Todd P.: A Show for All Agesby Megan Martin
It’s the middle of summer, and in typically hot Brooklyn fashion, the kids have come out to play. Everyone is gathered behind an industrial lot off the highway, under the overpass and next to a BP gas station. (Those really are the best directions.) We all paid five bucks plus two dollars for PBRs to be here, and we want to hear some good music. Don’t worry, though, there will be music.
Dan Deacon has his hands and microphone raised to the sky, cursing the Creator for weather delays: “Thanks a LOT, God!” But it matters little: The show must go on. And the person ensuring this unfailing production is Todd Patrick, the man with a plan.
The skies clear, like some sign from Heaven itself, and suddenly around two hundred concertgoers in cutoffs and sweaty tees are springing across the abandoned lot, pumping their fists to the sound of victory.
This is a Todd P gig, at an obscure space somewhere in Brooklyn turned into a venue for an all-ages rock show. Bands like Matt and Kim, Japanther, Lightning Bolt, Parts and Labor, and hundreds of others have graced the bills of these underground festivals. The scene is an egalitarian mix of misfits and music lovers, where beer is an uninflated two dollars, and you can hang all day for about ten bucks a ticket and listen to a dozen of your favorite bands. And every Todd P show seems to have this type of triumphant, cheering vibe.
“The main benefit is, these kinds of spaces take a lot of the focus away from extemporaneous aspects of the live music business,” says Matt Conboy, owner and operator of Death By Audio, an effects-pedal company out of Brooklyn. “There’s no sponsors, there’s no industry behind it—it’s just a place to see good music. There’s only that priority.”
It’s a simple concept—making something that everybody loves more accessible. Whether you’ve been a musician for twenty years or you’re a high-schooler with a passion for sweaty mosh pits, there’s a commonality of sorts that collides at a Todd P show.
Before moving to New York, Todd lived in Portland, where he ran 17 Nautical Miles, a popular music venue. It was there that he connected with Calvin Johnson, owner of the label K Records (which has signed bands such as Modest Mouse, the Blow, and Chicks on Speed).
“He’s figured out the art of putting on a show,” says Johnson of Todd. “We benefit as artists because we are playing these human-level shows where we actually get paid an amount of money that reflects the interest. He’s able to work with whatever level you’re at, whether it’s two thousand or twenty people coming.”
On the flip side, organizing these shows isn’t exactly as easy as walking into a parking lot or overtaking a church basement and playing the shit out of it. There are legalities to deal with, communities who don’t acre for the music, police officers who don’t condone loitering on the streets, and fire marshals who are dying to shut you down due to the violation of some arcane code or capacity limitation. By making something accessible to all, you’re bound to anger the few who are holding tightly to their liabilities and bottom lines.
“The best way to avoid having problems with the community or the police is to not be a problem for the police or your community,” says Todd. “Everybody breaks the rules when they go over capacity, or they make more noise than there’s supposed to be, or they let people get drunker than they’re supposed to. All [clubs and bars] do it.”
“What we do is no more or less illegal. You can have everything ‘up to code,’ and if the neighborhood doesn’t like you, or the police don’t like you, you’re still gonna get shut down.”
Behind Todd P is his band of supporters and workers ensuring that these problems will never rise to the surface.
“He’ll do a one-time show at some crazy space,” says Conboy, who also assists in throwing underground events. “He’ll have to do a million things at once: improvise entrance on a door and get generators, and on top of that, make sure the show happens. He’s really good at that; he’s got a lot of people around him with the attitude of ‘We’re going to do this together.’”
Todd employs various friends and interns and people from the scene to work the door and provide general security and maintenance of the shows. The disruption is minor, since there is a common goal of keeping a good thing alive. Todd says that in the ten-plus years he has been organizing shows, he’s never seen one get out of control.
“The vibe is so good. He sets the tone,” says Johnson. “He doesn’t have a bunch of security guys with black shirts on and SECURITY written across their chest. He doesn’t have a bunch of jerks there; people don’t act out because they don’t need to—they don’t need to rebel.”
Along with the cops and community boards, Todd has a unique problem on his hands that most promoters never face: the corruption of our youth. Since every show is all-ages, that means teenagers hang alongside twenty-somethings. Beer is sold at the events, but never to minors, as IDs are checked at the door. For Todd, along with many who comply with his sort of DIY ethos, it’s a no-brainer.
“What about ‘Music is only for adults’?” he asks. “I think music is one of the most grassroots of all the art forms in our culture. Music is one of the things that anyone can do; you don’t need formal training. It’s one of the most populist art forms, and here we are excluding people from listening to it because alcohol companies sort of capitalized on that experience.”
By refusing to organize an event where kids under eighteen or twenty-one aren’t allowed in, it limits the venues where a show can go on. The music industry has indeed capitalized on the fact that alcohol goes hand-in-hand with rock ’n’ roll.
“There’s no reason that music and alcohol have to be intertwined,” says Todd, “but also even if they are there’s no reason that having adults drinking should prevent anyone from being there. Adults drink at home and at sporting events and at a number of other places. But it’s this thing when you put drinking with rock concerts that it presents this moral threat to our youth.”
He explained that, by excluding youth from seeing music and art shows, we are ultimately condemning a musical and artistic future: “They’re not going to be inspired to form bands or pursue music or art or any other form.”
Leia Jospe agrees. She is a seventeen-year-old photographer and music lover, and a regular fixture at Todd P shows.
Meeting more people, making good contacts, and taking good photographs are three reasons why Jospe attends shows. She cites Todd as one of the few promoters who organize shows for all ages.
“Say a band you really love is coming from another country and it’s their only time in New York, and you can’t see them because the show is [for people] twenty-one and over. It doesn’t make any sense. The reason to get them to New York is to get them a lot more fans. By restricting it, a lot of kids can’t come and bring their friends.”
Jospe has become a part of a cultural community that would have otherwise been unavailable to her. But it’s not only the under-agers or the of-agers who are reaping the benefits of these shows. There are also the musicians.
“I cannot imagine a scene in Brooklyn without him,” says Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls. “He always puts together bills that are eclectic but cohesive. They’re always affordable. When we were first starting out, he put us on bills with bands that had a lot of acclaim and draw, he billed us with King Kahn and High Places. Opening for bands like that helps people hear of us or see us, and I would say it’s had something to do with our success.”
Johnson cites one of Todd’s Brooklyn events in the basement of Greenpoint’s Church of Messiah as a highlight in his long career of live performance.
“I’ve played in so many different kinds of venues with Todd P: storefronts, warehouses, Mexican restaurants, pool clubs. Every night is an event. It’s a special happening that you’re a part of, and the audience feels the same way.”
MEGAN MARTIN is a freelance writer and editor in chief of Working Class Magazine.