The inaugural First Time’s the Charm (FTTC) was organized in Philadelphia in 2013, creating a show of brand-new bands that centered on the contributions of women, trans, queer folks, and people of color in the DIY/punk community. Out of this event came Bad Canoes, Marge, Littler, Teenage Bigfoot, and See-Through Girls, who have all gone on to release records, go on tours, and make incredible impacts on the Philadelphia music scene and beyond.
Heavy Bangs, a punk pop band I sang and played guitar in, never went on to do as much after FTTC, but the effects were resounding. The three other women had never played in bands before, while I was gaining confidence on how to front one. We put demos online that received quick attention, and we were asked to play bigger shows by friends we’d supported for years. We were excited, we were nervous, and we were learning.
And then we received an anonymous message on Tumblr that read, “Seems like a lot of recognition despite little to earn it. Shouldn’t you put in some dues first?"
This faceless commenter is referring to that ever-entitled punk capitalism where a very small group has it all, and the rest of us should remain invisible. They blatantly told us that we weren’t experienced enough to deserve what we were given, and that we hadn’t worked hard enough. They implied that there wasn’t enough room for another new band, especially a band of new musicians that were all women, despite some of us being involved in the community for 15 years. They suggested that our previous contributions to supporting a vibrant DIY community, like booking, collective organizing, and making artwork, were not valuable. They felt there was only so much recognition to go around, and that we were directly taking opportunities away from them. They were dismissive, competitive, and actively working against community.
This, and so many other reasons, is why First Time’s the Charm needs to exist.
Two members of Heavy Bangs, Ramsey Beyer and Grace Ambrose, with Michael Cantor (of The Goodbye Party), organized the first installment of FTTC under DIYPHL—a show and event calendar, as well as a member-based PA share, for Philadelphia and surrounding areas with a mission to promote and support an inclusive music and arts community. The event featured 20 new bands in one night. When Ambrose moved to San Francisco to take on the position of content coordinator at Maximum Rocknroll (which you can read more about in this very issue of The Media), FTTC took a little break. Beyer and Cantor didn’t want to host the event yearly out of fear that it would lose steam and get less exciting.
Earlier this year, Yoni Kroll—a photographer and writer involved in the Philadelphia punk scene—approached DIYPHL about organizing another FTTC. He had been wanting the event to happen again, especially as a catalyst for himself to play in a band for the first time, and so he decided to take it on independently with or without DIYPHL. He put some feelers out and got together a small group of interested people, including Beyer and Cantor.
“What matters is having this show happen again," says Kroll. “People are super excited about this happening because it is such a useful, necessary event. It’s the push for people [to be in bands]."
Kroll is learning saxophone to play in the band Rabies Shot, and is the only organizer also performing at the event. The other organizers—almost all of whom performed in 2013—include Jamie Morgan (Baby Goat), Meri Haines (solo), Al San Valentin (See-Through Girls), and Jeremie Rose.
The organizers that performed in 2013 all seem to agree on their reason for being involved this year—they all want to return the favor of offering an inclusive and supportive space to others. “I wanted to contribute to the community that further helped me grow, as a musician and as a person," says San Valentin. “It's very telling for the Philly DIY/punk scene if spaces for not-white, not-male, not-necessarily-straight/cis have to be deliberately created. If we don't make intentional efforts to highlight a music scene holistically, in a way we're just furthering oppression."
The selection process this year differs slightly from 2013, which was first come, first served and capped at 17 submissions. This year, FTTC held open call submissions for about a month to help spread the word to a wider audience, and they received almost 40 responses to be narrowed down to 20. “A lot of people we know at this point have played in bands, or have experience," admits Cantor when talking about having a more diverse show outside of friend circles. “Basically, just how well [bands] fit with the three stipulations helped us decided who would play," adds Ramsey.
In order to qualify for FTTC, bands must include one person has to have never played in a band before, include one person has to play a new instrument, and the band as a whole should highlight marginalized groups and be mindful of including voices that are not often heard. In order to be considered, each band has to fulfill two of three to qualify. There were also submission questions this year, asking bands why FTTC would be the appropriate space for them, what changes they would like to see in their scene, and what they collectively bring to the community. “There were a few really inspiring responses on the submission form," mentions Beyer. “One band said, ‘we want you to use these identifiers for us: we’re fat, we’re women, we’re mothers, we’re punks, we’re people of color’ and I was like, hell yeah." Organizers individually went through and read each submission, tallied each on a scale of one through five according to how attuned each band was with the mission, and averaged it across all members.
The 20 bands that were picked will perform over two nights, which organizers feel will be much more manageable that 2013’s one night performance of 17 bands. Sister Trudy (“a bitter bunch; ritual enchantments with a punch"), Full Bush (“when strong/determined women get together, cool shit gets done"), and Trying! (“We’re trying to step out of our comfort zone, we’re trying to get out there, we’re trying to see what will happen, we’re trying to organize noise, we’re just TRYING!") are some of the bands that will be performing. There is also a band interested in talking about mental health, a band of high school students, and a metal band, among others. Ariel Lin, who is playing bass in Aster More (“a tough and brilliant mix of shoegaze, raw pop, & angular punk sounds") wrote to me in an email that in the practices leading up to the event, she has gained confidence in her playing ability, her voice, and her vision. “I feel very lucky to be involved and proud to have pushed myself out of my comfort zone," writes Lin. “I have a lot to learn and I feel like I have some great resources to continue."
All of the money made at FTTC will be donated to Girls Rock Philly, and so organizers decided to hold two fundraisers to cover the venue costs so that all the money raised will be donated. The first fundraiser in April featured FTTC alumni Teenage Bigfoot, as well as local favorites King Azaz, Attendant, and The Afterglows. The second fundraiser in May—bringing FTTC to their monetary goal—featured Dog Tears, Marge, Swanning, and a surprise solo set by Waxahatchee. “Having bands play from 2013 at the fundraiser, that was a very big deal for a lot of people there, and for First Time’s the Charm," says Kroll. Beyer also mentions in our conversation that a few bands performing this year listed alumni of 2013 as their inspirations.
Performing with my new solo project Swanning at the May fundraiser felt like a milestone. If it wasn’t for the support of FTTC and Heavy Bangs, I can truly say I may have never brought this project to fruition. This event truly stoked the flame, and I hope it continues to do the same for others. I can’t wait to see the bands at this year’s event, working together towards a more embracing community and paving the way for future bands.
And please, don’t listen to the gatekeepers—there’s enough space for everyone, and it’s your turn now.
First Time’s the Charm will take place on Friday, June 3 and Saturday June 4 at 6 PM at PhilaMOCA in Philadelphia, with ten brand new bands performing each night. There’s some talk of doing workshops after the event as a kind of postscript, to extend a space beyond playing music, as a way to talk about other facets of DIY and community activism. Follow FTTC at fttc2016.tumblr.com for more information.