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Keeping the faith: Rev. Joyce Hartwell says teens should rock Trinity Church.

Church of Rock

The New Age Cabaret at Trinity Church: a positive experience for teens, or just loud concerts masquerading as religion?

On a September Friday at around 8 PM, the bars on Albany’s Lark Street already were bustling; homeless men sauntered down the street, angry then happy, ranting at passersby; two young men stood outside of a bar screaming at each other in garbled drunken bursts. Meanwhile, down the street, a group of high-school kids gathered in the chapel of Trinity Church. They fussed with guitar cords, disassembled then reassembled drum kits; others stood giddy, bouncing up and down, waiting for their friends’ bands to play. “Can you keep it down a minute? This ain’t a nightclub!” demanded an older man who was trying to pray.

For the first time in months, Trinity Church hosted bands. Instead of charging $10 at the door as at previous shows, there was a worship service, and all were free to enter. To some, the idea that a high-school punk-rock show is taking place in the hall of a church on one of Albany’s busiest late-night bar scenes is a perfect fit. To others, however, the shows at Trinity Church represent a sore thumb in the middle of a neighborhood that they say should no longer be the party district it once was.

Rev. Joyce Hartwell has been helping teens in the area hold, book and play shows in Albany since coming to the area in 2000. When she lost her investment in her original venue, the New Age Cabaret, Hartwell arranged to bring her shows into Trinity. Hartwell says her ministry is designed to help kids express themselves in a nonthreatening environment while helping them understand how to get into the music industry. “My whole purpose is to empower the kids,” said Hartwell. She did not charge the kids a flat fee to play at the church, but instead took the first $150 received at the door to pay for expenses; the next $150 went to the kids.

“It was up to them who to invite and who should play,” she said.

According to Hartwell, things were going well. She said she took into account the few complaints she had from neighbors. Hartwell said she badgered teens not to park on any side streets and had them to enter the church exclusively from the Lark Street entrance.

In July, the shows came to an end when the Albany police shut them down and fined the church for operating an illegal nightclub. The charges were later amended to reflect the fact that alcohol was not served at events. The church protested, saying the city could not tell them what was part of a worship service and what wasn’t.

Colleen Ryan, one of the residents who complained, said she thinks the church’s portrayal of the shows is misleading.

“I just continue to think by cloaking this in terms of it being part of our youth ministry it is hard to swallow. To say these bands—local high-school kids—just need a place to play and hang out is a stretch when U-Hauls were pulling up to the church with New Jersey license plates and national and international touring bands with professional sound systems.”

Ryan insisted that the shows are being “wrapped in a cloak of spirituality” and that it is not fair to other musical venues the teens could be playing at because those clubs have to meet certain standards.

The kids who attend shows at Trinity Church say Trinity provides them with a safe environment, free of alcohol and older crowds that attend shows at more-established venues.

“There is no drinking here. People are just having fun,” said Seth 5000, guitarist from Punch the Clock and Class Action. “At Trinity we can play for other people who won’t be able to go to Valentine’s.”

Teens also note that while they may not be praying during their shows, they are religious and feel at home in the church. Rev. Maurice Drown of Trinity says the kids were provided with “sacred ground,” and the church with “a connection to the kids and their spirit.”

Seth and the rest of his bandmates take umbrage to the fact that the neighbors who are against the shows are trying to paint them as hooligans. “They told the [Times Union] they are afraid of kids with spikes and prison tattoos. They made it out like you know we are totally something to be afraid of.”

Ryan and other Lancaster Street residents have been focusing on lyrics of bands who played at Trinity that they say fly in the face of the program’s religious themes. They cite bands such as Drown Retarded Children and Clitorture. In a Sept. 18 letter to Bishop Susan Hassinger, they included songs and lyrics by those bands, including songs called “Why Won’t Jesus Fucking Die” and “Eulogy of a Shit Talker.”

According to the kids, those bands were booked at the club only once, not by Hartwell, but by kids in charge of booking. After learning of the group’s content, Hartwell asked that those bands not be booked again.

Seth thinks the city and “concerned residents” are being critical of the wrong things. “I think it’s odd that the shows were selected to be causing trouble in the neighborhood, when there were a lot of other problems in Albany that need to be addressed—like crime.”

Hartwell pointed out that kids at her shows are generally middle-class teenagers with nothing to do. She insisted that kids need a place to express themselves and they simply don’t have many safe places to do so in Albany. “They have voices that should be heard, not covered up and rejected. Where else is that going to go?”

Ryan said it’s not as simple as kids being persecuted for what they look like or the music they play. “I know I might sound like a cranky old lady from suburbs—‘Get your kid get off my lawn!’—but its the farthest thing from reality. The church is simply not being a good neighbor. I’m a firm believer in religious freedom. Religious freedom and freedom of speech are wonderful things, but the church is trying to pull a fast one by essentially having concerts.”

