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July 3, 2017

The Atlanta Track Club is saving an old track through performance art

This post will eventually get to something running related so bare with me or skip ahead to the page break about 2/3 of the way down. If you enjoy rock ‘n’ roll music you can scroll down all the way for some recommended live performance vidz.

When I was a junior in college, my friend Casey asked if I wanted to go to a show at a now–sadly–defunct DIY space in the East Williamsburg Industrial Park. I hadn’t heard of any of the acts, but I was injured at the time, a perennially awful student and had nothing else to do, so I joined him.

It was my first time at any sort of performance like that, and so I didn’t know what to expect. (In fact, I’m like, 75% sure that the last concert I had gone to was when I saw Incubus as a high school senior and somehow contracted IT band syndrome from standing still too still for too long.)

We had to take three trains to get there and were in transit for about an hour. So when we walked through an unmarked door, up a nondescript staircase, handed over $10 cash apiece to a hip-looking woman at the door, and found ourselves in a practically empty warehouse space, I was admittedly skeptical.

That skepticism didn’t wane with the first act: a guitar-armed woman named Alex Drewchin who played sprawling, irony-clad, finger picking tunes for about half an hour.

My early-20s-normie skepticism certainly wasn’t helped by the second act: Brooklyn mainstay Carrie-Anne Muphy looping sounds through six or so effects pedals, under the stage name “Clapperclaw.” All the while, we and the maybe 20 other people in attendance mulled around the room, some seated on a filthy couch right in front of the stage, other sneaking off to the balcony to smoke. But the main thing I noticed was that everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves, so rather than continue to bide my time in indifferent silence, I decided to drop the self-conscious removal and try to actually engage in what was happening on stage.

I wish I’d done that sooner, but at least I had bought in by the time Patrick Stickles–frontman of my now favorite band Titus Andronicus, although at the time I didn’t know that–took the stage for his impressive two-hour set, during which he played maybe six songs total.

The evening had been dubbed “An Evening with Patrick Stickles: Songs, Stories and Spiels–An Affirmation of Manic Depression in all of its Transcendent Glory,” and that’s what it was. The New Jersey native paid homage to Bruce Springsteen–going as far as demonstrating how a track off his own first album directly ripped off Bruce’s “Factory” and “Promised Land.” He talked about the understated importance of validating oneself in a world that’s pre-programmed to not give a shit. He told jokes and showcased how he managed to make the sustained drone sounds in his albums (a cinder block held down the button). And at the end he revealed that the night had been an impromptu fundraising effort to purchase Shea Stadium (the venue we were in, which was named for the famed and demolished Mets stadium) a new door, following a mishap that had destroyed its previous one.

It was successful. The night had brought in roughly $200 to buy an install a new front door.

$200 isn’t much. And the Shea Stadium people could have easily put together a GoFundMe page and raised that sum in minutes. But there was something special about directly interacting with “donors.” Events like the Stickles-headlined one make people care about a cause beyond the point of financial exchange. I went back to that venue dozens of times while living in the city, each time walking through the door purchased with funds from that night. Some of the best nights of my life took place in that sweaty, smoky, cacophonous room.

Each time I went, I was reminded of how special that place was and how much it meant to so many people (there was a true diehard contingent of Shea Stadium All-Stars, of which I was not one; I was bummed when the place closed down–I can’t imagine how devastated those people were). And I think a lot of that had to do with how personally invested in the space everyone in attendance was.

So when I learned yesterday that the Atlanta Track Club is in the midst of an on-going, live, in-person, performance art-esque fundraising effort (I’m using the term here somewhat liberally for the sake of tying this whole self-indulgent tirade together), I was stoked to see a similar approach applied to another community I think is great.

In an effort to collect the funds necessary to refurbish the 1996 Olympic warm-up track for general community use, the ATC has a live stream going of two treadmills, upon which will be a member of two teams of runners, for 48 consecutive hours. Crowd funding is relatively easy and often times, the best way to raise money for a cause. But when you can, you probably should do something cool and engaging like this. Local Atlantans who donate to the revitalization of the track after watching the grainy live stream or attending in person, will more likely become long-term stewards of the public space after, since they’ll have a concrete memory of how it came to be preserved.

If you just click a button and donate online, there’s nothing that will resonate long term about the cause you contributed to.

Good on the ATC. To donate text “KKCC” to 444999. You can learn more about the 48-Hour Treadmill Challenge here, or watch the Periscope video below. They’ll be going until 6PM, Atlanta time, today, July 3rd.

Select videos of live performances from Shea Stadium (RIP)

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