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Promoting the Guerrilla Gig

Joe Ahearn thinks most New York concerts are overproduced and exclusive. So he hosts his own shows—all ages, in strange places—about three times a week.

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I put on shows in weird, underground spaces. I can’t offer bands fancy sound equipment, but I give them freedom, which is more elusive. All this stuff that people think is necessary for a performance space, like lighting rigs or fog machines, is bullshit. None of it is important. A venue shouldn’t be just a conveyor belt for acts, but that’s the way the bar and music industry is set up. It’s also considered justifiable not to let young people into shows, which is really sad.

But put a band anywhere, and all sorts of surprising things happen. I’ve done shows in concrete basements, Mexican restaurants, pool halls, coffee shops, rooftops, and a tortilla factory. Recently, I’ve been doing a series on subway cars—the J, A, and 7—centered around this band called the Eskalators. The fifteen of them spread out through the whole car. You’re just dancing next to the flute player, the violin player, or the trumpet player; people are crowd-surfing and having a total blast. The train’s also full of normal people, who I would think are also having a blast. One guy on the 7 train asked a player for his trumpet. He did a solo during the song and then got off at the next stop.

There are good shows, and then there are shows that suck for whatever reason. Even with just a concrete room, there is so much shit that can go wrong. Everything in my life is partly broken, so that’s one thing. In fact, it’s always a surprise when shows don’t totally fall apart. One of the first shows I did was on a rooftop in Crown Heights. It had been pouring rain as we were building the stage, and it was still pouring when all the bands started showing up. We had an awesome metal afro-Indian fusion band, and a band dressed as lifeguards, and an indie-rock-pop thing called Medics. I talked to my friend Phil about whether or not to go through with the show, and we were like, we got this far, let’s just do it and see what happens.

The rain stopped right when the doors opened, which was fucking amazing. But then the giant plastic tarp we built blew over five minutes before the show started, so we started taking out keys and punching air holes. Then, in the middle of a song in the Medics set, the power went out. No one knew what was going on. I ran through the crowd and crawled under the stage to check the plugs. The drummer was doing this drumroll thing right over my head, and I was the one who put the wood together, so I knew that this wasn’t the best part of the stage to be under. I was freaking out that he might fall through the stage and I would die and no one would even know I was under there.

I found the thing that was unplugged and plugged it in. The great thing about electrical disasters at shows is that there’s always this moment when you plug back in and every-thing makes this crazy feedback noise, all at the same time. The sound went on and the lights went on and they all started playing again. Best moment ever.

Ahearn drove to Austin, Texas, last week with 24 musicians in a bus that runs on vegetable oil. His next show will be at Silent Barn on March 29.

As told to Alexis Swerdloff

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