I remember seeing fliers or Facebook invites for all-ages shows at New Song Church a while back and at first I just thought, Oh, cool, another all-ages venue. Scenes in any city need exclusively all-ages venues to nurture the passion for playing live music in front of a crowd. Feeling that electric hum for the first time, looking out and seeing the frenzied look of your young peers watching, listening, those are the moments that create the future musical endeavours we end up following and watching. And then something struck me. I recognized many of the names…they were all bands from Windsor’s hardcore scene. But the venue was a…church?
It turns out that James Livingstone, a member of local Christian hardcore band Faithful Unto Death, along with a few other hardworking individuals, had set up Hardcore Church, a loosely knit group of promoters who brought affordable, safe, all-ages hardcore show to New Song Church (999 Drouillard Rd.) and seemingly with great success.
With his band about to launch their debut, Coming Home, at New Song this Sunday, The Windsor Zene talked to Livingstone about the history of how New Song Church became a Hardcore Church and what it takes to run all-ages shows in Windsor.
What prompted you to start booking hardcore shows in Windsor?
James Livingstone: The advent of Hardcore Church was really the culmination of a couple of things. Firstly, Kevin at New Song Church had run a day long festival of Christian bands on May 30th, 2009 headlined by the now defunct I Am The Vine. It ended up being a really great day of music and hanging out. It was a free show with bands from a range of genres and the fact that no one was trying to make any money or anything that day led to a great day of laid back music and a great turnout. My band, Faithful Unto Death, played our second show on this bill but the idea of regular shows at New Song didn’t really surface until much later.
Faithful Unto Death continued to play shows for the rest of the 2009 and began 2010 playing at the Blind Dog opening for We Came As Romans on January 8th. It was a great show and we had amazing crowd response with a massive mosh pit, which is something that we as a band really enjoy and encourage people to respond and participate in respectfully. Unfortunately this was close to the beginning of when the Blind Dog began hosting hardcore shows and, unbeknownst to us, there was still some apprehension on the part of the Blind Dog staff that allowing kids to mosh would lead to injuries and a lawsuit (and rightly so, just last week a kid fell and broke his neck at a Terror show in the states). This apprehension on their part coupled with us encouraging crowd participation led to them communicating to us and the promoter that had booked us that Faithful Unto Death would no longer be welcome to play at the Blind Dog. We spoke with the owner of the Blind Dog and apologized for any danger that we had unknowingly put his business in and told them that had we known that there were rules against moshing we would have stated them at the beginning of our set. As a Christian band, we had no intention of being defiant to rules set in place nor did we have any intention of encouraging violence against anyone. One of the cornerstone values of our band is non-violence and we continue to push for a positive and peaceful scene and we believe that that is not mutually exclusive with moshing. Unfortunately, the Blind Dog still felt that we would no longer be welcome in their venue so we accepted that decision and moved on to finding other places to play (We were eventually welcomed back to the Blind Dog on May 16th to play with the metalcore big name For Today and moshing is now allowed and the Blind Dog has grown into the premier venue in Windsor for National touring bands from many different genres, not just metal and hardcore.)
Unfortunately for a hardcore/metal band like ours, the options for venues were pretty slim. The only other venues at that time holding heavy music shows were The Chubby Pickle, which was sporadic in hosting shows, and The Coach & Horses, which was 19+, which presented a problem to both half of my band (that wasn’t 19 yet) and our underage friends that would like to see us. It was at this point that I approached Pastor Kevin Rogers and Pastor Rielly McLaren at New Song about the possibility of hosting more shows like the one he had done back in May and another one that they had put on since then. Fortunately they had been thinking the exact same thing simultaneously to us as Kevin’s sons Levi and Jesse had a band that was up and coming but was also looking for shows.
The next obvious choice is why at a Church – and why New Song Church? A church doesn’t seem like a likely candidate for that kind of music…
New Song is actually a very logical choice for this type of thing. New Song is a church located at 999 Drouillard Road and really has a heart and a passion for helping people and meeting needs so, as much as it may seem like an illogical choice for some churches, this is actually right up New Song’s alley. This is the kind of thing they have been doing for years in many different ways. They provide a ton of community services there including meals and breakfasts for people needing a bit of help, addiction counseling, a food bank, clothing etc. So when I approached Kevin about the idea of hosting shows at the church it was simply another need in the community that they had the resources to meet and so it was really something we were all excited about doing.
