st. stephen's role in d.C. punk rock scene
Did you know that St. Stephen's has played a major role in the punk rock tradition in DC?
In an Oct. 17, 2014, article by WAMU (the D.C. affiliate of NPR), "The Unlikely Bond Between A D.C. Church And The Punk Music Scene," Mark Andersen, founder of Positive Force DC, says the organization "is a vehicle to help punks and anybody who’s interested in turning their talk into action." Punk, he says, "talks about changing things, changing ourselves, changing the world."
Positive Force DC does this mainly by organizing benefit shows for various charities, movements, and nonprofits. Most of these concerts are held in churches and other religious organizations, which is where St. Stephen's comes in.
The WAMU article reports that Positive Force DC held dozens of shows at St. Stephen's from the mid-80s to the mid-2010s, which made it a legendary punk music venue. The article quotes longtime St. Stephen's member Bill MacKaye, who said St. Stephen's becoming a landmark on the city's punk scene fit with its commitment to radical social change, which was built up especially during the time Bill Wendt was rector.
Bill's son, Ian, was in a band called Fugazi, which played at St. Stephen's in 1986. “That was really significant for me because of course it was the church at which I had been baptized and a church where I felt I had been radicalized,” says Ian in the article. “Almost more importantly, part of my radical ideas directly came from being raised in a church where you’re supposed to question authority.”
Fugazi's fame within the punk community grew in the following years, and its fans attended other Positive Force shows at St. Stephen's.
In a June 7, 2023, article in Washingtonian magazine - "DC Punks Are Reuniting for a Festival" - in advance of the punk event in July 2023, another one of Bill's children - Amanda - recalls seeing her first concert at St. Stephen's when she was seven. She was baptized at the church and is also a longtime member of the DC punk scene. She also organizes the Fort Reno summer concert series.
The Washingtonian article notes that the name of the July event is a tribute to the “Revolution Summer” of 1985.
Amanda's band - Bed Maker - played at the summer 2023 event. She and Ian have a brother, Alec, who is best known as a member of DC hardcore bands Untouchables, The Faith, Ignition, and Hammered Hulls.
A 2018 article by NPR's All Songs Considered - "What Does An Inclusive Hardcore Punk Festival Look Like?" - also noted St. Stephen's years of involvement in the punk scene as a host of the Damaged City punk fest: "The church's auditorium is a punk equalizer of sorts — no booze, no drugs, no jerks — where minors and the straightedge true mosh alongside poisoned heathens."
In the short video (3 1/2 minutes) below, Andersen speaks about St. Stephen's and its connection to DC punk.