A history of anti-Valentine’s Day cover shows

Cynthia Schemmer

Let me be clear in my stance before I begin: Valentine’s Day is a sham. Most of us are privy to this and are well informed of the history of this holiday, influenced by capitalism and societal expectations, but there’s an overwhelming percentage of folks who believe we must do something on this day. In fact, a few years ago an ex-boyfriend of mine posted the following on Facebook: Don’t be a broke ass dude on Valentine’s Day. Send your girl flowers to work, take her out to dinner, do something nice. You’re pushing 30 years old chill with the cornball youth angst. Of course, this made me chuckle because I was dating a “broke ass dude” who, like me, feels that these expected tokens of affection are unnecessary and contrived. I don’t want love when it’s expected; I want it when no one is watching.

And so it’s apparent why, as a musician and a feminist, I’ve completely fallen for the concept of women-identified/queer/trans-based cover band shows on February 14. Whether we are in long-standing relationships, new romances, or we are single, those of us who take part in these shows are united in not taking part. We can express love all year long, and then we can say fuck it and be completely thrilled to spend Valentine’s Day alone or at a show with other supportive haters. And while I think this “fuck it” attitude should be applied by anyone who feels it, I believe the sentiment resonates particularly strong for women, and dates back to over a decade ago in organizing.

In 2001, RiotGrrrl NYC hosted their first Anti-Valentine’s Day Coochie-Fest at Judson’s Memorial Church with bands, dancing, refreshments, and workshops that involved making your own menstrual pads or creating valentine’s for women prisoners. The event was a safer space, for and about women, but welcomed supportive others. It was rooted in the idea that “…we, as girls, can celebrate self-love and not perpetuate the typical valentine’s day self/girl-hating fest so that we can protest hallmark heterosexism and capitalism—the foundations of valentine’s day…and have a damn good time doing it.”

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In 2008, a Halloween riot grrrl cover band show took place in Philadelphia at The House of Less Cock. Organized by Sonrisa Rodriguez and Sharon Wasko, the event was a reaction to a more generalized punk band cover show that happened yearly. The show aimed to be specifically radical/queer/POC/femme friendly, and bands included Bikini Kill, L7, Joan Jette, Bangs, Hole, Blatz, and Mecca Normal. Organizers cooked tons of food for attendees and For the Birds Collective tabled. Folks from New York traveled down to participate, as their was and is a clear New York/Philly exchange in punk, feminism, and radical organizing.

Inspired by these events, Kathi Ko organized New York’s first Anti-Valentine’s Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show in 2009 at the now defunct 1087 Loft in Bushwick. Cover bands included Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, Lydia Lunch, The Gossip, and others. There was tabling by For the Birds Collective, sugar cookies scrawled with anti-love sentiments, and abounding radical possibilities. I remember stepping into that room—I played guitar in Bikini Kill—and felt something I hadn’t felt in years. Reinvigorated may sound trite, but the feeling was authentic. Before me was a room full of women-identified folks, screaming along to their favorite riot grrrl bands, free of the confines of what is expected us in our everyday lives. I felt so realized in my singular love for myself that I even mustered up the strength to drag myself out of a prolonged and failing relationship the following day.

“The history of the ‘anti-v-day’ approach is rooted in the desire to create a space and an event that’s DIY, all-ages, and celebrates self-love,” wrote Ko in an email to me. “And that ultimately defies the heterosexist and capitalist foundation of Valentine’s Day. I guess when I had the idea to ‘revive’ this concept, I wanted to have the main event focus more on the show aspect, while still staying rooted in anti-heterosexism by celebrating women/queers/transpeople, as well as staying committed to the anti-capitalist aspect of the event by making sure they were all benefits and having DIY tabling in the back.”

We, as girls, can celebrate self-love and not perpetuate the typical valentine’s day self/girl-hating fest so that we can protest hallmark heterosexism and capitalism—the foundations of Valentine’s Day… and have a damn good time doing it.

For the second year, Ko organized alongside Carolanne Marcantonio at 1087 Loft. Kat Randolph joined the two organizers and the event was held at Death By Audio, with a focus on queer bands, in 2011 and 2012. More tablers got involved, including Support New York and Bluestockings. Each year, according to Ko, offered up a new lesson for the next year’s event to be more inclusive than the last. In 2013, organizers decided to not host the event due to personal reasons, but in 2014 Krista Ciminera—with Ko’s blessing—organized a fourth Anti-Valentine’s Day show with a focus on late-90s emo bands and was a benefit for Polycystic Kidney Disease.

Since then it seems that the original riot grrrl theme has dissipated, perhaps for the better in regards to inclusivity, and has inspired other events for this upcoming Valentine’s Day. Unaffiliated with the original event, Silent Barn and Brooklyn TranCore are hosting the Anti V-day Cover Show with Joy Division, Goo Goo Dolls, and Alkaline Trio. Philadelphia is holding their third annual Valentine’s Day Cover Band Show, which isn’t explicitly geared toward women-identified/queer/trans folks, but heavily leans in that direction. The Philly gig is a benefit for the Attic Youth Center, an LGBTQ youth center, and this year’s cover bands include Hole, That Dog, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and See-Through Girls as The Smiths, amongst others. In the UK, Riots Not Diets has organized the annual Riot Grrrl Valentine Ball for the last three years with local bands, and also holds feminist and queer punk events all year long.

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Though these events are all disparate and different in their own ways, there seems to be a shared ethos running throughout them all. It’s heartening to see this tradition continue in various forms; a yearly celebration of anti-capitalism and self-love.

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