Indeed, We Digress is already playing when we walk into the back room of the Hi Tone. Smaller, tighter, and denser than the main room, this is where the night’s newer acts play while the older bands take stage in the front. We feel the difference more than see it. In the back, the pit spills into the band, tallboys spill onto the crowd, and the lights are only occasionally on. None of these are bad things. The same energy that propels the crowd into one another also rushes people forward to pick up anyone who falls down. Everyone’s here to have fun, not to hurt others.
All night long, the two rooms of the Hi Tone Cafe alternate with, if not military precision, then at least more cohesion than you might expect from a DIY punk festival. Tyler Miller, the organizer of the three-day Memphis Punk Rock Fest 4, started the fest as a way to bring Memphis’s music community together. The healthy crowd, shout outs, guest vocals, and general good will at the Hi Tone all point to Miller’s plan working. The show goes off with minimal hitches.
Miller’s own night, however, will not end quite as well, but that comes later. Right now the focus remains on alternating from room to room to catch each band’s set. The only real distraction from the music is the need to keep an eye on what’s happening on the other side of the Hi Tone’s front window. There, just beyond the curb, Richard Forrest’s HiQ smoker is pounding smoke out into the Memphis night as the pitmaster gets ready for the evening rush.
When we first met Richard in 2014, his smoker was located in the rear parking lot. Moving to the front was a smart change. In the parking lot, people had to know the HiQ smoker was there in order to buy something from it. Out front, it’s directly on North Cleveland Street and impossible to miss, a visible part of the strip and a draw for anyone driving past. Even in a night city, Richard is one of the few pitmasters regularly serving when the late night crowds are at their hungriest. And on nights like this when he can’t make it, he sends in a sub to serve in his place.
The location of the HiQ smoker isn’t the only thing that’s changed since we last visited Memphis in 2014. Down the street, signs of heavy construction are all over the long-dormant Sears Crosstown Building that looms over the area. The building is just one sign of the money and ideas being put to work in Memphis these days, but this isn’t the time or place to discuss urban revival or city planning. It’s a damn punk show, so let’s get on with it.
The lineup of Night 2 of Memphis Punk Rock Fest 4:
Photos from the bands’ performances:
We’d like to report that the show was a grand success for all involved, but it wasn’t. Miller and his wife had their car broken into that night and lost a fair amount of equipment. The theft, combined with some band cancellations, led to Day 3’s afternoon show being called off.
With Miller and his wife about to go on tour with their band SVU, Miller started a GoFundMe campaign and called on the goodwill of the punk community to help replace their lost gear. His argument was simple: 1,000 people “like” SVU on Facebook, and if half of those people donated $2 each, then Miller and his wife would be able to replace the stolen gear and go on tour as planned.
After starting strong, pledges to the campaign began to wane as the deadline neared. That changed when a single donor pledged nearly a third of the total funds needed to bring the campaign to a successful completion. The donor left a brief message for Miller: “Never stop doing what u do.”
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A few days after the GoFundMe campaign ended we reached out to Miller to find out exactly what happened and how he felt about it all. Below is a lightly copyedited transcript our conversation:
Manic: I thought the show at the Hi Tone went very well and was impressed at how smoothly the switching between the front room and the back went. What are your thoughts about how the show went and how the bands played?
Miller: It was great, having a ten band bill is always tricky but I think we got it down! All the bands were respectful on their timeslots and setup/takedown times. Couldn’t have worked out more perfect, as soon as one band finished, the next started.
Manic: In the interview you did with The Memphis Flyer, you mentioned that a lot of the work you’ve done in Memphis was to bring the city’s music community together. Do you think this year’s Festival helped further that goal?
Miller: Of course. Anytime you pull off a show and see new people is always a victory. No fights, just people having a good time enjoying the music how it should always be. I’m really glad to see so many other independent shows have been happening lately with the same outcome.
Manic: From what I’ve read online, after the show you got robbed at the door of the Hi Tone and also had your car broken into. Is that correct? Also, would you like to say anything else about the robbery/ies that night and what led you to cancel Day 3’s afternoon show?
Miller: I didn’t get robbed at the door of the Hi Tone, afterwards I returned to my car (parked next to Shamefinger’s vehicle who also was broken into) to find my locks stripped. My pa system, bass rig, everything from my label (CDs & tapes), merch, and other personal items were taken.
Canceling the day show of day 3 also had to do with all the bands, except CCDE, canceling due to different circumstances the weekend of.
Manic: Is Adeel Siddiqui someone you know, and can you tell me how you felt when you saw that they had pledged $275 to meet the GoFundMe’s campaign goal?
Miller: Seeing that final donation pushing us into our goal blew me away. The name did not seem familiar which also shocked me because most of the donors were close friends and bands we all knew. I sent them an email but it would be a lot more satisfying to thank them in person.
Manic: Is there anything else you would like to say about the Festival, the GoFundMe campaign, or about the Memphis music community in general?
Miller: This year’s festival was another success brought by Memphis coming together for underground music. No sponsors, all risk. It is scary for me but thrilling by the end of it. I couldn’t be more thankful for everyone’s support. We made our GoFundMe goal and replaced the equipment and pressed more music. Next up is taking SVU on their first U.S. Tour for the Catnastu Records release of “Especially Heinous” on Vinyl, Tape, CD, and Digital Download.
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So much about this night tied into what we love about Memphis, and I don’t mean the music and the barbecue. None of this could have been possible if Miller hadn’t had the desire to bring people together, the will to start and run a festival, or the drive to do it again and again each year. Richard meanwhile has established his spot outside the Hi Tone as a bastion for late night food largely because people know he, or one of his substitutes, will be there every single day.
Have an idea, create a way to make it happen, do it again. Every time we return to Memphis we see more and more of this.
We also see more of the harsher realities of life in Memphis. That’s part of getting to know a place better and deeper: you see the bad as well as the good. And while Memphis isn’t perfect, nowhere else is either. As the people who came together to help Miller and his wife showed, there’s a hell of a lot more good than bad in the city, and that is yet another reason why we keep returning to Memphis time and again.
–Essay by Dan Meade
Photos by Dan Meade & Rob Bellinger
Publication date: 7/03/2016
Date of the show: 6/04/2016