EmmaFest 2019 - part 2 (Cover Artwork)

EmmaFest 2019

part 2 (2019)

fest review

We left part one of the  EmmaFest review approximately halfway through the band list, but as you read in the ,part one, the show itself, and the bands performing, were not the main attraction, at least not for me. I was blown away at the way this scene had come together for one of its own. I met patrons who traveled from Georgia, Indiana, Alaska, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, Los Angeles, Ohio, and I’m sure even more traveled from just as far, if not further. Based on my observations, they all came regardless of their own financial situations, and not just to see their favorite bands play, but celebrate the life of someone that touched their souls in ways that may never be replicated.

Otter, a young man from Michigan who hitched his way to Austin for this show, was in tears nearly every time I saw him. He gave me the opportunity to ask him a few questions, but every word he spoke was interrupted by more tears. Another traveling kid, asked to be unnamed, was clearly in some sort of shock, as he barely spoke, focusing more on his service dog Cannabis, who seemed to be servicing more than just his owner on this day. The patrons of this show were just as, if not more, important than the bands playing.

“I only have one regret regarding her. It was about a year ago,and she said that she was throwing a Friendsgiving. She made the best food. I didn’t make it last year, but I told her I’d make it for this year, and instead I’m here, over Thanksgiving, for her memorial. Her generosity and overall awesomeness resonates with me, and that’s why I’m here.” Otter - Traveling Punk from Michigan

Despite my fascination with the patrons, the music blared on, and acted as the glue that was keeping the madness of the hundreds of patrons, who were congregating not only in the coffee shop, but in the parking lot, the parking lot next door, the one a few more doors down, and basically anywhere they could find a place to reflect. I am truly unsure of whether I even listened to the two bands listed on the bill that were to play during this period: Owen Brooke and Charm. I must have heard them play something, as I spent the bulk of my time in the coffee shop, but neither made a lasting enough impression upon me to even remember who they were. I want to be clear that this fact does not mean they were bad or boring, it is just a commentary on the sheer madness that this show had become.

By this time of the night, more and more people had been showing up,and word had gotten out about a writer for Punk News asking people questions, so I was constantly shaking hands, asking questions, taking notes, receiving demos, etc. This was the only part of the night that disappointed me. Until I received the first of four or five demos, the show was 100% about Emma, but I suppose when you’re a musician you have to take any opportunity that comes. Still, I would have preferred them asking for my information, and discussing non-Emma activities at a later date.

Finally, Straight Line Arrival took the stage. Most who know me, know how obsessed I am with Skyler and his evolving band. He had told me what his four song setlist was going to comprise of when we sat down a few hours earlier, and I expressed disappointedly that “Stuffed Elephants” was not one of the selected songs. He began playing, and as if Emma herself came down and slapped Skyler into doing what the fans (well a fan) wants, I saw, for the first time “Stuffed Elephants” live. This was the first artist of the night where I actually got to sit down and watch the entirety of the set without interruption. It was great, and Skyler (at least for me) stole the show up to this point. Just before Sky’s set, Silas had put out some personal items of Emma’s that he wanted her friends to take as memento’s of her, and the first item Skyler touched, without knowing, was a Straight Line Arrival T-Shirt. In between songs, Skyler called to the crowd “Who loves Emma and Straight Line Arrival?” Someone answered, and he delivered to them Emma’s SLA shirt. The exchange brought a tear to my eye.

“Emma was a person who lived life to the fullest no matter how hard it was for them to do. She was a smile on everyone’s face, no matter what was going on with her.” Skylar Husebye - Straight Line Arrival - Bismark, North Dakota

Fire Ant Season followed SLA, and they are like Austin’s best kept secret. I caught most of the set before being pulled into another quick interview about Emma, but Nathan has an amazing voice for what they do. I can’t quite describe what that sound is, but damn if its not captivating. The simple two piece have a way of filling your ears with the perfect amount of instrumentation and singing, all while taking jabs at the hideous society we’re forced to live in. At some point, he recommended the crowd go steal something from Wal-Mart in Emma’s name, and I’d be willing to bet at least a few patrons followed his suggestion.

Stephy, a solo project out of the Dallas area, followed, and I, unfortunately missed the majority of the set due to more conversations, but I do believe it went over well, as the indoor crowd seemed to remain inside, unlike with lesser liked bands where the parking lot suddenly became Woodstock 99, and the inside became a typical coffee shop. It was during Stephy’s set that I interviewed the Taran, who is the only person from the evening I have trouble recalling the intimate moments of our conversations. Based on my notes, they were from Irving, Tx, but I’d be lying if I told you I remembered much more than that about them, but they did give the absolute best answer to any question I asked:

“People from all over the country flocked to Austin, Tx for Emma. Even if they only knew her from the internet, they came here to support her cause. Heroin has plagued our scene since the birth of punk, and it's great to see that our scene, and everyone involved, wants to come together to put an end to it.” Taran - Unknown patron from Texas

Spud Bugs, out of LA followed, and they were as good as everyone had built them up to be. I only caught about half their set, but that half was so much fun. For a two-piece, they control the stage and the crowd better than nearly any band I’ve ever seen. They’d have been my favorite set of the night if I had gotten the chance to just sit and watch it, like I did with SLA, but the chaos of meeting people, asking questions, and longing to understand what I was now a part of prevented me from fulling delving into the music.