New Song was also the choice almost out of necessity. There had been many venues in the city that had been very short lived or had done well for a bit but then closed due to financial issues. Being in the Windsor scene in another band prior to Faithful Unto Death, I had seen lots of these places come and go, Club 1214, Gino A Marcus, Broken Barrel, Chubby Pickle and the list goes on. These places had all had a profound growing effect on the scene when they were in operation but as each one went under the local heavy music scene seemed to go a bit underground until another venue would surface. The heavy music scene never really went away, the Coach and Horses was still faithfully hosting shows and bands were still starting and playing but it was tough to build a bigger and better scene without a an all ages local venue that could really become a home for that scene.
Most of these venues went under because of the financial problems which are the reality of hosting heavy music shows. It is a tough market to make money in. Having to pay rent at a venue, pay for insurance in case some kid gets hurt, pay for staff, pay for sound equipment, a soundguy, etc. really runs up the operating costs of a venue and therefore runs up ticket prices. These higher ticket prices coupled with the fact that running an all ages venue doesn’t bring in much cash from an audience made up of teenagers and college/university aged students that don’t have a lot of money and most of which can’t by alcohol made almost any local venue for all ages local shows seem doomed from the beginning. How can you expect to make a profit in a city the size of Windsor while still paying all these bills? It’s a tough game even for those with the connections to book national acts.
This is really where New Song Church came in. They generously offered to allow us to work with them to put on shows and to make use of their building. This instantly solved a lot of the infrastructure and financial problems that plague local venues. We could make use of their building without paying rent, we could use their insurance, use their sound system, we could use volunteers to do sound and do doors and book bands. We also do not make any profits off of our shows and the door sales go first to pay out of town bands and then the rest usually goes to a local charity of some sort. This effectively lowered our operating costs to zero and opened the door for us to really just focus on putting on shows and giving bands a place to play, kids a place to hang out and a place for the scene to grow tighter and larger.
How long has the Hardcore Church being going on now? How has the audiences changed since you first started doing this?
Our first official show was on January 29th, 2010 so we have been going for over a year now hosting 1 or 2 shows a month and we have seen some really great growth in the shows there. The first couple shows to be honest were a lot of Christian kids just coming to hang out, some not even really interested in the music, but as time has gone on we have seen more and more just regular kids from the scene come to see New Song as a place to feel at home. We have hosted a ton of different local and provincial touring bands and even a few national acts from the regular and Christian sides of the coin. With each new band that comes in we get a different group of kids in and more of them discover that New Song is not an intimidating place, nor is there some big bait and switch where you come for a hardcore show and someone throws a bible at you, that’s not what we’re about.
Over the last year and a bit we have really seen a cool community of kids grow at New Song, that come to every show and have just become familiar faces. There is a really cool laid back vibe that goes on at our shows, devoid of some of the pretense, ego and exclusivity that can sometimes plague the heavy music genres, and that is the way we like it! The majority of people are there to just have a good time and enjoy some music which helps to make it a more welcoming atmosphere for new people to the scene. There are always new faces at the shows, kids just getting involved in the scene, starting a band and coming to shows. We have been trying to make New Song become a place where those kids can come and feel things out, try and mosh a bit, learn some lyrics, meet some people and feel at home enough to start being themselves and making friends. We all remember what it was like to go to our first couple shows as a kid surrounded by people that were older and cooler and seemed to know everyone and it took us a while to feel confident there. We want to allow kids to start that process in a friendly and accepting atmosphere and I think this has really helped us begin to build a consistent crowd at New Song. We now have more and more new faces every show and that is great, it means that more kids are getting exposed to the music, joining the scene and keeping the momentum of the community going so that in a few years when all the kids currently in the scene are old and tired like me, haha, there will still be a thriving community of artists and fans in the Windsor area.
You’ve got a big show this Sunday. What’s the deal?
As I kind of laid out above, the story of Hardcore Church is really interconnected with that of my band Faithful Unto Death. Our bass player Levi Rogers (son of pastor Kevin Rogers of New Song) and I do all of the booking and promoting for Hardcore Church so this may be a bit of shameless self promotion but here we go.
Faithful Unto Death has been around for a bit more than 2 years and has developed a bit of a following in Windsor. We are a Christian band that really shares a lot of the same values as Hardcore Church. We promote community and relationship in the scene and to show people that maybe there is a bit more to being a Christian than simply the stereotypes that get thrown around these days. We had some great momentum going playing lots of shows in Windsor and out of town as well but unfortunately in October 2010 lineup changes forced us to take some time off. We played our last show with our original drummer Terry Lesperance Jr. and second guitarist Myles Shuurman (ex-I Am The Vine) on October 29th to a packed crowd at our home venue New Song.
