Allston Underground Music Scene Raises Safety Issues

Photo by Tomas Jordan
Written by BU News Service

Vanessa Rodriguez
BU News Service

It’s a Saturday night in Allston. College kids are packed shoulder to shoulder in the basement of a private home. It’s dark, overcrowded, and people are drunk and dancing.

Allston’s underground music scene thrives in the homes of 20-somethings who put together makeshift concerts for indie bands. The organizers of these shows take on the responsibility of having strangers in their homes and take the gamble of guests respecting their house rules.

Safety is a problem at these shows because the shows are illegal, and therefore organizers are hesitant to call the police in the event of dangerous activity.

Ryan Callahan, an avid house show attendee, said he understands the dilemmas that venue runners face regarding safety.

“The people who run the venue definitely have a responsibility to make sure nobody’s getting hurt, and it’s not getting too crazy,” Callahan said. “But on the other side of that, it being a house show means that they have no real control.”

“It’s tough to blame these people because they’re opening their homes to strangers and hosting music for people which is so great,” Callahan said.

House venue runners have faced this issue of control for years, according to Christine Varriale, staff manager of the popular music blog  Allston Pudding.

Alex I., who did not give his last name, has been running a house show venue since September and struggles with the limitations of control in his home during shows.

“We can’t do much to ensure the safety of our guests,” Alex said. “But we all look out for each other. We are sort of this weird family of caring strangers.”

Alex said he tries to foster a sense of community among the people who attend shows at his home and to encourage guests to be a part of keeping the shows safe.

“What we say in the house is law,” Alex said. “If we want someone gone, we have more than enough people to make sure they leave.”

Varriale has been involved in house shows for over five years. As a musician, journalist, concertgoer, and show booker she understands how these shows operate from every perspective.

“In Allston, it’s hard to control because people just kind of wander in off the street,” Varriale said.

Varriale said she prioritizes safety at the shows she books by having a “point person” whom anyone can go to if they have an issue or feel unsafe.

“Every booker has their own system in place,” Varriale said. “Whether that’s having rules for their shows or having a point person, it’s good to not be running the show by yourself.”

Gender Cayford, a local musician and show booker, has set rules for each show she books, and she encourages other bookers to do the same.

“Make it clear that you don’t tolerate any sort of disrespectful behavior at the show and enforce that to the best of your and your trusted friends’ at the shows abilities,” Cayford said.

Show bookers play a big role in controlling the chaotic nature of these shows. After several reports of harassment, including sexual harassment and racist and homophobic comments, a group of concerned showgoers began to push for change. One of them, Jasmine Taibi, co-founded The Show Mom Collective, a group of show bookers who are dedicated to ensuring the safety of guests.

Taibi did not return requests for comment, but Varriale, a friend of the group, commented on the presence they have built for themselves over the past few years.

“They’re pillars of the scene at this point,” Varriale said. “People recognize them. They use that power to make people aware that they won’t tolerate certain things.”

Recently bookers have been cracking down, according to Varriale. They have started creating blacklists of people who are no longer allowed at the events they plan. But she acknowledged this does not always keep the problematic patrons at bay.

“If those people show up to your show … and they get angry they could call the cops and bust your show,” Varriale said. “There are a lot of fine lines to walk that are kind of inevitable because it is technically an illegal venture.”

Varriale said many of these banned showgoers are unwelcome primarily due to incidents involving physical fights, but several men have been blacklisted for sexually harassing women.

“That’s always an issue that you have to deal with unfortunately,” Varriale said.

Though these spaces are unregulated, the shows are safer now than in previous years due to bookers prioritizing safety, Varriale said. She said in recent years there have been fewer problems with police and fewer instances of harassment. Ultimately, venue runners cannot predict what will happen in their homes and concertgoers are more than willing to support the venues.

“Sometimes I feel overwhelmed because there are too many shows, which is a good problem,” said Varriale. “We’re back in a surge.”

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