Swamp Fest: Where Punk Rock and Safe Spaces Coexist



The Great Dismal has brought back Swamp Fest, a DIY celebration with a focus on heavy music. This year the bands are gonna rock harder and be more vocal about their politics.

It’s a music-oriented festival, but it’s more than that. It’s a hardcore punk music fest based around community and bringing together people who are doing the same kind of thing in different scenes. They can check each other out, build their contacts, and have a really good time. 

It is very similar to something that was big in the 90’s hardcore scene, which was also the time that a lot of people credit as being the birth of screamo.

“There were a lot of festivals like that. I travelled in 1999 to Columbus, Ohio for The More the Music Festival and that was a very political festival.” Drew Necci, Great Dismal member, explained. “They did workshops during the day before the bands would start and had a focus groups and affinity groups and all this stuff happening. It was supposed to increase the political consciousness of the scene and also bring people together. People came from all over the country, there were festivals of all kinds back in the 90’s that were of that type.”

These days you still have them, but they are a much more corporate thing. Like Riot Fest or Fuck Yeah Fest, which is now FYF Fest because they can’t be Fuck Yeah anymore. Or just The Fest, down in Gainesville, Florida which is probably the most still punk of them all, featuring a lot of DIY bands. But The Fest is more like a South by Southwest experience, a bunch of shows happening all over town at once. You’re running back and forth and you can maybe catch a quarter of the bands if you’re lucky.

“Swamp Fest is more like what people used to do in 1997, where there’d be one place, you’d go, and there’d be bands all day for three days at that once place. It could easily be a Richmond-centric thing, just because there’s a lot of kids involved in the scene here, but I think last year they kind of had to throw it together on the fly.” Necci said. “It ended up being much more a focus on the out of town scene and the bands that knew each other from the internet, all coming together at one place. It had not even a geographic community thing, but a community of like minds, which was really inspiring to me.”

In a lot of ways, The Great Dismal wanted Swamp Fest to be a thing that spreads the word to people who care about this kind of music, that there is a scene beyond their town and there are other bands, so if they feel like they’re a lone voice screaming in the wilderness, they’re not.


In addition to three days of music, The Great Dismal has also created a 64-page zine. There will be a section that will be a write-up of who these bands are and where you can listen to them. Then there’s going to be longer interviews with three of the bands, which are Coma Regalia, Weak Wrists, and This Land is Now Dead. Everyone except for the bass player of This Land is Now Dead lives in Haunted Mansion, a house show venue, and they’re in the middle of that scene here in town.

“Coma Regalia are from Indiana, and who knows what version of the band will show up this year. Last year, Shawn Decker showed up with a guitar player and he played drums and sang and that was Coma Regalia. There’ve been all sorts of different line ups of them, but at the end of the day it’s Shawn.” Necci said. “He’s been in the scene in Indiana forever, and he’s an example of somebody who has kept it going for a long time and has a strong DIY ethic. He runs Middle Man Records and he’s just a right on dude and a good voice to have in the zine.” The third interview is with Weak Wrists, from North Carolina.

“We think they’re a good example of both a band getting better and more can’t miss musically, but also have a lot of political and social-political ideas in their lyrics and their music that we want to spotlight.” said Necci. In addition to interviews, Jake Cunningham is doing a 16-page photo spread with his best photos from last year’s Swamp Fest.

The biggest and most important statement of the zine is that The Great Dismal is a politically-motivated crew of kids and they want to have voices from our community talking about things that are important to them politically. There will be political essays on safe spaces, which is something they are super concerned about as a group of people.

“It’s important to create that non-intimidating environment, because punk can be pretty fucking intimidating. And when everybody seems like they’re putting a premium on violence and aggression and this kind of macho power thing, it’s kind of intimidating to people who are not traditionally in those spots. People who are not straight white men. We do not want that for our community.” Necci explained. “A lot of us are not straight white men, and we don’t want to go to shows and see nothing but straight white men. So safe spaces are important to us to make other people feel welcome, to remind them that this is a style of music we like, not a way of acting that we like.”

The goal overall is to create climate in which everyone feels safe and people feel okay to talk about potentially intense issues.

I think punk rock is more about playing music, it’s about being politically conscious, it’s about giving a shit, and that’s what I want this fest to be about.” Mitchie Shue, organizer, said. “It’s about shaking the tough guy stigma, this is our answer to things like that. I love heavy music, I love cathartic, aggressive music, but it doesn’t have to be about beating each other up. It can be about a lot more.”

Pre-show is Friday, August 12 at 25 Watt. Fest is Saturday, August 13 & Sunday, August 14 at Strange Matter. Zine will be available for purchase before and during the fest.

For the full line up and tickets: https://swampfest.wordpress.com/

The Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1771130389783939/

Jake Cunningham’s work: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25064766@N04/collections/

photos in this article by Jake Cunningham





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