Safer Gigs Hamilton — a new initiative that began over the summer — has a goal of reducing harm in the city’s music community, preventing overdoses and sexual assault before they happen. Through education and by providing crucial resources at shows, Safer Gigs Hamilton wants to make the scene a safe place for all music fans. We chatted with Safer Gigs Hamilton to talk more about the project and how we can all play a part in ensuring venues are a safe and positive environment.
Can you tell me about Safer Gigs Hamilton and how the project came to be?
Safer Gigs is a project founded by Jessie Goyette and Vince Soliveri. Safer Gigs Hamilton is about harm reduction and bystander intervention: preventing harm and trauma that often can occur in event or concert settings. We do this by offering community resources in a non-judgmental and accessible setting. We simply consider ourselves a social bridge to other organizations that can help with anything from sexual assault to finding a job. Safer Gigs came to be after months and years of talking about not feeling quite comfortable in the local music scene. The project is actually inspired by many things, especially by the group of individuals who put on punk and hardcore shows in Charlottetown, PEI (@charlottetownhardcore on Instagram). Those people are huge advocates of safer shows, dry spaces, and harm reduction. They frequently have booths of resources at their shows, some of which we use at our table!
Why do you see a need for Safer Gigs Hamilton in our community?
Any place where young people gather in huge groups has potential for things to go wrong. Often times there can be situations of crisis, and nobody knows how to recognize that or intervene. Things like overdoses, sexual assault, and mental health emergencies are a very real concern at gigs. And we just want to play a small part in addressing these things before it becomes a real danger to somebody. Maybe if we peddle zines about consent, men won’t leave these shows with a drunk girl on their arm. At the end of the day, we just want social resources to be out in the open and available to the public. We want people to know they aren’t alone and if they are suffering there is definitely something out there that can help you. We want people to learn about organizations and resources that they may not know exist! (SACHA, The Van, Interval House etc.)
What is your work rooted in? Where do you turn for resources, good practices, and the helpful information that you hand out to people?
The work is rooted in harm reduction practice and community development! We aren’t here to judge, or save anybody. We want to empower people to have access to information and help themselves. Jessie Goyette, the primary founder, has graduated in community development and gender studies, and works in the field! Through her career and political activism, she has connected with a number of social service providers in the Hamilton Region. We connect with SACHA and The Van, as well as an American organization called Safer Scenes (@SaferScenes2017 on Twitter), to guide what we do and the ethics of our programming.
What kind of information/resources are you offering at Safer Gigs Hamilton booths?
We cover a lot of ground and are constantly looking to grow and expand the scope of our resources. We are an inherently feminist, anti-oppressive organization. Off the top of my head we have pamphlets about safer sex, LGBTQ+ resources, abuse, consent, bystander intervention, drugs, mental health, jobs, the opioid epidemic, legal rights, newcomers, racism etc.
You’ve set up at numerous music gigs. How are women and non-binary people especially vulnerable at shows?
Women and non-binary folks are vulnerable, in a sense, because we happen to live in a society where women are devalued, assaulted by people they trust, and people don’t believe them when they come forward. Victim blaming and slut shaming is a real thing that happens. Men in bands are often prioritized or excused for their horrible actions towards women. And there are still music spaces that are dominated by men and their friends (all male bands, male promoters, merch guys etc.). We acknowledge that, and want to make the Hamilton music scene explicitly a place that doesn’t tolerate sexual violence of any kind. We believe survivors. We try to acknowledge the reality of the lived experiences of women in the music scene and cater to that, but again, we cover a wide array of issues that are applicable to everyone, of any gender.
How would you say that Hamilton stacks up for safe gigs versus some other cities in the area?
Hamilton is an interesting situation. In regards to places for people to attend shows, many of the venues are bars or clubs. And in bars and clubs, alcohol sales are a top priority. People book shows to draw people, and they want those attendees to drink to increase profits. Whatever happens between the ticket sale and the bar sale is not really focused on. Luckily, places like Doors: Taco Joint and Metal Bar and This Ain’t Hollywood are very clear about their low tolerance for racism, sexism, homophobia, and all that. But aside from specific venues, the safeness of gigs is often dependent on the bands playing, and the crowd they draw.
A problem we’ve noticed is that some people in bands often have a strong history of abuse, or other questionable acts. And when people book bands with these kinds of people in them, it discourages others from wanting to come to shows because they know the guy on stage right is a known abuser. Nobody wants to support that; however those people are still given a platform to perform. And sometimes, the people who attend the shows, knowing that the people performing are garbage, will back them up and protect them from being held accountable. This creates a huge divide in the people who want to go out and enjoy music.
We’ve noticed that some bookers in Hamilton are very adamant about knowing who they book, and making sure that their presence won’t result in harm for others. Other bookers only focus on which bands will draw people, with zero regard of who is in those bands, and what they advocate.
What can club/bar owners and show promoters do to make shows safer for everyone? Is there one concrete change that would make a positive difference?
Club and bar owners only have so much power in regards to the events that happen at their spaces. Most venues are public spaces, so anybody can show up as they please. But venue owners can make an active effort to know about the acts they are booking, and take a hard stance against booking bands with a bad track record, no matter how popular they are. When venue owners are send a clear message that enough is enough, it resonates with people who want to attend shows. It lets them know “I want you to be safe and have a good time.”
But nobody can make clear decisions without good knowledge of these subject matters. That’s why we think it is important to spread healthy information. Knowing what puts people at risk, and what helps people at risk is a huge part of knowing how to create safer and more enjoyable shows.
What has the response been to the project so far?
The response has been primarily positive! We’ve had lots of people, bands and other local organizations, reach out to us via social media. Some simply showing their support, which is much appreciated, and others wanting to collaborate, which is super cool!
When we set up at gigs, the response is interesting. So far, we haven’t had anybody come up to us and tell us we suck, or that what we’re doing is dumb. But rather we have a bunch of people coming up to us and saying “Whoa! This is so cool. I totally support this project! Keep it up!” and then walk away empty handed. Which is cool that they show their support, but feels like some people aren’t engaging with the resources we have on the table. We sympathize that it’s not always easy to grab a booklet on sexual health and read through it when you’re surrounded by hundreds of other people.
But we want people to know that there is no shame in taking a booklet on consent, or a packet of lube, or whatever. We want to try and de-stigmatize sexual education and harm reduction, so it doesn’t feel taboo to engage with these subjects. Also, some people may feel like they personally don’t need these resources, which is fine, but we encourage people to take resources anyways, because you never know when you or someone you know might need help. These resources are free. Spread them around all you like!
How can people get involved with Safer Gigs Hamilton?
Anybody can reach out to us via on Instagram @SaferGigsHamilton or on Twitter @SaferGigsHamOnt. The two of us can’t possibly be at every show to set up a booth, so we’re looking for people to help share the load. The more shows we set up at, the better!
What’s next for Safer Gigs Hamilton?
We’re currently curating more resources from a broader range of topics, like LGBTQ+ resources, and resources from surrounding cities like Toronto. We’re set to collaborate with other local organizations in hopes to have more hands in the project, and have develop new strategies on how to engage the community. And obviously, we will setting up at more shows in the future, so be sure to look out for us!