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It's tough to book shows on weekdays because people don't necessarily plan to go out to events throughout the week. Most venues don't even bother. But when on tour, a band or artist can hardly afford to just sit on their hands for five days out of the week. 

Besides - this is New York City!

So I get frequent e-mails from traveling DIY bands hoping to book shows in the greatest city in the world. I do warn them that we don't really charge cover at Word Up, a new non-profit and all-volunteer-run bookstore in Washington Heights. The best we can do is pass a donation jar for the touring acts, who will split the earnings 50/50 with the bookstore. And these acts likely don't anticipate the costs of the tolls across the George Washington Bridge from Jersey or the likelihood of getting exorbitant parking tickets. Oklahoma acts Luna Moth and Blue Valley Farmer scored two of them for parking too close to fire hydrants in Brooklyn. And those tickets were $115 each! Ouch.

These folk crooners contacted me on CouchSurfing, hoping that I could help them book a show in the city on a Tuesday night. They were in luck! 

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After all, I've had a penchant for booking, promoting, and playing DIY shows ever since my days as singer songwriter and guitarist for Miami-based punk band SnootiBounse. I was in high school at the time, working with many friends and colleagues to keep an all-ages DIY music scene alive. Our shows occurred in back yards, living rooms, churches, and dance clubs - any place that would have us. It was a blast.

Then, in 2004, I moved to Orlando where 1) I'm not sure that anything like that even existed and 2) I didn't play much music outside of my studies at UCF (aside from a couple stints with musical theater and a one-off ska show with a brain child called Shaving Esau). 

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It wasn't until the Black Box Collective cropped up in Orlando, four years later, that I fell back into my old groove - booking, promoting, and playing shows at a warehouse in Paramore filled with beautiful graffiti art, crusty punks, roaches, profanity, and possibly the presence of God herself. But now I also volunteered my time and energy at this venue - sweeping, recycling, working the bar, bottom-lining shows, running sound, etc - which I could not have afforded to do back in high school; and we had dreams of making this a real community center in the heart of downtown Orlando, to create a safe space in a heavily blighted neighborhood, overrun with homeless people, drug addicts, violence, prostitution. The Black Box became my home away from home, the venue for my debut album release show (a defining moment in my life), and a place that I have missed a lot since moving to NYC in 2009. 

I was again in limbo.

New York City has plenty of DIY venues, but as far as I can tell they're all in Brooklyn. And I live in uptown Manhattan. While I was happy to discover some semblance of a DIY scene in NYC, I felt that it shouldn't take over an hour to get to and from decent shows in the city. As far as I was aware, there were no options in Manhattan. This needed to change and I wanted to be a part of it.

I started booking acoustic, freegan (food and all), DIY, all-ages shows at my apartment in Harlem, but my roommates did not tolerate that for too long. I needed to find another venue that would be open to this kind of thing. But how could I ever find such a venue in a city that practically runs on consumerism, corporatism, individualism, greed - values that fall in direct contradiction to those on which I hoped to build a DIY art and music scene? I certainly could not afford my own start-up (though I did once call a real estate agent regarding a vacant storefront on Amsterdam and 130-something) and I could not have anticipated that anything like the Black Box would have materialized in my neighborhood without me. Thankfully something did!

I got involved with Word Up Books a few weeks after they opened and a few days before they learned that the donation of their former-pharmacy space in Washington Heights would be extended through the end of September (now going on five months rent free!) I knew that something big was happening there from the moment I stepped foot inside this Broadway storefront. I needed to get involved.

My first order of business was to let the other volunteers know that I was interested in booking shows. Once I attended a few volunteer meetings and earned their trust I began organizing events, was given keys, joined the Space and Events committees, helped organize the used books, gave report-backs from #OccupyWallStreet, procured a couch... I'm all in.

Word Up does a ton of great work in the neighborhood. We provide a safe space where folks of all ages can hang out, read books, listen to music and poetry. We host events of all kinds - open mics, book readings, film screenings, plays. We sell the work of local writers, poets, artists, photographers, musicians, and crafts-people. We provide an enormous selection of used books and vinyl records for $1 and plenty of radical literature at discounted prices. We are at once a book store, music venue and community center. Non-profit and all-volunteer-run, mostly by writers, artists, and other creative folk. 

And yes, we'll book shows on a Tuesday night.

It is for all these reasons - and more - that I chose Word Up as one of the orgs that will receive 10% from my Zombie Music Campaign, going on NOW. Please consider supportng the work that we are doing to bring peace and justice to the neighborhood of Washington Heights - and beyond!

For more info about the campaign, please click here!

Also, if you live in NYC, come check out my CD release and tour kickoff show at Word Up next Saturday, Nov 5. Joanlie Shiah will also be playing and there will be a screening of the most epic film: V For Vendetta. Click here for more details and to RSVP. Thanks!
 


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