EmmaFest 2019 - part 1 (Cover Artwork)

EmmaFest 2019

part 1 (2019)

fest review

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing something that may not ever be rivaled by another show/concert/house party, or basically any form of entertainment. Unfortunately, it was in memory of a lost soul, Emma Polunksy, who, while well known in the Folk Punk scene, was not a name most would have ever recognized. Born in 1991, her life ended way too soon last year, at age 28; another victim of the ravenous opioid epidemic facing our country, our families, our friends, and our scene. It seems there is no escaping this problem, but our scene did what it does best in times of strife: put together one hell of a show/festival in her honor, with all proceeds going to her family.

I arrived at the show several hours early, and it was clear that the crowd were all carrying extremely burdensome weights of sorrow wherever they meandered. While I was not close with Emma, I knew of her, and had seen her amazing accordion skills on Youtube, as she was “famous” for her video game theme song renditions. Despite my lack of knowledge regarding this fellow punk, I felt a part of this morosity mixed with joyous remembrance that made up the community, at least for that day, and I set out to accomplish more than just seeing a slew of bands in my time at this powerful event, by spending time with as many of the traveling patrons and musicians, doing very short interviews, to understand how this punk was able to bring hundreds of punks to a coffee shop in Austin, Tx, with at least two thirds of all attendees being from elsewhere, and most from 500-1200 miles away.

All of the sets were going to be short, and really had to be, as the list of artists was extreme:

7:00 - Language Strain

7:20 - Robber’s Roost (Last Minute Addition)

7:40 - Les Blackwell

8:00 - Katrina Jo and Mike D

8:20 - SAD2

8:40 - Chatterbox and the Latter Day Satanists

9:00 - Marissa

9:20 - Owen Brooke

9:40 - Charm

10:00 - Straight Line Arrival

10:20 - Fire Ant Season

10:40 - Stephy

11:00 - Spud Bugs

11:20 - Rat Bastard

11:40 - Johnny Terror

12:00 - Run Rabbit Run

12:20 - Days N Days

While I will be honest, I’m not certain the above is 100% accurate, but it was the posted list of players, so it's the best I could do. I do, however, seem to remember Mr. Meaner playing at some point, and I don’t remember a few of the other artists ever playing, but due to the overwhelming emotions running through the room, and the fact that I spent a hefty amount of my time interviewing whichever artists would allow me to ask them about Emma, and the opioid crisis that took her.

The first band is a blur for me. They clearly weren’t the greatest band in the world, because in my mind the show started with Robber’s Roost, who captivated the moment they took the stage. Instead, during the first band, I had the pleasure of speaking with Whitney Flynn from Days N Daze, to get her take on Emma and the societal problem as a whole. The conversation was quick, and full of tears. While I wouldn’t consider myself Whitney’s new BFF, I will say that there was a bond created during that conversation. It was as if she realized (despite the fact that 100s of punks from across the nation came to show their love for Emma) that someone actually cared about this beautiful musician that had left this world, despite not really knowing her. That same bond was created a number of additional times, as everyone I ended up sitting down with seemed to connect with me, and for a few moments, opened up completely, giving me a clear view of not only their souls, but the soul of this Punk Community that, despite its “edge” and “grit”is populated by caring, loving, and brave humans. All the piercings and tattoos could not hide the pain that these few hundred patrons were all sharing.

“She came on tour with us, and was there for me, and we just clicked. It was an instant, just complete bond. Going on tour you fast track into a kind of family; we were a part of each other forever. The amount of times she held me… She just inspired me not to give up”. -- Whitney Flynn of Days N Daze

The second band took the stage shortly after that conversation came to an end, and Mark and Wren Paschen (Robber’s Roost) made sure that the world knew they were there. They had played a show the night before and were supposed to leave town that morning, but on a whim, decided to stay in town to come to EmmaFest, and somehow made it on the bill. I would later have a conversation with them regarding Emma, but the passion that came out through their music was enough for anyone to know how dearly they felt for their comrade in arms, now lost to the war that is raving our scene. A good friend of mine summed up their performance in an Instagram post: “This is what a duet is supposed to look like.” Their harmonies are near unparalleled and it was good to see them bring their brand of Folk Punk to the show, and really get it started.

