BUCKSPORT, Maine — Bucksport’s idyllic Waterfront Walkway and quiet milltown demeanor are in sharp contrast with the syncopated stomps, crunches and riffs of East Coast hardcore, punk and metal. On its face, the town seems more a place for lazy Sundays than clenched fists.
Still, a former tractor-trailer garage on Silver Lake Road has emerged as a nerve center for the Maine, New England and world hardcore music scenes. Fliers posted on the wall from past shows are like a Hall of Fame for underground music, and huge acts in the hardcore scene – such as Madball, Integrity, Hope Conspiracy, Hatebreed, Unearth, Blood for Blood and Agnostic Front – have all graced the The Kave stage.
The chem-free, all-ages venue sits in the backyard of Kathy Findlay, who opened the The Kave about 12 years ago. The controlled chaos falls squarely in Findlay’s lap, from booking the shows to cooking pizza dinners for musicians and putting up touring bands for the night in bunk-bed-style lodging.
That homey vibe has created huge buzz about The Kave, with bands from all over asking their booking agents to make sure they’ve got a stop in Bucksport, Findlay said. The Kave is unique among venues in that it’s dedicated solely to hardcore, metal and punk. It’s not just a place where those bands can play, it’s a place designed specifically for them to play.
“Every show is a big hardcore family picnic,” Findlay said Wednesday before a concert featuring local acts and touring bands from Texas and California. “People know about The Kave all over the world.”
A show on Wednesday night attracted nearly 150 people. Ticket prices usually range from $5 to $10.
“Everyone’s heard of this place. It’s legendary,” said Brandon Garrett, the 23-year-old Brewer man who sings for Off The Grid, a local hardcore band that played Wednesday night. “I’ve been coming here seven years. When I was a kid, this was a place to escape high school.”
Other attendees referred to The Kave as “a family,” “a community,” and a “landmark.” Some of them call Findlay “Mom,” to recognize her role in nurturing Maine hardcore.
Now, the community that Findlay has fostered is returning the favor, joining to raise the funds, supplies and labor to repair the failing roof at The Kave to ensure hardcore still has a home in Maine.
‘A chain of angry moments’
It’s difficult to explain the hardcore music scene. The genre emerged from the punk scene in the 1980s as a bare-bones, back-to-basics reaction to the decadency and fashion that had begun to define punk rock. Over time, musical influences from metal seeped in, creating “hardcore” as it sounds and looks today.
The music is fast, aggressive and often angry, though lyrics regularly espouse the values of positivity, perseverance, friendship, family and community. Kids in the scene say those values are integral.
The scene is predominantly male, and macho “hardcore dancing” is ubiquitous. It’s a style of dance that’s hard to imagine anyone doing if they hadn’t seen other people do it first. There are a lot of different moves, but nearly every one of them is conducted with clenched, swinging fists.
The hardcore scene has rallied against the perception of its violent imagery since its inception. A gang of hardcore kids called FSU – gentlemen disagree on whether that stands for “Friends Stand United” or “F—- Sh— Up” – was notorious for their violence, which was documented on the History Channel TV show “Gangland” and in a widely distributed DVD called “Boston Beatdown,” which showcased acts of violence perpetrated by hardcore kids.
Though hard dancing was present for the entire lineup of bands at a Kave concert Wednesday night, no one got hurt. Concertgoers said there are unwritten rules of etiquette that keep stray fists from landing on other people. The moves and the kids may look tough, but in Bucksport, it’s catharsis, not aggression.
“It’s a type of self-expression,” Garrett said. “Sadly, life is a chain of angry moments. You put it aside when the weekend comes, you get rid of those feelings.”
When a series of leaks opened up in The Kave’s roof this spring, rainwater threatened to shut down the venue – and the scene it hosts – for good.
“It was leaking into the amp room, where all the equipment is,” Findlay said Wednesday. “I had to rush in and save the gear. The shingles are like 30 years old, and once they go, that’s it.”
Findlay wanted to pay to fix the roof herself. She said it was a matter of pride: She’d always taken care of The Kave and said it was her way to contribute to the scene she loved. But the financial burden was too large. It would have cost thousands of dollars to buy the shingles and pay the laborers to fix The Kave.
So when a pair of her “Kave kids” organized a digital-download compilation of 17 singles from local bands to raise money for the roof, Findlay budged.
“For the kids to be so passionate, that really swayed me.”
“ The Kave United!” was released online last week, organized by Matt Vachon and TJ Washburn, two Kave regulars. It’s a free download, but listeners are encouraged to donate through Paypal.
“If you’ve been to one show or 100 shows at The Kave you’ve undoubtedly brought a lot of memories out of each one of those shows,” Washburn said in a recent statement. “Kathy has provided a place for bands from Maine and beyond to have a place to call home for over 10 years. … This compilation is our way of giving back to her and The Kave.”
Vachon, who sits on several city committees in Brewer and has run for City Council there, said it’s only natural for the community to support The Kave.
“The Kave is home for a lot of people,” he said Wednesday. “It’s like fixing our home so we can keep living there.”
At Wednesday’s concert, the bands called on attendees to support Findlay and donate money. Rob Parker and Stephanie Pottle of Hampden pitched in $150. Parker said he’d been attending Kathy’s shows since before she had The Kave, when she rented out churches and Elks Lodges in eastern and central Maine.
Between the compilation and donations of money and supplies, Findlay has already amassed about $750 plus several pallets of shingles. Others have agreed to donate their time to work on the roof, and a member of the hardcore scene in Massachusetts convinced his boss to donate even more roofing supplies. Findlay said that man had never even been to The Kave.
And Findlay’s been effusive with her thanks. After Wednesday’s show, she took to Facebook:
“I am honored and humbled by the sheer numbers of supporters,” she wrote. “A simple thank you just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard, but know this: I never forget!”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine. Disclosure: Mario’s horrible punk band played The Kave when he was in high school.