Usually the lineup change ends up being the death of the local band but for the last 6 months we have been working harder than ever. We took that time off to totally rework our sound, find a new drummer and write and record our debut album, Coming Home, which just released digitally last week. We spent a lot of time DIY recording our album with the help of Ryan Croppo at Warhead Studios here in Windsor and the result is something we are incredibly proud of and beyond excited to begin playing live.
We put together a lineup of some of our favorite bands that are really good friends of ours to have a big show at New Song for our CD release and first show in over 6 months. We have local Death Metallers Shinje opening up, our favorite local hardcore band Hellraiser playing second (seriously amazing guys that make some really catchy hardcore riffs), following them is local prog-metal whiz kids in Cyreene (these kids are always progressing and growing and they are one of the most talented technical bands in the area these days in my opinion), after them we have a Toronto positive hardcore band Uplift coming down for the party (these guys fit perfectly with what we are trying to do at New Song and have been spreading the word of our shows around the province on their tours).
We are really excited to be back on stage and to do it at our home. It’s going to be amazing to be back in front of friends and family once again so we are pumped and we have a really great set and show planned. Our band has always been about playing live, connecting with kids, making friends and pushing the local scene forward towards a more positive and loving community and we are excited to be back out there playing at home and on the road sharing those ideas. It will be the first time we play the songs off our new album live so we are hoping to see all of our friends and maybe some new ones out Sunday night at New Song Church.
You’ve brought in a lot of out of town bands, some that are fairly reputable and on some pretty solid labels. How do you manage to attract them to such an obscure venue?
To be honest the majority of it has been through friends and through word of mouth. We have brought in a lot of bands that we met while on the road with Faithful Unto Death but recently we have been having booking agents from larger bands contacting us to book signed bands like the Venia show that we had last month. Again, word of our shows got passed from one place to another and so when bands or booking agents are trying to book an Ontario tour that might not be able to make it work at the Blind Dog but still want an all ages show we get the call. We are really a place that compliments the Blind Dog and the Coach at this point, putting on shows that they can’t make work as a business. But yes, our main way of getting bands in is word of mouth. They heard from another band that played here that the show had a great turnout, lots of energy and they got paid, got a free meal, got a place to stay etc. and that just gets passed on and then I get a message when they want to come to the area. I get more messages from bands than I could ever possibly place on shows so we have to begin to sort through that and build lineups based on when we have New Song free, it’s a busy place, and what is best for the scene at that point. We also don’t give bands guarantees since we don’t have any profits banked for us to give them if a show tanks. We promise bands all door proceeds up to a negotiated amount and then the rest goes to charity. So sometimes the idea that there is no guarantee can scare off some bands but with bands spreading the word we are having no problem filling bills and with fans coming out we are getting all our bands paid which is amazing and is really a collaborative group effort of kids, promoters, bands and the church to put on shows which is what we are all about.
We also really want to make a direct link between the fans paying for a ticket and the bands getting paid so that people can feel like they are personally supporting the scene. We believe that it is good to have financial transparency and just tell people how we run things, that may be more detail then you wanted but I will let people know all of that if they ask so that they can know the inner workings of New Song. We hope by allowing people to how direct the connection is between bands and fans that it will help them call New Song home and take ownership of it by bringing out friends to help get their favorite band paid. We always charge 5 dollars for bills with out of town bands and 3 for all local bills.
We also recently had For Today come into New Song with Stray from the Path, Texas In July and Structures which was a show that we partnered with Joel Johnston of Windsor booking to put on. Joel is a good friend of ours and we wanted to do something special to commemorate having put on shows for a year and to see what effect having major label bands would have on the atmosphere we were trying to create at New Song. We had a huge turnout and though there were some hiccups it ran pretty smoothly. We are still discussing the possibilities of doing this again in the future.
Major Label bands are not really our bread and butter at this point though. We are really trying to focus on locals and Ontario bands that would not get a chance to play elsewhere. There are a ton of local bands just getting moving that might not be ready or have enough draw to play at another venue or get themselves out of town. But the only way bands get to that level is to get some practice playing live, sound checking, loading in, loading out, developing stage presence so we like to try and give lots of up and coming new bands a place on bills and to help them get through all those things and give them pointers that will help them grow to their full potential.
