Not only is punk alive and well in Chattanooga, a punk fest is about to stomp its way through a couple of downtown venues.
Sheena may have been a punk punk, a punk rocker in 1977, but now it's her kids' and grandkids' turn.
Hell, maybe old Sheena’s still rockin’ too.
In days of old, when Joe Strummer was still known to some as John Mellor, punk bands were just another unspeakable aspect of Chattanooga’s nightlife. Now, we beg them to come in their leather-studded, blue-jeans-clad masses, thanks in part to venues like JJ’s and Sluggo’s.
But there’s another entity to thank for our city’s musical gentrification: a Gollum-like creature lurking deep in Chattanooga’s Underground, in the forgotten tunnels buried beneath our downtown streets. OK, not really—but that would be kind of cool.
The “creature” in question is Do Ya Hear We? records. DYHW got its start seven years ago when a group of friends from a small-but-strong corner of Chattanooga’s underground music community came together to release the music of a mutual friend who had passed away. Seven records later, this vinyl-only label continues to expand (why do albums always sound better on vinyl, anyways?).
And, as if being a vinyl-only record label in 2013 isn’t interesting enough, there’s moooore! Do Ya Hear We? actually got their official start as a music festival.
Yes, my friends, you read that correctly: Chattanooga, Tennessee, affectionately referred to by as some the Buckle of the Bible Belt, has its own punk rock festival and has for years. And by “festival,” I don’t mean a bunch of musicians coming together to jam and drink Southpaw Light in someone’s basement (which is also an admirable past time, so there might be some of that, too). This is a real festival, with planning, organization, and a schedule.
Do Ya Hear We? Punk Fest 2013, like every other year in the festival’s seven-year history, will include nearly 40 bands, about half of which are from Chattanooga. The visiting lineup features bands from North Carolina (Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa and Ancient Whales), Minnesota (Serenghetto and Hard Feelings), New York (Shellshag and Magnets), Missouri (Nature Boys and Rat’sRest), Massachusetts (Peeple Watching), Indiana (Shut Up), Georgia (Wade Boggs), Alabama (Thunder Krotch), Florida (Scum of the Earth, Rivernecks, and The Scavuzzo’s) and Louisiana (Violent Sects). So, how does the daunting task of assembling the lineup of visiting bands each year get accomplished? Tucker McGuinness, one of the festival’s organizers, says, “These bands are all extensions of our scene here and are doing similar things in their hometowns.” Local bands on the schedule include the Future Virgins, the Bohannons, Possible Side Effects, Big Kitty and Beard Wolf.
Marty Bohannon, guitarist and vocalist for The Bohannons, says they’re “stoked” to be playing DYHW. “It’s our favorite local music festival. We got turned on to so many great bands through Do Ya Hear We? like Dead Dog, Witches, Shellshag, and Landlord.”
In its first year, Do Ya Hear We? Punk Fest was nothing more than a handful of friends asking musicians and acquaintances they knew from around the country to travel to Chattanooga to hang out and listen to music for a couple of days. Though it has grown in size since then, the idea behind it remains the same. “We want to get together our friends from around the country and have a good time in Chattanooga,” McGuinness said. “We want to show everyone what our small city has to offer: our bands, our venues, record labels, restaurants.”
According to him, many have described the event as being more like a family reunion or gathering than a festival. There are no tickets, no VIP passes. For $6 a show, you get six-to-ten hours of music from ten-to-12 different bands. That kind of talent for that kind of price is more intense than Sid’s love for Nancy. In addition to just generally being awesome, Do Ya Hear We? Punk Fest 2013 will also mark the release of the record label’s eighth record: a full-length, 15-song LP called “Walk the Floors” by local band Dark Rides.
Not a big punk fan? No problem. Some of the scheduled bands have been known to dabble in rock and alternative, so go anyway.
Chattanooga may be shaping up to quite the underground music hub these days, but there are those who remember differently. Eric Scealf, front man for Chattanooga punk/glam rock band The Unsatisfied, has witnessed the growing pains and pleasures of the local punk scene since The Unsatisfied got their start by playing a house party one Halloween night in 1986. Eric remembers a very different Chattanooga than the one we have today. “Chattanooga was the strangest place to be in the 1980s. Very dangerous situations all over this town back then. Dark and depressing—you did not go down town,” he said.
Since the genesis of the punk rock genre around 1974, punk bands in the States as well as across the Pond had a hard time finding places to play shows. Even at an early stage, politically charged punk rock was deemed “dangerous” because it bucked the mainstream and rejected commercialized mass-produced music, opting instead for free thinkers and raw, unpolished, devoted talent. Venues weren’t quick to open their doors to punk acts. This was especially true in the South where country music (please apply appropriate drawl and emphasis to the first syllable in “country”) is the preferred delicacy next to road kill and cracklin’.
“I had a lot of luck out of town,” Scealf said. “For me it seemed the farther I got out of the South the better it was for what I was trying to do.”
Though Chattanooga’s punk-rock scene in the ’80s lagged behind the rest of the country by about a decade, it has held its own since. Black Flag, the Descendants and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all played a gritty punk/alternative club called the Nucleus located at 405 Market Street (about where The Mix is now) before they hit it big. Whatever the reason for our late start, we appear to be making up for it now. Chattanooga is cooler than Johnny Rotten’s spiky orange hair (…not really, but we can dream).
But ultimately, It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned old-timer who remembers seeing HANK, Feast of Pigs or The Kreed play around Chattanooga back in the day, or a newcomer who tosses back $2 PBR tall boys and swaps sweat with strangers at JJ’s or Sluggo’s, Do Ya Hear We? Punk Fest 2013 will not disappoint.
Get warmed up with a free pre-fest party at JJ’s, 231 E. MLK Blvd. on Thursday, June 20. The festival shenanigans officially begin Friday June 21 at 7 p.m. at Sluggo’s North, 501 Cherokee Blvd. and continue there Saturday at 5 p.m. On Sunday, everything wraps up with a final show at 5 p.m. at JJ’s Bohemia. Shows at Sluggo’s are all ages, but shows at JJ’s are 21 and up, which means, if she doesn’t know who Glen Danzig is, she’s probably too young for you, bro.
Form a straight line, go through a tight wind, and lose your minds at Chattanooga’s annual punk fest. Nooga Calling! Oh, yeah, we hear ya.