Seminal metalcore act The Acacia Strain was blistering through its set—a 30-minute April support slot at Downtown’s American Legion Post 8—before abruptly pausing midway through. Vocalist Vincent Bennett, the band’s lone original member, needed a moment to gush about having the increasingly rare opportunity to perform to an all-ages crowd in a DIY venue.
“This is one of the coolest shows we’ve played in a long time,” Bennett said.
Dustin Shaw and Justin Fornof typically stay straight-faced at the shows they put on, but both may have broken into simultaneous grins from different parts of the sold-out room as they listened to Bennett’s salute. The acknowledgement of what they—who operate Blackpath Booking alongside longtime friends Aaron Bautista and Albert House—have built locally over the past three years, hit harder than any of the Western Massachusetts band’s ultraheavy, down-tuned breakdowns.
“Especially coming from that band. We were all there [15 years ago] when they played the Roadhouse for the first time,” Fornof says. “They were just the new band coming onto the scene we were all growing up around. They were the popular band you looked at as, ‘Man it would be cool to book them one day.’”
Blackpath could now conceivably bring almost any modern hardcore act to town. A dormant period for the scene earlier this decade appears to be over, as tour routings that routinely omitted Las Vegas are once again stopping here.
That reemergence has come largely because Shaw and Fornof joined forces. Fornof has booked shows continually since the mid-2000s but began seeing sparse crowds and a dearth of new faces about five years ago. Shaw was one of the area’s primary hardcore contacts as a teenager from 2004-2008 but stepped away after growing tired of venues continually being shut down and the direction of the scene overall.
“Everything I had enjoyed about coming to shows and being at the shows had been taken away,” Shaw says. “Hardcore isn’t a soundtrack to ego or a tough-guy contest, so I kind of just focused on me for a little while.”
During his initial run as a promoter, Shaw had put on shows at makeshift venues like junkyards and concrete factories. That fit with a long history of the local hardcore scene cramming performances into any available space. From legendary warehouse shows by the likes of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys in the 1980s to generator-powered desert performances featuring such local favorites as Curl Up and Die and Faded Grey in the late 1990s, determined promoters have always found a way.
But Shaw and Fornof wanted something more reliable, which proved challenging. They ran into so much rejection from potential venues that they nearly quit before ever starting.“We drove around literally seven hours one day and went everywhere,” Shaw recalls. “No one was interested.”
They eventually found the 200-capacty Legion hall, which became their de facto home base as attendance slowly increased during sporadic shows. A marked change was evident when Blackpath brought back current touring heavyweights like Chicago’s industrial-tinged Harm’s Way and Boston’s genre-blurring Vein on multiple occasions. “There were new kids, younger kids that seemed like they really embraced hardcore,” House says. “It was something we hadn’t seen in a long time, and I think it was the most important thing.”
The group has also put an emphasis on the hardcore tradition of trying to improve the surrounding community. In December, Blackpath threw a Giving Everything Holiday Toy Drive—a free show with a donated gift—headlined by a reunion of local thrash outfit Acid Rain.
A similar back-to-school drive will follow on August 17; a school-supply donation will grant entry into a show celebrating the EP release of local crossover act World Tension, with support from rising Southern California bands Drain and Hands of God.
“Giving back goes hand in hand with hardcore,” Bautista says. “It’s bigger than music. It’s about helping people, uplifting people.”
Plenty of people appeared uplifted the night of The Acacia Strain show, especially during a headlining set from Oldham County, Kentucky, act Knocked Loose, arguably the biggest band in hardcore at the moment. A wave of teenagers and folks in their early 20s flooded toward the stage to scream every word into the often-outstretched microphone of vocalist Bryan Garris.
Shaw and Fornof flashed back to their younger selves as they looked on and felt a sense of pride. “When you’re a kid and going to shows, you don’t realize how much goes into planning and booking those shows. So it’s nice to feel like this many years later—that we can be the ones doing these for a whole new generation of kids. And you hope that down the line, they do the exact same thing for the next generation,” Fornof says. “That’s the whole point behind a DIY hardcore scene. That’s the whole point of doing this.”
UPCOMING BLACKPATH SHOWS
At American Legion Post 8
June 25:Creeping Death, Sentenced to Burn, Fuming Mouth, Languish, Dredge the Lake, Casket Raider
June 29: Ceremony, Sheer Mag, Bugg, Spitting Image
August 12:Backtrack (farewell tour), Spirit World, Dare, Somerset Thrower, The End of Everything, Hand of Doubt
August 17: Back to School Drive ft. World Tension (EP release), Drain, Hands of God, Suffer the Loss, Beg for Life, Misdirection, Close Combat, Minimal
Tickets available at ticketweb.com.