On Martin Luther King day, while most of the country celebrated the equal rights movement in this country and one of their leaders, Wes Breedwell was being terminated from his job of seven years at Tennessee punk venue Rockettown for wearing a t-shirt to work. The t-shirt, produced by Connecticut’s Hostage Calm said, “I Support Same Sex Marriage,” and was cited in his termination notice as violating the political and religious views of his employers.
This event launched significant and polarizing discourse in the punk community about how venue (particularly those run by Christian organizations) and scene views coalesce and whether the places punk fans patronize for shows are actually the progressive safe haven they are expected to be. Despite this unfortunate, and disappointing turn of events, which has found many bands boycotting the venue, the band at the eye of the storm, Hostage Calm, announced a split 7” with Anti-Flag benefiting charity organizations in their hometown.
Appropriately, Hostage Calm’s participation benefits Music Haven an organization that believes music brings together people of all races, ethnicities, socio-economic class, genders, and ages to support each other.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Hostage Calm vocalist Chris Martin to discuss the split and issues at Rockettown. This is what he told us about those situations…
You guys were involved in a tour with Anti-Flag and you are releasing a 7” split with them that is benefiting some hometown organizations. Did you conceive that on the road together?
The shows were going great. Anti-Flag were one of the foundational political punk bands in terms of opening up our minds about various political and social issues. They were the primary punk band who were doing that when I was growing up.
I think Christopher 2 mentioned that they were interested in releasing one of the b-sides from their most recent record on a split. And they invited us; I was like, “Oh fuck, wow.” So it did happen on tour actually.
So we had a b-side that was written while we were working on Please Remain Calm that we’d never recorded, so we went back and finished it. We did it with Greg Thomas, who worked with us on our self-titled record. We hadn’t had a chance to record it during the Please Remain Calm sessions because we were so swamped trying to finish the album. We were working 12-hour days, 7 days a week so there was no time for anything else but getting that album done.
Did the idea to use that as a benefit come later? How did you determine what organization should benefit from that?
The original idea was that it would be for a cause. We talked about the network of people that we worked with, and Anti-Flag have a huge network of people that they work with. So there was this discussion that we wanted to use this for a cause.
We talked about being involved in music, and specifically local music, and got the idea to sticking to a local community resource from where we were from. Promoting music in underprivileged areas was something that we’d always wished that we could do more, and that we wished that punk did to a greater degree. So it was something that had been our minds for a while.
You guys are releasing the 7” at a time when another community organization is taking issue with your politics. Were you surprised having performed at Rockettown in the past that they had this kind of agenda?
We had played there a few different times, and we were aware that they were a Christian organization. But I don’t judge and it seemed like a tolerant place. It was a cool place with a skate park and venue, so it surprised me. We saw it as a force for the community.
We had met Wes when we booked shows there and he was the ambassador as far as we saw it. He was cool, and is cool because he’s not down with the bullshit there, so it was shocking when he was fired for sure. There are really two issues at work here, the ethics and legalities of Wes being fired, and the fact that all these punk bands are playing there. It represents something very different than what we’d originally thought.
There are a lot of other bands who have taken on an active boycott of that venue. Is that something you are involved in?
We are currently boycotting them. We haven’t been…it is more that other bands have recognized what is wrong there and have joined in. It isn’t a coordinated thing. It is just an obvious wrong for anyone with a conscience and they don’t want to be part of that.
The note that he was given for his termination makes clear that the organization is at odds with things that punk music is trying to represent. That note says it all. We don’t want to be involved with that kind of organization. So we’ve been trying to help Wes tell his story, and let people that play and go to shows there know what’s going on.
We hope that is starts a broader discussion on what punk venues should represent, what discrimination in the workplace is, and the even bigger question of same sex marriage, LGBT issues, and those kinds of things. There is a great deal of discrimination that goes on towards transgender people and same sex couples and gay individuals. I hope this starts a broader discussion on these kinds of things. It isn’t just about the shirt, or Wes, or same sex marriage, it is a broader discussion.
We want to have a safe space for a punk show, and when you don’t it is really disappointing. I think the backlash that has come as a result of this blowing open has shown how supportive people are of LGBT issues. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. The basic thing is that people didn’t know this was going on and we wanted to bring it to light.
Wes has a battle ahead of him, and there are thousands of Americans dealing with a whole variety of types of discrimination. They lose jobs, opportunities for housing, and those kinds of things every day. We are hoping to draw some inspiration from this to talk about those things. Punk can be a safe haven, and be an ideal representative place where we can work on the problems passed on by the rest of society. It can be a role model. That’s my hope.
(Catch Hostage Calm at one of these upcoming shows:
Mar 08 Stone Pony Asbury Park, NJ
Mar 09 The Met Café Pawtucket, RI w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 10 Upstate Concert Hall Clifton Park, NY w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 12 The Basement Columbus, OH w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 13 Irving Theater Indianapolis, IN
Mar 14 The Pyramid Scheme Grand Rapids, MI w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 15 Turner Hall Ballroom Milwaukee, WI
Mar 16 Fitz Spare Key Elmhurst, IL
Mar 18 The Aquarium Fargo, ND w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 19 Sokol Underground Omaha, NE w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 20 The Firebird St Louis, MO
Mar 21 Downtown Music Hall Little Rock, AR w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 22 Zydeco Birmingham, AL
Mar 23 The Roc Bar at Brewster’s Jacksonville, FL
Mar 25 The Soapbox Wilmington, NC
Mar 27 Empire West Springfield, VA w/ The Wonder Years
Mar 29 The Harmony Grange Wilmington, DE)