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This past week, my childhood friends Majority Rule and pageninetynine—underground legends and punk stalwarts—reunited for a beautiful stint of shows on the East Coast. Hailing from Northern Virginia and the D.C. suburbs, these folks made music that meant a lot to people all over the world. Their time spent making music in the late ’90s and early ’00s truly shaped genres and influenced countless other bands. Beyond just their music, though, these guys have always been a family, a tribe, and fierce members of a community.
In putting together this tour, they brought that to the forefront. The idea germinated as a conversation I had online with pageninetynine vocalist Blake Midgette a few months back. We were talking about the current climate in both our world and in our own smaller punk communities, expressing a degree of hopelessness. I mentioned to him that he occupied what I thought was a uniquely powerful position: he had sung in a band that many people were inspired by and loved, and if he wanted to, that band could be a fulcrum to bring folks together to raise awareness, show solidarity, and raise funds.
Blake agreed, and instantly his other bandmates were on board too. Pageninetynine guitarist Mike Taylor then took it a step further, and thought it only made sense that they ask Majority Rule to reform for the occasion. The timing not only felt right, it felt urgent.
Many of us had hoped for a Majority Rule reunion for years, but didn’t think it possible. To our joy, they agreed and got on board too. The bands asked for my help in organizing some logistics for the beneficiaries. We all worked together to craft something we thought would be powerful: Selecting grassroots, community-based organizations on the frontlines of their cause for each show to benefit.
In the course of seven shows, these bands were able to raise $36,392.48 for an array of organizations: Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, Casa Ruby, 901 Arts, Juntos, New Sanctuary NYC, NYC Legal Aid Society, and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Organizations tabled at each show; representatives and stakeholders stood on stage with the bands and talked about the work they all did. At every single sold-out show, attendees threw in more money to support, and signed up to volunteer to do more.
As Philly’s R5 Productions so aptly put, this was the opposite of a “cashing in” reunion tour—it was a giving back tour.
The bands put tremendous thought into opening acts to invite in each city. As two heavy groups of all cisgender white men, they wanted to share space with bands that included women, queer folks, and people of color. What might have been a really dude-heavy dynamic for these shows was instead a tempered and more inclusive space for both performers and attendees.
I share all of this because I think there is a powerful story here about how people can use their bands as a vehicle to build strong, powerful communities that stand with our neighbors and friends in these times. This past week was transformative for me. It reminded me at my core of why music drew me in as a teenager in the D.C. punk scene of the ’90s.
Not only was the music fervent and blistering and irresistible, but once that got you there, you could learn about what was going on in the world around you. These spaces helped shape me politically. They helped me to feel powerful and capable, and to know that if I fought back against injustice and for human dignity, I wouldn’t be doing so alone.
Pageninetynine and Majority Rule are incredibly special and rare human beings. They make music that speaks to me in my bones; they are a part of me. In many ways, they are each more of a feeling than anything else. They both give me goosebumps and take my breath away. But what they created this past week does not in any way have to be unique to them.
We need punk bands and artists to come together to stand up for organizations and people on the frontlines. We need to build strong relationships so that when we have ideas of how to do this, we know there will be a community of others to help back us up. This includes the labels like Magic Bullet Records who’ve also offered to donate proceeds from digital sales to the beneficiaries, the people who staffed the shows, the artist in Boston who sold gorgeous posters to help raise more funds, and everyone who lent time to make all of this work. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
I have a clear picture in my head of what artistic resistance looks like now, in 2017. And at my core, I know I want this to only be the start. I hope this is a rallying cry for other bands to do similar projects. Let’s make punk a threat again.To pageninetynine and Majority Rule—I don’t have enough words to express thanks. You are my family and my favorite. These past days were nothing short of magic. For me and for many.
I will turn it all in for late nights and impossible dreams. Always.