Behind the blacklist at local house show venues

Music venues have to carefully toe the line between safety and allowing fans to be rowdy

DIY-music venues allow fans to get up close and personal with underground artists and meet attendees with similar interests, but the dangers that come with attending local shows are often left unspoken. 

Blacklisting, or the act of preventing known abusers and threatening persons from appearing at shows, is a common practice among venue owners. 

While it is a form of safety used to protect those in the crowd, the term ‘blacklisting’ itself seems to cause a looming effect on showrunners and their employees as soon as it is spoken. 

Dusty Winter is no stranger to the word. Involved in the local scene since the age of 15, Winter got a job at The Rock, a hard-rock music venue based in Tucson. 

In 2012, he moved two hours away to Phoenix. Now, at 25, he runs Sideroom Sessions out of his house and runs merch, photographs and roadies for shallou. One of his greatest concerns when he started hosting shows at his house was blacklisting. He realized that he would be allowing 30-plus people he had never met into his home, and he worried about the possible implications of that. 

Read More: Tempe music scene finds a home in Sideroom Sessions

Because of this, Winter has his friends serve as security guards. They participate in the shows while also keeping an eyes on those around them to ensure the highest level of safety possible. 

He has not blacklisted anyone thus far from entering his house shows; however, he does keep a list of misconducts that would warrant blacklisting someone. 

“When it comes to attendees, behavior is a huge way to get blacklisted,” Winter said. “If you act like an idiot, cause a scene during the show, disrespect others around you, that’s a quick way to get x-ed.”

MP Mullarkey, a former volunteer at Trunk Space, sees it all the time. While they have since relocated to Florida, Mullarkey is still involved with the local music scene there and recalls countless instances of blacklisting during their time in Phoenix. 

According to Mullarkey, at Trunk Space, specifically, there was a man who was about 30 years old who was known for sleeping with minors. While he did not meet the women at Trunk Space, all volunteers were aware of him and were prepared to kick him out if he showed up, as a majority of the venue’s audience is underage.

“There was also a person who was known for trolling on the internet, personally attacking people, often with racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic language,” Mullarkey said. “If I remember correctly, he was not allowed to play The Trunk Space, though if he showed up to attend, he’d be allowed to enter, but would be closely monitored to make sure he didn’t harass anyone.”

Blacklisting is not just for established venues. It is also practiced among house show venues. Kenneth Kite and Peter Resendiz, who run Tobacco Row out of their home in Tempe, have also had to monitor suspicious behavior during performances.

Read More: Tempe's Tobacco Row invites the local music scene into its dining room

One time, Resendiz said, a man stood very close to a woman he clearly did not know. When she made a face after he said something to her, Resendiz broke in and asked her if the man was ‘acting weird’ towards her. 

Most recently, the band TOSO from Tempe came under fire in a Facebook post that alleged the band would say racial slurs and homophobic insults around friends that identified as homosexual. 

In an apology post on Facebook that has since been deleted, the band wrote in reference to the individual who penned the original post calling TOSO out, “This person has used drugs around us … it clearly affected their behavior based off the person we’ve known them to be.”

The band’s response sparked even more controversy, as many fans accused the band, which is known to use drugs, of being hypocritical and pushing the blame onto other people. 

In Kite’s experience, drawing attention to other factors or avoiding accepting blame can be detrimental to a person when called out.

“The dead giveaway is pointing the finger right back. People are almost never called out for no absolute reason, so you should almost always be ready to accept some sort of guilt in that situation,” Kite said.

Blacklisting has been in existence for years, but as #MeToo went viral in 2017, venues came under a greater amount of pressure to hold bands and attendees accountable for their actions. The #MeToo movement sought to display the obvious, yet ignored, misuse of power within the music, film and political industries, and it gave victims a way to share their stories with the world.

“Who you are outside of shows plays a huge role. Social media has a huge effect on people,” Winter said. “The local scene is smaller than you think. Word will get around fast, and if you’re doing it over social media where people can see it, it’ll spread super fast.”

Posting past experiences with bands and exposing them online can alert the masses rather quickly; however, this can be permanently damaging when the report turns out to be false. Although, only around 2% of rape and sexual assault claims are proven to be false, according to Stanford’s Men Against Abuse Now

For venue owners, it can be difficult to sort true from false. This can be even more arduous when booking bands that are touring from other states. While fans and friends of local bands can defend abusers due to their personal experiences with the group, attendees in a foreign city may not know an abusive band’s history. 

With all the uncertainty that comes with hosting shows, how to deal with abusers in the scene is left up to each individual venue’s discretion. During Mullarkey’s time at Trunk Space, the owner made the final call, determining which people make it onto the list. This role has since been passed down to the board of directors. 

House shows are a different story. Some may choose to run doors themselves to ensure certain people do not come in, others have physical lists. For instance, at Tobacco Row, Kite makes his phone number available to attendees in case he misses something during the showcase. 

With the DIY scene’s complicated relationship with law enforcement, when to involve police in a situation can be a difficult decision to make. While standalone venues may choose to leave it up to the victim to assess their situation, at house shows, where underage drinking or usage of illegal substances are common, attendees are often expected to police themselves. 

“At shows, I don’t really take chances with it, especially with women, because I honestly feel bad for women sometimes at shows. That’s why I leave my phone number on events ... but it probably doesn’t get used as much as it should,” Kite said.

Another vital part of maintaining safety at a show is making sure those who are blacklisted stay that way. In most cases, however, those on the list often find new venues to attend that are not aware of or are disinterested in their problematic history.  

“From past experiences working in venues ... they always try to come back. Almost every time they fail,” Winter said. “When someone is blacklisted, it’s made very aware of who that person is and what they look like. I’m sure it’s happened, but I haven’t experienced anyone being blacklisted that has gotten away with coming back.” 

Not all is lost when it comes to the accused, however. Coming back from an accusation can be a painstaking process, but with a desire to learn from their past, those blacklisted can earn a second chance. According to Mullarkey, some DIY venues practice restorative justice, where perpetrators must take responsibility for their actions and work toward preventing future harm. Additionally, Resendiz recommends being open with the public about their history.

“It’s about talking about it,” Resendiz said. Usually if people are open to talking about allegations, you can tell right off the bat whether or not they’re being honest or untruthful."


Reach the reporter at sarawindom@outlook.com and follow @SaraWindom on Twitter. 

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