—David King


What a Week

My Governor Is Kinky

An unlikely candidate with a peculiar name is holding his own against political heavyweights with less than a month to go in the Texas governor’s race. Independent candidate Kinky Friedman, an irreverent country singer, satirist and self-described “equal opportunity offender,” was pulling even at 23 percent with Democrat Chris Bell and gaining ground on Republican incumbent Rick Perry, who received 35 percent in one poll. To call Friedman an atypical politician might be an understatement. He is pleased to declare that he has no political experience, and he operates his campaign under the slogan, “Why the hell not!” Among those lending Friedman their support is fellow singer and Friedman friend Willie Nelson, as well as former professional wrestler and onetime governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura.

Time Capsulation Goes Digital

Yahoo! announced its plans for launching the world’s first digital time capsule Tuesday. The project is expected to become the largest time capsule in world history. Internet users from around the globe will be able to submit personal photographs, videos, music, art, poems, prayers ideas and thoughts to document the year 2006 at timecapsule.yahoo.com until Nov. 8. Once the capsule is sealed, it will be donated to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico for preservation.

Sweeney Takes Foley to the PROM

It’s been exceptionally hard lately to escape Mark Foley’s taint. Republicans all over the country are reeling from the revelations of Foley’s indecent internet conversations with underage pages. John Sweeney, U.S. representative from New York’s 20th congressional district, has been distancing himself from Foley, but Democrats are trying to connect them through the fund-raising group Physicians to Retain Our Majority, or PROM, which has ties to both Sweeney and Foley. In Buffalo, the NRCC chairman, Rep. Tom Reynolds, who has been accused of knowing about Foley’s advances and not taking action, has suffered a blow in the polls. According to a recent Zogby poll, Reynolds is down by 15 percent against Democratic challenger Jack Davis.



The Tools to Advance

Workers Center to host fund-raiser in support of “soft skills” training for people hoping to learn a trade

Kaseem Moultrie gets excited about organizing.

“I have been doing community organizing, working with the labor union for about five years,” he said, “since I started working at the College of Saint Rose.”

He is the chair of the Saint Rose chapter of SEIU Local 200 United, where he heads up negotiations with the college on behalf of the building-service workers. In the past five years that he has been at Saint Rose, the wages for the workers he now represents have increased by as much as $3 an hour. That, he said, is the power of organizing.

“I like helping people,” he added.

Moultrie has turned this eagerness for helping people to his latest endeavor, Unity Thru Music, a fund-raiser held to benefit the Building Skills Project.

The Building Skills Project, offered by the Capital District Workers Center, is a 12-week course that focuses on the “soft skills” necessary to secure apprenticeship jobs in trade unions. Soft skills means everything from how to get a driver’s license to interviewing techniques to the remedial math skills needed for carpentry and electrical work.

“These skills will lead people into union jobs, which have benefits and good pay,” Moultrie said. “This will basically help them move out of poverty level into a middle-class lifestyle.”

The course was offered for the first time last year. And it was a success, Moultrie said, with 19 of the 24 people who took the course graduating.

“We have one guy now who got into the painters union,” he said. “He had everything that he needed—his driver’s license, his GED—they enrolled him into the program. They put him to work, and he is learning the trade.”

Moultrie came up with the concept of Unity Thru Music fund-raiser to bring people together through music in a social way, he said. “And also to make it interesting to young folks to come, to see what is out there for them. They can come and enjoy themselves. Trade guys will be there to speak. And they get the information they need to basically make a choice, whether they want to go into the trade field.”

Along with Moultrie and other union representatives, the Rev. Victor Collier sits on the advisory board that oversees the project.

“Everybody needs encouragement,” Moultrie said. “That’s why we got Rev. Collier, to give encouraging words during the program.”

Collier, who preaches at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, agreed that words of encouragement are what he offers the project. But also, he said, he helps people break down cultural barries, describing this as “separating the facts from the fiction.”

“At the Workers Center, I tend to be the linguistics man,” Collier said. “These people have dropped out of school, haven’t been reading, haven’t been staying up on the skills they need. And sometimes there is just a language barrier.”

And when communication breaks down, he said, old stereotypes can get in the way of success. “There are people who want to change things, but they have been so dismayed in the lies they have been told, that everybody’s racist,” he said. “That everybody’s trying to keep you from going forward. The myth has been propagated on both sides. They have made it a black-and-white issue, when it really isn’t. We are all the same people.”

What is so impressive about the Building Skills Project, Collier continued, is the fullness of the help it can offer.

“It might take a kid who might need to go work at McDonald’s for a while,” he said, “so that he can get the money he needs to buy a car, to now become able to go this union, to now go to a job site. Or you may get a kid who is 18 who didn’t realize he should have had his high school graduation, so you give him the people to meet and the places to go so that he is able to get his GED. These are things that are there, that they didn’t know were there, but are free and available.”

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, he said, because all these things are in place, they just aren’t being used appropriately.

Moultrie’s father is an executive board member of IBW, an electricians union in Queens. “He has been in trades all his life, and he tried to encourage me. But I didn’t take the road of an electrician or a trade guy.”

It is an option he hasn’t ruled out, however. “As I got involved with this program, my eyes were opened to the opportunity. I am out there trying to help others, but in reality, I am saying to myself, ‘I should probably try this course, too.’ I could improve my situation economically.”

—Chet Hardin

Unity Thru Music will be held from 4 to 9 PM Saturday (Oct. 14) at the Albany Labor Temple at 890 3rd St. in Albany. For more information, call 482-5595.





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