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Photo by Brian Kaiser.

Foul language, beer, broken windows, and the resurrection of Nowhere Fest

Speaking with Michael Ravage is likely always going to feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine. His ruminations on life in the Columbus music scene circa 1978 beckon to a simpler time—bars with live music had striking names like the Sugar Shack (where Ravage saw the Ramones), Positively 4th Street, and the Travel Agency. Public access television and college radio allowed anyone to broadcast their art, and starting a festival came with just securing a venue and printing up some flyers. 

But Ravage, who at the time was a self-proclaimed “punk” when the budding genre had yet to infiltrate the Midwest, had trouble getting his band, Screaming Urge, any gigs outside of the DIY enclave known as the Egg House. It was a new frontier, and while Ravage would peddle his group’s “little” demo tape from club to club with the earnest of any upstart, no one wanted to book them. When it was apparent the local scene was only catering to the Southern rock of McGuffey Lane and the biker metal of Soft Leather Touch, Ravage pretty much had to invent the first Nowhere Fest, as there was literally “nowhere” for Screaming Urge, or their friends to play. 

The very first Nowhere Fest took place in what used to be the United Methodist Campus Center near 16th and High. It cost one dollar. It featured Vorpal Gallery, Twisted Shouts (Ron House’s first band), and Ravage’s Screaming Urge. Of course, he needed some divine intervention in order to make it happen. 

“I had to meet with the [clergyman] to book the room,” says Ravage. “He was wearing the whole preacher’s outfit and informed me that they were Methodists and they didn’t want any beer or shenanigans. I still have the contract. I told him upfront that these were punk bands and there would be some language. Turns out there was a lot of language, a lot of beer, and a lot of broken windows by the end of the night. The atmosphere was very intense.” 

In many ways, that first Nowhere was successful for Ravage, as Screaming Urge went onto a storied career in the recesses of punk, playing all over the country at famed clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, getting “stiffed by Stiff Records,” and continuing the festival uninterrupted for the next 18 years. 

By the early ‘80s, punk was en vogue, with Crazy Mama’s and the Agora (now the Newport) hosting all-day events curated by Ravage. The scene in Columbus was progressing and growing to the point where he couldn’t keep count of the number of punk and noise bands populating the clubs. Nowhere Fest lasted until 1996, with most of the ‘90s fests taking place at Stache’s and Apollo’s. When bands like Howlin’ Maggie—a decidedly
un-punk spectacle—were shoehorned into the line-up, the original spirit was gone. 

“I wanted to kill Nowhere Fest when it was a teenager,” remembers Ravage. “Because Comfest, they never killed that, and it just got out of hand. When there were bands choosing to play frat houses for more money, and showing up late because of that, I knew it had to die.”

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Fast forward to 2019 and Nowhere Fest has been resurrected in a very full-circle regiment. In January, Tim Anstaett released the long-gestating Book of Books, a two-volume collection of his legendary ‘80s ‘zine, The Offense. During the heyday of Ravage’s Urge, The True Believers, Razor Penguins, and The Blunt Stitches, the ‘zine was the literal epicenter of Columbus’ punk movement.

At one of the book’s readings, Anstaett connected with local punk’s current ambassador, Ian Graham—a member of Ouija Boys, Terrestrials, and Thee Thees, among others—who took up the mantle to organize a purely inspired and fresh version of the Nowhere ethos. Of course, it would be impossible to replicate Ravage’s “one-bill” logistics and the broken windows of rebellion, but the line-up culls from young and old, further establishing the thread that has always survived through Columbus’ “punk” scene. 

Graham has asked the Cheater Slicks to headline, as they serve as a bridge between then and now, and in many ways, their sound has defined the underbelly of Columbus guitar rock since the original Nowhere dissolved. The rest of the two-stage affair includes a number of bands from the Heel Turn Records roster, including newbies Burning Itch and noise stalwarts DANA, as well as Tommy Jay and Nudge Squidfish of the True Believers. 

As for Ravage and his role? Screaming Urge is no more, but he’ll take the stage with his wife Baby Lindy and new band the Drug Mothers. But stapling posters up and down High Street or pressing the flesh? 

“He’s only the inspiration now,” says Lindy with a smile. “But he’s still
an instigator.”

Nowhere Fest 2019 will be held Friday, March 15th at The Summit and Cafe Bourbon St. A pre-party will take place on Thursday, March 14th at Dirty Dungarees with the Unholy 2 and Drunks with Guns. 

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