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Punk rockers sometimes get a bad rep. Often spotted wearing studded leather jackets, black clothing, crass t-shirts (the adjective, as well as the band), tattoos, piercings, and wild hairstyles, punks are typically viewed – especially in pop culture – as anti-conformity, anti-establishment anarchists, hell-bent on wreaking havoc and damning The Man.
The punk rock scene in St. John’s, Newfoundland is less focused on planning coup d'états to overthrow the government, however — instead, they’re working together to benefit their community. The local scene suits the amazing and under-rated term “philanthropunk” – when punk rock meets philanthropy.
Putting community first
Kidsfest was born six years ago. Founder Jeff O’Leary, working closely with another musician Lucas Ellsworth, put together a roster of events, with between eight and ten bands donating their time every year. In its inaugural year, Kidsfest was two shows, one at a bar and the other at an all-ages venue. It has since grown into a full weekend of events. As of 2018, the group had donated $5,000 worth of toys to The Happy Tree Campaign, which helps ensure children living in Newfoundland do not receive an empty stocking on Christmas morning.
O’Leary’s family would donate to The Happy Tree when he was a child, so the punk scene he was now part of as an adult felt like a natural progression.
“As a parent, I can’t imagine not being able to provide a happy and fulfilling holiday season for my kid,” O’Leary said. “Every kid deserves to be able to wake up Christmas morning and have something wrapped up for them, which has been the driving force behind this.”
He also puts a lot of effort into organizing safe and accessible all-ages rock shows, which help to open up the alternative scene to a new generation of headbangers.
“You can have tattoos, enjoy louder music and not be limited by the stereotype that is placed upon you for looking a certain way or expressing yourself alternatively — I want to set that example.”
Going beyond stereotypes
For Randyfest organizers Alexander Janes and Jordan Randell, the three-day music festival is a celebration of community. It was born as a house party in Randell’s basement, but after “going public” three years ago, the group opted to turn their festival into a fundraiser.
The most recent Randyfest saw its venue, The Ship Pub, reach full capacity. It was packed with leather, plaid, jean jackets, and huge smiles as attendees danced, moshed and screamed lyrics with the local bands. It was loud, chaotic — and heartwarming.
RandyFest has raised approximately $8,500 over the past two years. They amass large charitable donations thanks to the bands, graphic designers, and other volunteers who donate their time to organizing or playing during the three-day festival.
While discussing stereotypes against punk rockers, Janes recalled his mother mistaking a moshpit for a bar fight, noting that “high-energy crowds, wild movement, and screaming vocals can definitely intimidate someone who’s never been to a show. People need to recognize the positivity that can come out of punk music. When people come together here, it’s all love – having fun, supporting friends and fellow bandmates, and giving to some great charities.”
For the past two years, Randyfest has donated to Strong Harbour Strings, a social program geared towards youth interested in learning to play music.
“Donating to a music-related association helps to foster and grow the music community of St. John’s, which is what made any of this possible in the first place,” Randell said.
Janes added that it makes sense for the program to benefit from Randyfest because “they’re funding the future punks and musicians of Newfoundland.”
“We are incredibly grateful to Jordan Randell and his team at Randyfest for their generosity,” says Carole Bestvater, Strong Harbour Strings’ director and founder. “The Randyfest donations made a significant impact on our program, and went directly towards our goal of providing free music education to children and youth who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise.”
A culture of giving
It’s not just events and festivals that are helping benefit local organizations. Local alt-rock band Chain of Lynx recently announced that proceeds from their new full-length album MMXIX would be donated to the Newfoundland chapter of Easter Seals, where a recent flood “had destroyed many of their instruments and put a hold on programs to teach children and special needs individuals,” member Matt Dicks shared.
“Being a new father and having spent some of my young adulthood as a respite worker for special needs children, the story hit home. Music is so important that we should do anything we can to help an organization that makes it more accessible to everybody.”
Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins once noted that where there is young people and vitality, you're going to find punk rock. But in St. John’s, you’ll find more than the music — you’ll find “philanthropunks.”