Nostalgia manifests in many forms, often unexpectedly and stronger than we thought it could. Such is the case with The Wrecking Ball, a two-day music festival tasked with the agenda of bringing together musicians from the past/present/future of punk rock under the roof (and adjacent outdoor space) of The Masquerade, an iconic Atlanta venue being driven out of its resting space of 26 years as a result of the endless march of gentrification.
A wake of sorts, The Masquerade’s quasi last hurrah drew fans from across the Southeast looking to pay their sweaty respects, as well as bands from both across the map and beyond the grave. Soon to become the home to a mixed-use condo development, the significance of The Masquerade’s original location in establishing Atlanta as an essential stop for touring musicians was not lost on many.
One of the more succinct eulogies for the venue came from powerpop veteran Jeff Rosenstock, playing one of the last sets at the Old Fourth Ward iteration of The Masquerade. Shortly after diving into the crowd with his guitar (a fittingly ecstatic moment on a property that often breached the imagined boundary between performer and audience), Rosenstock declared that it simply “sucked” that a building in which many musicians could chart their career trajectories simply by the room (Heaven, Hell or Purgatory) in which they were booked was to be replaced, not by a more modern or architecturally safer space for live music, but by the future ephemera of retail stores and restaurants.
Or possibly, it was Deerhunter frontman (and longtime Atlanta resident) Bradford Cox’s lengthy lamentation about the venue becoming a retroactive aberration in one of the city’s several rapidly growing urban neighborhoods. In addition to taking large corporations like the long entrenched Coca-Cola and Google’s encroaching Fiber division to task for their hand in gentrifying the city, Cox made the argument that those in charge of urban planning have been trying to reverse the blight long before The Masquerade even existed, pushing out poor people in conveniently located neighborhoods by simply developing around them.
Given Cox’s logic, maybe it was only a matter of time before The Masquerade had to give way to a city largely unsympathetic to cultural (and historical, as the venue’s original building is legally barred from being torn down) landmarks. Regardless, staring down the truth of the moment was a bittersweet moment for those in attendance. From bathroom exchanges regarding hazy recollections shared in the former excelsior mill, to the many exclusive reunion acts on the lineup (Thursday, Piebald, Rainer Maria, Hey Mercedes, The Promise Ring, Milemarker), the final days of The Masquerade were tinted both by the haze of nostalgia and buoyed by one of the more adoring festival crowds in existence.
Personally speaking (considering a primary obligation as a photographer), I was not able to catch many full sets, the overall positivity of the observed Wrecking Ball crowd was refreshing. Though the scene that the festival primarily celebrates tends to be problematic at times, few of those negative qualities were clearly on display over the weekend, outside of some attendees not planning their day drinking in a manner accordant to the scorching Southeastern sunlight. Consequently, nearly every band that I did get to see over the weekend gave it their all. From ascendant local acts towards the bottom of the bill (Mothers, Warehouse, Big Jesus, Fox Wound) looking to establish their name, to visitors from the burgeoning garage rock scene of nearby Nashville (Bully, Diarrhea Planet, Daddy Issues). From bands grabbing their buzz by the throats (Deafheaven, Diet Cig, Sorority Noise, Foxing) to bands with nothing left to prove (L7, The Julie Ruin, American Football, Deerhunter, Dinosaur Jr.), it seemed like everyone booked showed up to The Masquerade with a belief that their shortened set time at this festival carried more inherent significance than it would at any of the other festivals they were booked to play this summer.
It’s possible that the belief, that this last Wrecking Ball in the Old Fourth Ward was truly essential, will be justified over time. The Masquerade, in all its original Gothic splendor, was only laid to rest this weekend in order to resurface at a new location further west, in one of the rare parts of Atlanta yet untapped by development mongers. What exactly this new location holds for a music scene both established and passing through the city remains to be seen, it will hopefully bring another year of this excellent festival and another several decades to bask in the glory of a Southern rock institution.