Michael Ravage and Ian Graham resurrect the city's first punk fest
To call the collection of 1970s Columbus punk bands a “scene' is maybe too generous. It consisted of only a handful of groups, namely the Blades (regarded as the city's first punk band), Michael Ravage's now-legendary Screaming Urge, Vorpal Gallery, Battery and the Kinectics.
Minus the Blades, all those bands christened the stage of the inaugural Nowhere Fest in 1978, when Ravage rented out a Methodist community center on 16th Avenue near Campus because he and his fellow punks had nowhere else to play. And the Blades still showed up.
“Zero Watts of the Blades — I was having a fight with him at the time over graffiti. He kept thinking we were trying to out-graffiti him. He'd put ‘The Blades' everywhere and we'd put ‘Screaming Urge,'” Ravage said. “He was mad at me, thinking I was trying to outdo him, so he showed up and declared himself the host of Nowhere. He carried a switchblade; he was kind of rough. … I said, ‘OK, go ahead.'”
Ravage charged $1 a head to cover the church's $100 rental fee, and while the fest packed the place, he still had to throw in some of his own money to cover the property damage. “They were throwing beer bottles through the windows,” Ravage said. “It was pretty cool, except the lady who worked for the church — she took the money at the door, and every time a window would break, she'd come look at me and point her finger. She'd say, ‘I'm watching! That's another window!'”
Nowhere continued in the ensuing years, moving to venues like the Northwood Community Center, the Agora and the Ohio Union at OSU. The event became a locus of Columbus' growing punk scene, and it opened doors to venues that had previously been off-limits.
“Everybody hated punks,” said Ravage's wife, who goes by Baby Lindy. “At that time, the culture was not accepted. It was considered offensive to the highest degree. They hated us. They hated Michael. They beat us up. It was just awful.”
“We finally had places to play after Nowhere,” Ravage said. “I feel it was the success of Nowhere that opened up the clubs to say, ‘OK, we'll let punk music in.'”
By the mid-'90s, when Nowhere was being held at Stache's, Ravage said the fest had begun to lose some of its founding punk spirit due to promoters focusing heavily on bands that would draw big crowds, so he ended it in 1996. “My original thing was [to highlight] bands that are rarely seen and don't normally get to play,” Ravage said. “So I killed it as a teenager. I didn't want to let it drag on like ComFest.”
In years past, Ravage always declined when well-meaning people asked him to resurrect Nowhere, but earlier this year he changed his tune when local musician Ian Graham (Terrestrials, Ouija Boys, Thee Thee's) brought it up at a reading for The Offense Book of Books, a two-volume compilation of Tim Anstaett's beloved 1980s fanzine, The Offense.
“We were both at the Lost Weekend [Records] reading, and in passing I said, ‘Hey, we should resurrect Nowhere,'” Graham said.
With the dispatches from the punk scene now readily available in the book, the timing felt right to Ravage.
“He had this thing about it not becoming an institution,” Baby Lindy said.
“But now, since I'm older, maybe it would be kind of cool if this still went on way after I died,” Ravage said. “Not that I'm near death. I don't want to sound like a relic.”
Graham took the organizational lead, nailing down the date (Friday, March 15), the venue (the Summit and adjacent Cafe Bourbon Street) and the bands, featuring groups from Columbus' punk-fueled past and scuzzy present: Twisted Shouts, Cheater Slicks, DANA, Erik Nervous, Big Hog, Messrs, Burning Itch, Ouija Boys and Ravage's own Baby Lindy & the Drug Mothers (featuring original Scrawl drummer Carolyn O'Leary). The night before, Dirty Dungarees will also host a pre-fest show featuring the Harrisburg Players, Unholy Two and Drunks with Guns.
“Dirty Dungarees seems very punk: Do your laundry, drink some beer, watch a band,” Ravage said.
While punks aren't getting edged out of clubs by Southern rock acts these days like they were in the late '70s, Graham does see some overlap. “Now, I think indie rock is our Southern rock. We hold the same contempt for each other. But it's fine. It's all in good fun,” Graham said. “I really wanted to do something to poke the bear and do something special that echoes history and [showcases] what's going on right now.”
“To be hated again is maybe not our goal,” Baby Lindy said. “But we never cared what people thought.”
“Yeah,” Ravage said. “We don't care.”