good shows ever came through Homebase, or Cafe Metropolis, or even the Backstage? Bullshit.

Jeremy: Mike, the scene was just barely alive with those venues , yes they had good shows but it was sporadic and in consistent, the peak of the scene in this area was the early to mid 90’s I used to write a zine called Meltdown and had the opportunity to interview a lot of the guys/girls in the some of the biggest hardcore and punk acts around , back in those days if you asked them their favorite place to play outside the city they all had one answer …..Sea Seas , but most of you are probably to young to remember that .

Mike: Jeremy. I remember Sea Seas, my first show was there. But you are wrong, early to mid 2000s still had a great scene. Shows every weekend, some throughout the week. Sometimes 2 good shows in the same night between Metro and Homebase. A lot of people shit talked Backstage and the owners but truth is they had great shows there almost weekly. The scene goes up and down here. Great times to absolutely awful times.

Adam: What hurts in this area is being part of the new generation of local music watching the old heads constantly talk down on us without actually going to see anyone. “There used to be good shows,” or, “Well now there goes a band that was actually worth seeing,” is degrading. They talk about how great it was and do nothing but talk shit on the new one trying to rise without seeing 90% of the bands. Bands like Earthmouth, Vice Grip, Final Descent, Bloodeagle, Gods of Space, and my band, Foul Taste are good bands and I know all listed are worth seeing. Give them a listen and regardless what happened, I’m still going to local shows, supporting local music, and bumping Beneath the Wheel when I’m running late for something. I still love DRI, I’m still proud of my generation and our local music scene’s slow revival, I just wish those older than us would give us a chance.

Eric: Jeremy, You couldn’t be more wrong. Now, there hasn’t been a stable all ages venue around here since like 2008 but there DEFINITELY was still a solid scene in the area until then. Trust me. I was there. There are remnants of what was once a thriving scene today but things like this are driving everyone further apart.

Elliott: I don’t get to make it to as many shows as I used to, because of stupid adult stuff, but the all ages shows I’ve been to in the last few years have had just as many kids at them as I’ve ever remembered (not counting shows with “huge headliners”, fests, or the whole late 90’s punk boom). I think a lot of people only remember shows seeming more crowded then they were, or they only remember the huge shows. People love to pretend they lived in some golden era or whatever, but that’s just old people thinking. The real issue is as you get older you get new responsibilities and can’t be as dedicated as you were at 19, and that’s an okay thing people grow and change. Punk rock is a young person’s game for the most part. The driving influence of it should be youth and that’s what makes it vital and exciting. In an ideal world most older people should be like “okay it’s still awesome and all, but I have a hard time being as involved as I was due to my stuff”, but that means admitting you grew and changed and that’s hard for people so they just write it off as things died when they bailed.

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!”