Still here
Getting out of the house and into a punk show

Still here
Kirbie Bennett - 03/16/2023

While Lo Cash Ninjas are busy setting up their gear, a large crowd is forming behind their backs. Sometimes I don’t have the willpower to attend local shows, but when I heard the news that the Indigenous ska-punk band would perform here in Durango, I promised myself I wouldn’t miss it. The band’s a unique and special one for me. We share the same hometown of Shiprock, and I grew up with the frontman, Jordan Steele. Having missed out on their previous stops in Durango, I couldn’t let that happen again last month at Anarchy Brewing Co.

Any time the band members turn around to face the crowd, the size keeps growing. People are standing shoulder to shoulder, constantly reshuffling to make room for each other. The venue seems to shrink for this reason, but it also feels like the world’s expanding. The punks are black, brown and white. Women are at the front of the crowd, like Bikini Kill once demanded. Sometimes I daydream of what another world could look like. I envision a community as diverse as a garden, bringing to life what poet George Oppen once wrote: “We have chosen the meaning / Of being numerous.” Sometimes, like at this show, all I have to do is look around and see it forming in front of me. 

When the band’s ready, Steele takes the mic and works the crowd up into a frenzy. A mosh pit is already forming over the first few notes. Along with Matt “Sully” Sullivan, the bar owner, some crowd members volunteer as security, keeping the mosh pit from spilling into the band’s performance space. Maybe trust is as natural as sweat, but the guitarists are unconcerned with the storm they’re stirring up. 

During a few songs, Steele swaggers into the crowd while singing. The punks enthusiastically give him space while singing along to every word. The band conjures up a frenzied soundscape of thrash and melody. Harmony and discord are dancing together while Steele’s vocals move from snarled singing to guttural screams. I’m fixated on these moments. I’m witnessing a microcosm of the kind of support I wish to see on a daily basis: white folks not only using their bodies as barriers, giving space to folks of color to dance and thrash around, but also mindfully being accomplices to the chaos. 

Steele takes a pause and dedicates the next song “Still Here” to Indigenous people. A joyful cheer fills the air, especially from the Natives who comprise nearly half the crowd. “Still Here” is a militant and melodic celebration of Indigenous resistance. Hearing this song in this setting brings a smile to younger me. This is the kind of representation and community that was absent from the punk scene I discovered as a kid. 

The song is a minute and a half long, but after witnessing it live, I know it will ring in my chest for a lifetime. Once again, I’m reminded of music’s transcendent power. How even the slam dancing taking place in the pit can become something more than just a blissful mess of movement. I think of how my friend Gabby once expressed it. Last year, the day after news leaked that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, Gabby sent me a text. The thread started with: “I NEED TO VENT.” She was at a Bikini Kill show when the radical frontwoman Kathleen Hanna broke the devastating news to the audience.

“Now I very much understand why you love punk so much,” she wrote, adding: “I’ve never felt so supported in a mosh pit, so aligned in values with a band and crowd.”

Within that catharsis of colliding bodies, there’s an unspoken understanding that everyone’s trying to look out for each other; an understanding that says beyond these walls the world can break our hearts or take away our rights, but in here with no division, nothing can hurt us. 

Near the end of Lo Cash’s set, Steele dedicates the song “Corn Pollen Kisses” to all the lives lost in recent years. The song’s a slow groove ska jam, offering a blessing to hearts still healing in an endlessly tragic world. If you put a mic to the heart, it would sound like Steele’s bellowing screams. Note by note, word by word, the band keeps constructing an architecture of emotional resilience. We take shelter in it. 

After the set ended, I visited briefly with Steele.

“Man, I still have that punk rock mix CD you made me in high school,” he immediately told me. It takes a minute for me to remember, but in high school I was constantly making mix CDs for friends. “There’s a Napoleon Dynamite quote on the disc,” he added, to refresh my memory. And that definitely sounds like something I would have done in 2004. He said I had an influence on the path he took with music. We hugged, and I left thinking about the seeds we plant every day and the joy that can sprout in spite of infinite darkness. 

When I get home, I’m tired but renewed. Happier than I’ve been in a while. What’s the best way to nurture this hopeful feeling? All I can do is what the writer Jessica Hopper once advised. I walk to my bookshelf, grab “Neon Wilderness” by Nelson Algren, and “kiss it three times for luck and ask god what’s next.”

– Kirbie Bennett

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