What are some of your highlight shows you’ve put on so far?
To be honest there have been tons of amazing bands at New Song but what really sticks out to me is just the environment in general. Fun, friends and music doesn’t get any better. I think some of the big highlights though have been our all local bills. They really showcase some of the fantastic technical and songwriting abilities that are bubbling just under the surface of the scene. I know my absolute favorites have been the bills that had Earth at Night on them. They are by far my favorite band and have really put their own efforts into making New Song what it is. We have also had a couple all day type events with tons of different bands across genres from the city and those have been an absolute blast. Another favorite show was definitely Uplift, Seven Out, Hellraiser and the Rowley Estate last December. That show was a really awesome time and really showcased the positive family vibe that New Song has.
Have you thought of doing shows at venues closer to downtown?
The downtown core has a certain air of inspiration that comes with it in terms of the Windsor music scene. I think that has a lot to do with all the other great venues within walking distance that all run shows across the spectrum of genres and build the scene there. Unfortunately we are kind of a bit away from all that so we aren’t getting a lot of people walking in off the street. It would be great to maybe extend our operation to other churches in the city and provide more shows in a month but for now we are content trying to get everything right at New Song and building the scene there until we have opportunity elsewhere. Again our business model really only works when a church (or another entity?) is covering the infrastructure costs and so it would be great to see other churches step up and offer kids in the area a safe place to hang out but outside of those options we aren’t to sure how to get ourselves closer to downtown.
Anything else in the works for the rest of the summer?
We will be having an all afternoon festival type show on June 12th with a couple out of town bands and lots of locals which will be a good time for sure and we are just starting to brainstorm for July. We will definitely be doing everything we can to put on shows for kids to fill some time while they are off school. We will be focusing on building the local scene from the ground up and continuing to put on shows as long as kids want them.
How has the Church’s response been to a scene, crowd and sound that is known for being a little…un-Church-like…
Hardcore kids fit in pretty well at New Song actually. As I said New Song is not really your typical church and though most of the people that go there won’t be showing up for a hardcore show they are happy to have us there and know that their church is being used to help kids out and give them a safe place to hang out and be themselves. It helps too that the local scene has really been very respectful of the church and its property. We haven’t heard any complaints yet and the way things are going I don’t expect to hear too many. Come down to a Friday night community dinner before a show and you will see what I mean. New song is made up of everyone from neighborhood drunks to suburban moms so it kind of breeds the sort of acceptance that welcomes everyone, including hardcore kids.
We also screen the bands that play at New Song by having them sign a statement of our core values that basically says that they are on board with the positive, nonviolent, accepting and safe environment that we are trying to build. If a band won’t sign the contract then we don’t allow them to play because we believe that we should protect our scene and only allow bands that have the scene’s best interests at heart to take the stage at New Song. We aren’t trying to censor anyone’s expressions but there are some bands that just promote ideas that are counter-productive to building a scene. Especially bands that promote people intentionally hurting other people, that just gets some kid hurt and a venue closed. So really we haven’t had any backlash from the church, nothing but encouragement. It helps that we also aren’t putting on stage bands that are going to tell you to go home and shoot your parents or something like that haha. That might ruffle a few more Christian feathers.
So what’s the mission of the Hardcore Church?
Our mission is really simple. Our mission is to create community by serving the Windsor music scene. We really just want to help kids out, give them a place to call their own and help them to know that our caring for them extends beyond just shows into whatever they need from us as they go through life. We are not pushing a major Christian agenda here; we believe that our faith calls us to love and serve and that this is one way to show kids that they have value, that they are worth something and that there are people in this world that care for them. It sounds like a hardcore show might be a really strange way to do that but honestly I was a kid that didn’t have the most amazing childhood story but I found refuge and friends in the music scene and it made a huge difference. This is one of the few ways that you can give a kid in that scene a sense of being cared for, of being important to someone and something. We believe that it is through spending time with one another and spurring each other onto better things that we can grow as individuals but more importantly as a community and a scene. So come out to New Song for a show and experience a really friendly and fun atmosphere where you can begin to get connected. We want to add you into the family. Look for me (James Livingston) or Rielly McLaren, Kevin Rogers or Levi Rogers or ask for us at the door. We would be glad to introduce you to people and show you around whoever you are.
Faithful Unto Death CD Release Party with special guests Uplift, Cyreene, Hellraiser and Shinje, Sunday May 8, New Song Church (999 Drouillard Rd.), All-Ages, 6:30pm