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Music Venues Raking in Cash to Counter Trump Policies With Benefit Shows

By Gwynne Hogan | February 8, 2017 8:33am
 Organizers raised just over $12,000 at a sold out show at Brooklyn Bazaar on Feb. 4 to benefit the ACLU.
Organizers raised just over $12,000 at a sold out show at Brooklyn Bazaar on Feb. 4 to benefit the ACLU.
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Photo by Ryan Muir/Courtesy of No Enemies to the Left

WILLIAMSBURG — Music venues in Queens and Brooklyn are raking in cash for progressive causes from frustrated New Yorkers looking to counter President Donald Trump's policies.

Musicians, venues and organizers say they've seen a surge in bands willing to play benefit shows and crowds willing to fork over their cash to support a cause.

One of the biggest fundraisers, called Nasty Women Exhibition, at the Knockdown Center in early January, said they raised more than $42,000 for Planned Parenthood and $8,000 for other smaller non-profits. At a Feb. 4 fundraiser at Brooklyn Bazaar called No Enemies to the Left, organizers raised $12,000 for the American Civil Liberties Union.

And while some bigger venues are pulling in hefty chunks of cash, smaller venues all across the neighborhood, like Silent Barn, Union Pool, Our Wicked Lady, Cobra Club and Shea Stadium, are opening their doors night after night with fundraisers.

"All of a sudden almost all shows are benefits," said Jessica Numsuwankijkul, a guitar player and singer of Heliotropes and a band she just started called Debbie Downer.

Of the seven shows she's booked since January, six have been benefits. "I never foresaw this happening prior to Trump being elected. I never thought there would be this sudden musical situation where all of a sudden every show becomes a benefit for a political cause," she said.

For a sold-out fundraising gig she's playing Wednesday night for Planned Parenthood at Saint Vitus Bar in Greenpoint, the bill ended up having more men on it then they'd hoped because many of the women bands they'd reached out to were already booked.

"They were already playing other Planned Parenthood events," Numsuwankijkul said.

And some who've never organized shows before have been pulled into the fray to help out. 

Amber Schaefer, 30, a filmmaker and 6-year resident of Greenpoint, started dreaming up the concert series called "No Enemies to the Left," aimed at funding different non-profits, right after the election.

"There were so many of us [who said] why didn’t I go to law school?” she said. “How do we use what we are good at to help?”

Her Feb. 4 sold out event at Brooklyn Bazaar raised $12,000 for the ACLU and she plans having future shows to benefit climate change organizations and LGBTQ rights groups.

Bands like Wet, Alex Cameron and Free the Mind who performed that night didn't need much convincing to participate, she said.

"Nobody was paid. Everyone was just so happy to do it," she said. “They were like 'Please, thank God.'"

Belvy Klein, co-owner of Brooklyn Bazaar, said that the turnout he saw on Saturday was inspiring. 

"It's really great to see and brings me back to my punk rock/activist roots," Klein said. "The amount of good will I'm seeing for benefits like this and the massive pushback to Trump and all these terrifying policies and cabinet picks is awesome."

Sarah Hanson, the organizer behind Party to Protect, a new concert series and forthcoming website which will coach rookies on throwing their own benefit shows, wasn't in the show-throwing business until Trump's election. 

"We have to do something about this," she'd thought, figuring that with her background as a project manager, she could raise money. "I've been in Williamsburg for 15 years. I know a lot of bar owners, a lot of bands, people who work for liquor distributors."

Her sold-out show at Saint Vitus Bar on Wednesday night has earned $3,750 in ticket sales, but stands to pull in much more from drink sales and a $40 tattoo pop-up.

Even beyond using their venues for shows, some say they've seen organizers ask to use the space for other things. Union Pool has fielded requests for political organizing, like a Tuesday night gathering where residents will write postcards to their local elected officials together, said manager Alex Holden.

While the surge in activism is inspiring and is a real way that musicians, who often have limited cash to put towards donations, can help, Numsuwankijkul wonders how long it will last.

"It’s sustainable as long as long as musicians aren’t relying on the money to pay their expenses, but also some people do,” she said. “I wonder if this is going to keep up."

Planned Parenthood didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

►Here are some upcoming benefit shows in the neighborhood: