The band Nightstalker hosted a show in Long Beach at the now-defunct Calvary Chapel Bread of Life Food Bank on Saturday. The building caught on fire in 2009 and was boarded up until that night, when the bands arrived with a generator to power the amps and lights for the show.
The building is small, and people were told not to stand outside because the businesses around the building could call the police and report the event.
As restrictions have crippled most local venues, punk bands have turned to hosting shows at whatever spaces available, whether that be at a burned out building or at the Long Beach Municipal Cemetery, where a show took place on Halloween.
In light of the current pandemic, attending underground local shows has been largely frowned upon by many for obvious reasons. Masks aren’t enforced, mosh pits are a great way to contract COVID-19, and usually go against most lockdown rules.
“It has not stopped any of us from going out,” said Trent Miley, a punk attending Saturday’s show. “We’ve been going out a lot, but none of us have caught COVID.”
While the pandemic and restrictions have resulted in fewer shows, people like Miley and his friends have continued to attend shows as they did before the pandemic.
“I mostly worry when I go out of town [for shows], because there’s new people, and I don’t know what these motherf*ckers have been doing,” said Dan Kincaid, a friend of Miley’s. “In town, I’m like, ‘I know these germs’...I work in retail, so if I’m going to get it, I’ve probably already been exposed.”
During Nightstalker’s set, four police vehicles arrived, and the only warning given to those inside was from two attendees who ran through the building shouting that the cops had arrived. The power was then cut, and chaos ensued.
Punks poured out of the front doors of the building onto South Street as police officers kicked down the board that was being used as a back door. No arrests were made that night, and none of the bands were fined. They were able to get their equipment out of the building before it was boarded back up.
While the local music scene has been hit hard by the closures of several venues, such as Malone’s in Santa Ana, and the near-closure of Anaheim’s Chain Reaction, local bands are still performing — just at fewer shows and more illegitimate venues.
“I don’t think it’s really safe. It’s basically putting on a bunch of really shitty small shows that no one’s going to go to,” said Noah Perkins, a political science major at Orange Coast College. “It’s not very responsible.”
With COVID numbers skyrocketing since Thanksgiving, attending shows like these is generally not a good idea. Few shows require or even request attendees to wear masks, and only a handful of people wore masks at Saturday’s food bank show.
Most punks who have been regularly attending shows, playfully called “COVID Punks” by Kincaid, have the same general attitude about contracting COVID from shows. Some don’t worry too heavily about contracting it, while others have already caught and recovered from COVID and don’t care if they get it again.
“I caught it back in September and lost my job shortly after,” said Joe Slams, who’s been attending and playing at shows since 2016. “I caught the virus already. I ain’t worried about nothin’...Going to shows and playing music has definitely saved me.”
Some people have also been attending shows for the sake of mental health. According to a tracking poll done by the Kaiser Family Foundation this year, 53% of adults have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to stress and worry about COVID-19, and that isolation caused by self quarantining can also negatively impact people’s mental health.
“I’d rather go to shows and have fun than kill myself because I’m tired of being at home 24/7,” said Damien Kincaid.
“That’s a huge thing —if I stay home, I’m just going to get depressed as shit,” said Dan Kincaid.
Ultimately, some would argue that the lockdown of cities and the slowing down of local music will create new bands and music, which will help venues once things return to normal.
“If local music does [come back] it’s going to be a boom for a few venues,” said John Paul Alba, who plays rhythm guitar in P.I.S.S. “Nationally, I think a lot of smaller ones closed so it creates a demand in that market and less venues means more money for other venues left.”
Currently, most venues that are still open have been hosting live streams online to keep their doors open, charging money for people to view them. That’s probably the safest way to experience live music during a pandemic, and as more restrictions and lockdowns are put in place while positive cases increase, local music will most likely be driven further and further underground until legitimate shows can happen again.
“If they love the music, then they love the music and you’re never going to stop people from coming together for something they love,” Miley said.