Going to go see bands play in a large venue is fucking stupid. You grab a buddy or two, head to some shitty venue with 5,000 other people, drink a beer in the parking lot, drink a $15 beer in the venue, watch a few opening bands you and everyone else there don’t give a fuck about, cram into some weird side smoking area because you can’t re-enter if you went outside, watch the band you are there to see through a sea of people and security guards, wait for the stupid encore wondering will they/won’t they come back out and grace us with just one more fucking song (hint: they will), maybe buy a t-shirt or album, and eventually go home. If you were lucky you’d catch a glance of a band member loading out through the secured back of the venue. Sure, it’s cool seeing a band play live; and while singing along and sweating it out with a bunch of strangers could be cathartic, when it’s over, that’ it. It’s like when people would rather spend tons of money to go out to a bar and drink instead of getting a twelve pack and staying home. You’re overpaying for the “atmosphere.”
The last straw came when I saw a band play the exact same set, down to the between song stage banter, at shows four months apart from each other. If the bands couldn’t be bothered to give a shit, then neither could I. I was done. It was around that time when I saw that Dead to Me – a newer band that recently signed to Fat Wreck Chords was playing at some place called VLHS in Pomona. The address was listed as “ask a punk.” My friend Lindsey got the address from someone and when Friday rolled around, we hopped in my car and cruised north from San Diego. We debated whether or not to get there early, the opening band was called Turkish Techno. We were convinced a band with that stupid of a name could never be good, but we figured we’d get there early to check the place out. Everything was fine until the GPS instructed us to take a right on 4th Street. We were suddenly headed into a weird industrial area with a couple sketchy houses built on train tracks. But we kept going. Then, we turned a corner and saw it – a bunch of people standing around a parking lot smoking cigarettes and drinking beers. We parked, paid, got a cat stamp drawn on our hands with Sharpie, and walked in to the warehouse. There was a tiny “stage” built on the left, a disgusting couch to the right, and a couple of empty glass display cases that the bands were using to display their merch. That was it. I wasn’t aware this place was BYOB, but I was soon offered a beer and pull from a Jameson bottle. Everyone was so fucking nice! While I was outside, I started talking to a couple of people when I heard this voice bellow out from inside. “Hey everyone. Come inside. We’re starting.” Marty Ploy was onstage, “I want to welcome you all to Vince Lombardi High School. I want everyone to turn to someone you don’t know and give them a hug. We have one rule, don’t be a dick.” And with that, Turkish Techno started playing and everything changed forever.
VLHS was the missing piece of the “going to shows” puzzle. Everyone was super cool. The bands were just people like you and me, not these untouchable deities. They would actually hang out and mingle. You could go outside and smoke and drink and have as much fun as you would if you stayed inside and screamed along to the bands. VLHS provided a family, and it opened my eyes to the larger DIY community through the bands and events like Awesome Fest. I found our own little scene down in San Diego. We didn’t have a DIY warehouse, but we had Til-Two Club and The Tower Bar. While it was different, the core concept was the same – don’t be a dick. While I loved the San Diego scene, I still found myself going out of my way to go to VLHS as often as I could. I always knew that as good as a show was in San Diego, it would be 100 times better at VLHS. There was something special about those four walls and the people that occupied them.
I heard whispers at Zombie Prom, an annual event at the warehouse, that VLHS was the latest in an ever-growing list of DIY venues that was being forced to shut their doors. On June 27th, Tim Burkert made it official. They were being pushed out by a new landlord. The good news was they were going to have one more bash so everyone could say goodbye in true Rock ‘n’ Roll High School fashion. On July 8th, VLHS held it’s first and last official Class of 2017 graduation. Hundreds of people showed up in 100 degree heat to pay their respects to what became their home over the past six years. The back alley was lined with food and alcohol as sixteen bands closed out the end of an era. Bryant Ned, the man in the sound booth making sure all the bands sounded good over all those year years, kicked things off followed by Adder, and Never Old Bones. The warehouse was sweltering hot and just standing in there for a few minutes was enough to drench yourself in sweat. I sucked it up and stood inside for the entire The Stupid Daikini set as they threw it back to their days as a two piece and played a bunch of older songs. Jason Paul and the Know It Alls and the impressive Best Death followed as the grill was started up outside. I watched from the doorway with a hot dog in hand as net cops Tracy Soto played half a set then evolved into a sort of frankensteined version of Turkish Techno for the second half. Caskitt‘s set was cut short due to some guy having an unfortunate seizure, a grim reminder that the day was only half over and everyone needed to stay hydrated with the mountain of water bottles waiting outside. Tiltwheel played while people were rotating through the newly set up “graduation” photo booth. Everyone packed inside for the reunion of Dudes Night. I nearly started crying when I was handed my official VLHS diploma. Marriage Material and Chillout played as the sun set. The night brought the cool air, but the warehouse was still a humid mess as Horror Squad played for the last time in the house that they helped build.
There were three remaining bands. As toyGuitar and Toys That Kill played, I contemplated all the “lasts” I would be doing in this particular parking lot. The last time I would smoke a cigarette and miss a band playing. The last time I would pee in the alley. The last time I would shotgun a High Life with Jimmy Gomez. The last time a stranger would offer up their bottle of Jameson. I can do this shit at other places, but it would never be at VLHS again. Luckily, the reality of the situation was put off again as the special surprise of the night took the stage; Dead to Me was the unannounced headliner, a special unadvertised treat for all the people who came out to say goodbye. It was quite the sendoff for the legendary DIY venue and I got teary eyed again realizing everything had come full circle.
People lingered afterwards not wanting to leave for the last time, taking pictures under the VLHS banner and chatting it up outside while picking up some of the trash. But we could only linger so long. And while VLHS might be closed now, Marty made a good point that night. It was just four walls. As long as we take the spirit of VLHS with us wherever we go next, it will live on forever. Don’t be a dick, be kind to each other. It’s actually pretty fucking easy. Thanks for everything. VLHS por vida.
The Class of 2017 Graduation was so epic, we had two photographers cover the show!
Check out the below photos by Adrian Serrano
Check out these additional photos by our very own Cody Ganzer!