“We played a shoe in Indiana, and she kept playing the Super Mario song and it was amazing. I can’t play an accordion so I was blown away. That lady had a really big heart.” -- Wren Paschen

The next two bands I had very little knowledge of prior to this show, but I was able to catch a song or two from each. The first was not really my thing, but it was clear that some of the crowd was digging. Following him was the duo out of Ohio, Mike D Katrina. Due to the recommendation of another punknews writer, I paid a bit more attention to this set, and while I don’t think they are ready to headline Folk Shit Up or Moonrunners, it's clear that they are finding their voice in this new iteration of Folk Punk that seems to grow daily. Somewhere during these two bands, I was able to sit down with a few other patrons/musicians, all of which had traveled 1000 miles to a little coffee shop in Austin to pay their respects.

“She was a strong suture for good quality people. She just was wonderful. She reminded us all we were still good people.” Quill - Traveled from Georgia for the show

“Emma was always someone to make me feel comfortable when I was nervous. Always really sweet to me. You just love someone without knowing them sometimes.” - Taylor S - Traveled from Indiana

The next three bands were highlights for me. SAD2, the musical project of Brandon Walsh of Punk with a Camera Fame; Chatterbox and the Latter Day Satanists, the project of Marissa Sendejas of Chad Hates George and Days N Daze (old school member) and her partner Micah who is a member of the collective that puts on the annual Compost Heap; and Marissa, the solo project of Marissa Sendejas, all took the stage in rapid fashion. My memory is a bit hazy, as I was constantly moving from watching the bands to interviewing anyone willing to tell me more about Emma, but Brandon may have skipped his musical set to play a short film he made, dedicating it to Emma. In fact, Brandon either didn’t play music, or I completely missed his set (possible) because I would recall belting out the lyrics to his tunes from the crowd. The film, however, was a comical jab at the metal music scene, with the punchline being Nu Metal. I mean, is there a better punchline for any joke than Nu Metal?

I don’t, however, have a sketchy memory of Chatterbox and Marissa, as they were both bucket list bands for me. Micah is a brilliant writer in his own right, but joined by Marissa (who may be the best writer of the entire Sendejas clan) a fusion of Folk Punk perfection explodes on the stage they play. I cannot wait for new music from these guys! Marissa followed, and while I love everything she does, it was almost a let down that she followed her own band, as the two sounds are so different that the clash took something away from the solo set. Still good, but I don’t think the mood was right for her, and it may have caused a lull in the crowd’s energy level due to the extreme, and quick, adjustment from band to band.

Either way, I am a fan for life of both of these acts, and somehow, some way, I’m going to try to get to Compost Heap, as I hear both Micah and Marrissa are even better at throwing a show than they play, which means the shows they throw must be perfect, because their music is just shy of that.

“I enjoy shit talking. She was the person I could crack jokes with. We could be serious, but most of our time spent together was cracking the most wonderfully awful puns, and nothing was ever spelled correctly. She was one of the few people I could feel comfortable with, and talk to without needing to mask anything. She had this aura about her that just made you feel comfortable.” -- Brandon Walsh - Punk with a Camera - Rib Fest Records - SAD2

“It (Drug Prohibition) isn’t working at all. We should be encouraging harm reduction, and getting people the help they need. People are treated as worthless because they’re an addict, then they get thrown in jail, and things should be focused on harm reduction and getting people the help that they need.” -- Micah Butler - Chatterbox and the Latter Day Satanists

Despite not being even half way through the band list, I want to end part one here as I know most of you prefer quick reads, but with this ending, I’d like to share a few words from Silas Armstrong, Emma’s partner and the one who found Emma, administered Narcan and CPR, got her to the hospital, and did everything he could to save the life of this beautiful soul:

David: Can describe for me what kind of person she was both in the public and at home?

Silas: She was a contradiction.The most tormented soul, yet the kindest person to everyone around her. No matter what her personal struggles, she also kind to everyone else.

David: Describe your relationship for me during those three years?

Silas: I started with me chasing her for about a year, but about a year or so later, we went to Tennesse, where a few bands were playing. We slept on the floor next to each other. In the middle of the night, she reached over and grabbed my hand. We went to a music video shoot the next day, and we hung out the whole time. Went back home, and decided to become an official couple.

David: When was the last time you saw her before she passed?

Silas: I saw her right before she passed. I was laying next to her.

David: What did you do?

Silas: I used Narcan 4 times. Gave her mouth to mouth. She vomited on me, but there was no breathing, no heartbeat. She was getting cold. I dragged her to my car. Had a friend that was more sober than I was that drove her to the hospital, but I believe it was too late when I woke up.

David: How do you feel we can fix the problem with the current prohibition?

Silas: It’s a monumental task. It's the culture, the economy, the general sense of hopelessness, the poor mental health care, especially in certain areas of the U.S. This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the lack of mental health care. The drugs were her way of coping with neurological disorders. We tried and tried and tried to get help, but mental health help was near non-existent.