PLAYING BLOOMINGTON: Punks Give Back @ The Root Cellar

Punks Give Back! Bloomington is a local branch of Punks Give Back!, a national, not-for-profit organization that supports local artists and organizers to raise money for local nonprofit organizations. Punks Give Back! Bloomington organizes a monthly event with music and poetry in order to channel funds into various organizations that support local underserved and underprivileged populations. On March 4, this organization’s first event raised money in support of the UndocuHoosier’s fund. UndocuHoosier Alliance is a group that serves the needs of undocumented people at Indiana University and in Bloomington. The second event, held after Bloomington’s Zinefest, raised funds for the Bloomington Anarchist Black Cross and local prisoner support efforts. On Thursday, I caught Punks Give Back No. 3, a benefit show for the All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Bloomington. This center provides a number of services to people in the community: free pregnancy tests, peer counseling, diapers and baby clothes, abortion funding, condoms, adoption information, support groups, and referrals.

The third installment of Punks Give Back! Bloomington was held at the Root Cellar. Accessible via two different alleyways and through a parking lot, the Root Cellar occupies the basement of Farm, a popular restaurant in town. One has to walk through an unmarked door at the bottom of a flight of stairs to enter the Root Cellar. Despite its conspicuous location, The Root Cellar, with its hipster-meets-rustic-grime aesthetic, is a popular spot for those who prefer to avoid the more mainstream bars that cater to Indiana University’s overwhelmingly present Greek life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because a portion of the night’s drink sales was donated to the Resource Center, I felt less shitty about ordering a “Bill effing Murray” before I settled into a corner of the Root Cellar for the poetry portion of the night. Punks Give Back No.3 featured 8 poets: Dan “Sully” Sullivan, Mobe, Bella Bravo, Jasper Wirthshafter, T.K. Williams, Michelle Gottschich, Emily Corwin, and Eszi Waters. After a brief introduction, each poet took the stage for about five minutes. Talking points ranged from love and heartbreak to racism and gender equality. Typical to most Bloomington shows that I’ve been to, the audience, which was already impressive for a mid-week event opener, was supportive and respectful of the performers.

After the poetry had finished, the crowd reshuffled while the stage was prepared for the musical acts to come. I grabbed my second drink and wormed my way into the back of the standing room for Yalla Stockings, the first local musician of the night. Yalla Stockings is the solo venture of British transplant Charlie Jones. With a synth pad, a looping pedal, and her own airy vocals, Jones constructed ethereal, dreamy, meandering synth pop with haunting, repetitive vocal motifs. As the music began to unfold at the root cellar, the audience was physically responsive, despite the fact that Yalla Stockings was the most low-key act of the night. Yalla Stockings is not yet available for streaming anywhere on the Internet, so one has to come to Bloomington if they want to experience it.

Doozie performing at the Root Cellar. All photos by Rebecca Kunin.

Next up was Doozie, a power pop foursome with a 90s retro grunge aesthetic. Their music is unapologetically straightforward, simple yet captivating, and extremely personal. The audience bopped around to Doozie’s upbeat and catchy riffs, yet from where I was standing the band seemed to be coolly unaware that there was any audience at all. The guitar player had his back to the audience for the entirety of the performance, while the other members seemed to be equally wrapped up in their own actions. Doozie released their first demo back in June 2016. It is available for streaming below.

New Wave-influenced spooky synthpunk band Spacer was the next act to perform. Spacer is comprised of Connor Martin (drums), Olivia Graham (bass), and Hannah Hadley (synth). During their performance, Hadley’s vocal timbre fluctuated between heightened speech, breathy soprano, and quavering vibrato over the confusing and intricate cacophony of noise. Spacer was an eclectic and energetic mixed bag of Hadley’s vocal styling, grungy baselines, spacey synth, and bouncy drum patterns. Spacer has been busy recording and performing all across town. Their most recent single, “Place 2 Go,” dropped this Saturday, May 20.

For the final act of the evening, Jessica Knight (bass and vocals) and Cassie Staub (guitar and synth) of Looming performed a stripped down version of their music. Looming is an indie rock group based out of Springfield, Illinois. At this point in the night, the crowd had thinned out, which is unsurprising as local bands often draw in bigger crowds than the larger touring acts do. But this intimate version of Looming was not to be missed. Its minimalism highlighted Knight’s sharp and punchy vocal performance, which somehow managed to straddle the line between aggression and introspection. Looming just wrapped up their countrywide tour, but their music is available for streaming via Bandcamp.

Punks Give Back! Bloomington has so far helped to show that when the world seems like an overwhelmingly terrifying and unjust place, real work can be done at the local level to help improve people’s experiences. In a state (and country) where the rights and safety of women, LGBTQ+ people, Muslim-Americans, undocumented people, and people of color have been recently under attack, it is hopeful to see local musicians and activists use their art to push back, even if it does sometimes just feel like a drop in a bucket.