“In the Folk Punk scene, everyone is just worried that your friend is gonna be next (to die). It’s like we’re always waiting to see if its our friend, somebody’s road dog, or whoever. It keeps happening, and it does not get easier at all.” Trevor - Spud Bugs - Los Angeles

“She was abused by someone that also abused Trevor and I, and that strengthened our bonds. So we banded together to stand up to him, and ensure he never did that to anyone else. From that point forward, we could contact each other lovingly, but also to help warn the scene of other abusers. She always had other people’s best interest at heart. She had some big flaws, I’m not painting her as a saint, but she really tried to make the world, our scene, better.” Katie - Spud Bugs - Los Angeles

Once again, the nest two bands I have no recollection of. I know I saw Mr. Meaner, and I swear they played, so this may have been the point where they were playing. I honestly don’t know. The night, by this hour, had taken a life of its own. I was no longer just interviewing others to understand, I had become a part of it. Punks I’d never met were suddenly my best friends, and you couldn’t move more than 3 feet without someone reaching out to give you a hug. I had invited a few friends to the show, outsiders to the Folk Punk scene, and their reaction to what was going on was priceless.They had never, in 30 plus years of going to shows, seen anything like what we were witnessing. It was as if, for a few moments, the world stopped, and all that existed was a few hundred punks commemorating the loss of one of their own.

Stories flowed out of near everyone’s mouth, and no animosity (which is common at punk shows) ever reared its face. It was perfection. And with perfection, I got what, for me, was a bucket list interview/conversation. Many are obsessed with musicians that front a band, but Megan Michelle from Days N Daze, with her beauty, mystery, and intrigue, was the one mind I really wanted to explore, and it was at this late hour, that we sat to chat, and I got to see what was behind her ever present shades.

David: In your own words, describe who Emma was?

Megan: One of the most genuine, and like, unique and caring individuals that I’ve ever met.

David: Do you believe the current Prohibition, and what can we do to better our mental health institution?

Megan: No I think it's doing the opposite. I think that we need to do essentially what Portugal is doing, decriminalize everything. Overdose, disease, crime rates all went down more than 50%.

Like we need to get more serious about mental health. I guess put more money into, legislation should put more focus on it. I don’t think it is taken seriously enough. Lack of funding causes institutions to be shut down. It doesn’t seem like they give a shit, they just put you on meds, and then expect you to pay out the ass for it.

David: Do you think legislation could have prevented her death?

Megan: I don’t know, but I don’t take anything they do seriously, I believe it when I see it kind of thing, and they just run around with their heads up their asses. I think Harm Reduction is key, with easier access to mental health institutions - BUT that’s “too progressive” heaven forbid. That’s some how consider far left, but its basic human decency.

David: How do you feel like the scene comes together in times of tragedy like this?

Megan: I mean, just like this being here for each other. This was set up immediately following her death, and everyone came together to make this memorial happen. And this is very therapeutic, because we are all pretty much extended family at this point in time.

The final two bands were the only two bands that seemed to put an end to the comradery and put the focus back on the music. Run Rabbit Run took the stage, and anyone within earshot knew it was time for some music. Abby Finch, despite her meek, higher pitched vocals, commanded the crowd to stop their nonsense and listen to some good tunes. I didn’t know this was a bucket list band before seeing them, but now I can’t wait until I can see them play a longer set. I had always like the band, but after the live show, I am a full blown fanboy for Abby’s voice, humorous lyrics, and the sense of innocence she delivers through her songs and performance. She reminded me of a high school band from my hometown, only I was watching her because she was amazing, and not the reasons a 16 year old child-punk would go watch a female fronted punk band. The aesthetic, matched by pure beauty in its music, was definitely the highlight of my night. I will say that it was the one interview/conversation that I regret not having the chance to get, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing much more of Abby and her band in the future.

Finally, Days N Daze took the stage. They are like the LeBron James of Folk Punk in this era. They’ve just signed with Fat Wreck Chords, and in this scene, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t absolutely love their music. They played a good mix of old and new and even newer, and of course, Whitney’s Ballad “Blue Jays” made the set list, a song specifically written about the loss of loved ones. Jesse, being one of the nicest front men in the business, told the crowd in between songs that I was taking comments/conversations about Emma, and recommended anyone who could come chat with me. Though it was a great sentiment, no one came while DND were playing. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was moving, swaying, becoming one with the music that these four amazing individuals were providing, as a eulogy of sorts, to a crowd needing closure. Silas stood right up front, and at one point, in his tear filled state, I saw a man pray with and for him. The show had become a religious experience, for all involved, myself included.

After DND ended, no one wanted to leave, least of all myself. I continued speaking to anyone who would allow me, and met some of my favorite musicians, all who were thanking me for wanting to write about this event, which confused me. I should have been thanking them for putting this together, and for being the light in so many of our lives when we are hit nearly daily with sadness, death, depression, and whatever else life throws at us.

Eventually, one final picture was taken of all of the bands, and many of the patrons, and that seemed to be a point where everyone decided it was time to end. An after party was being planned by some of the musicians, and a core group of them got together to ensure that there would be enough Narcan at the party, which left me questioning what would come next. One show can’t cure addiction, even if it were as religious experience as this one, so we have to arm ourselves in this war, and in this case, that means carrying Narcan and being prepared to use it. We don’t know who is using, what is going through a stranger's minds, and we sure don’t know when the next punk will take just a bit too much; But, we can prepare to save them if they are anywhere near us, and prevent another loss like Emma. Let Emma’s life and death be a guide for our scene to prevent it from continuing.

“(This scene) literally saved my life. If it wasn’t for these people across the country, I could not have made it through this. So much has happened. Within a year period, my dad, brother, mom, roommate, bestfriend, bestfriend’s girlfriend all died. There’s no escaping this epidemic. It can not be overlooked. Narcan should be carried by everyone at all times.” Silas Armstrong