It's the end of an era in Burlington for what's been called the country's oldest all-ages punk venue. 242 Main, which was housed in the basement of Memorial Auditorium, is closing for the time being due to structural issues with the building.
The final show at 242 Main took place on a brisk, grey Saturday and lasted all day. The red brick walls were plastered with posters from the numerous shows that had been held in the intimate basement venue during its run as Burlington’s only predominately punk and hardcore music venue.
Twenty-one bands played over the course of the day, treating the packed venue to punk and hardcore rock of all types.
A few songs into the set from Cbrnsnke (pronounced Cobrasnake), the group's singer, Ryan Krushenick, was bleeding from his head. Not gallons of blood — but there was definitely a cut by one of the tattoos that snaked around his temple.
During his performance, Krushenick’s small, wiry frame catapulted to every corner of the stage, and at one point, he hit himself with his microphone.
If you’re thinking that’s intense, you’re right. Part of that intensity is the nature of punk and hardcore music. But that night, some of the passion was because of where Krushenick was playing: 242 Main.
“It was the first place I actually felt like I belonged and I was safe and that was going to foster my ideals,” he said.
Krushenick grew up in rural Vermont, and his teenage years were tough. He was questioning his identity and his sexuality, and to top it all off and he had a big pink Mohawk. 242 Main became his home, and he says it still is.
“It’s beacon of community and hope for Vermont and a common ground for youth and adults to come together and share experiences,” Krushenick said.
Even though the physical space 242 Main is closing down, the city and the community want to keep the venue's spirit — and its programs — alive.
Burlington plans to start a series at different venues around the city called 242 Main Presents. The idea is to give young musicians and performers an outlet for their work.
That’s pretty much been the mission of 242 Main since it started back in the 1980s as Burlington's teen center. It formed through the Mayor's Youth Office that was established by then-Mayor Bernie Sanders.
Kathy Lawrence managed 242 Main when it opened.
“Right now at the age I’m now, I probably wouldn’t want to stand in the mosh pit,” Lawrence said from the backroom of the Common Thread, the clothing shop in Burlington she now runs. “When it was getting a little aggressive, I used to just stand in there. We had very supportive mosh pit, but I would stand there, and before you knew people would be like 'Oh, sorry.’”
Every day after school, Lawrence was at 242 Main with cookies and coffee ready to help facilitate whatever ideas the kids had. And it wasn't all punk rock.
“Kids came, [saying] 'I wrote this play, I want to put the play on,' or, 'I did this artwork, I want to do a show or a mural,' or something like that,” Lawrence said.
242 Main hosted some big-name bands, too. One of those historic shows was Fugazi in 1989. The band is considered one of the most important punk groups of the mid-1980s and '90s.
Ian MacKaye formed Fugazi and previously led Minor Threat, one of the seminal hardcore punk bands of the early 1980s. He’s widely seen as a pioneer of punk rock and often credited with starting the straight edge movement.
When Fugazi toured Europe, they played a lot of government-run teen centers, MacKaye said. But 242 Main was the first one they’d seen in the United States.
“It was a little bit of a rinky-dink operation,” he said. “But I think the intent of the place was really important. I always had a real affection for that spot.”
MacKaye said he’s seen venues come and go during his career, but he stresses it’s not the venue that makes the scene — it’s the people.
“They just gotta to find the new room, you know. If 242 is over, then long live 242. It did good,” MacKaye said. “But people gotta find that new spot. Music can’t be stopped.”
Since the announcement of 242 Main's closing, there have been a lot of remembrances — and not all of them positive.
Last week, Seven Days contributor Amelia Devoid wrote a story recounting sexism that she and other women experienced at the club.
“It was very confusing, because there were such positive messages,” Devoid said. “A lot of young people educating each other about politics. There was a lot of mutual education going on, which is super positive.”
242 Main was run by men, mostly booked male acts and didn’t always feel like a safe place for women, said Devoid.
Not everyone agreed with Devoid's take, but she sounded optimistic that going forward there will be more awareness of gender inequality in the music scene.
“I’ve received an overwhelming amount of feedback from male leaders in our community that may not have even noticed that there was an imbalance, and are starting to actively educate themselves,” Devoid said.
During the final show on Saturday, some people were already thinking about moving forward.
Toward the end of Cbrnsnke’s set, Krushenick spoke from stage, calling for the hardcore and punk community do a better job of including LGBTQ individuals and women.
“Let’s make space, let’s open our minds, let’s be inclusive and intersectional,” he said before his band launched one of their final songs.
If the passion of the people at 242 Main's final show was a sign of things to come, keeping the spirit of the place alive won’t be a problem.