Load-in Through the Alley: Inside Mohawk Place, It’s the Musicians and Universal Ties That Bind

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By “Ballzy”

Last night I had a terrible dream that my dad, a classic liberal baby boomer, bought The Mohawk Place out from under my boss and had plans to turn it into an alcohol-free organic juice bar where the only music allowed was ukulele covers of Steely Dan and Jimmy Buffett songs. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” My dream-self screamed in horror at my imaginary father, “DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT GOES ON HERE?” I slammed my fists down on the bar as my dream co-workers looked upon me with eyes filled with hatred and disgust. The dream continued on like some abysmal sinking swirl of red neon and alienable dread. My band was blacklisted, my security license chopped up in front of me, friends turned to enemies and enemies spat in my face. I was no longer allowed to drink a beer or listen to Rock & Roll and was forced into slavery working at my father’s shitty new age juice bar for parrot loving geriatrics and I had to wear a golf tee and khaki shorts to work every day.

I snapped myself awake, inhaling deep, horrified gasps of air. I had never been so relieved to have woken up in Buffalo or ready to walk into Mohawk Place.

I’ve worked at Mohawk for a year now. I started out as a hostess, greeting bands and guests. I quickly became the bouncer. Bouncing in a rock venue isn’t what I thought I would end up doing for a living but I must admit I honestly couldn’t see myself performing any other job. Outside of using my natural talents, I’ve never been good at anything else but never in a million years would I have thought that I would’ve wound up working for Mohawk Place. Sometimes I get caught up in a show or the energy of the crowd and I take a small step back and realize “Holy shit, I work here.” I see a lot of great performances and meet tons of great people standing up in the front of the bar. As of this night, from my little roped off table area, I’ve seen 196 different sets since the first of this year alone.
I like my job. I take the money. I keep the riff raff out. I yell at you when you take your drink outside even though I JUST heard you reading the sign out loud that asks you to not take your stupid drink outside. I break up a mosh pits that get out of hand. I toss out guys for getting grabby with ladies on the dancefloor and I draw up the show board that hangs in the window.  And sometimes, not often but sometimes, I have to pull a broken pint glass out of a toilet because some drunk chick is too afraid to admit she shattered the glass and tries to flush the evidence. But It isn’t all glitz and glam, sometimes I have to hassle you for having fun. I know, I know, “But Ballzy, I thought we were friends!” Sure we are dude but your friendship doesn’t pay my rent so go smoke your Devil’s Lettuce in a different alley, Champ. As security, I do have one small personal request: Please don’t come in and bitch at me about what used to be cool to do in here 20 years ago, alright? You used to be able to smoke in Super Markets and it was once totally acceptable for pregnant women to drink martinis but the times oh, they are a-changin’! Either embrace the fact that change is the only constant or drive yourself further into the thickening void of madness by continuing to run from your own inflamed sense of impending mortality but don’t give me shit for doing my job. I’m just trying to make it through my shift and make it to my next show. Everybody knows why Mohawk shut down before and I like my job too much to let some kid break his neck again, so keep your blood in your head and your feet on the ground and we’ll be el simpatico. Really, we just want everybody to have a good time, staff included. (So be cool, my babies. Be cool…no drinks outside!)

Yet Mohawk is so much more than just a job to me. As some of you may or may not know, I’ve kept my sanity by drawing show fliers and posters over the past 5 years. The first flier I ever drew was for a show that Cerebral Ballzy played at Mohawk on October 12th, 2011 with Lionize and Larry & His Flask. I wasn’t involved in the show in any way nor was I even asked to make the flier but I did it anyway and I put them up all over downtown Buffalo. The show itself cost $12 which the exact number of people in attendance. (Don’t mix punk with jam bands.) I was there for Cerebral Ballzy. They played second and when they took the stage, it changed my entire life. Within seconds the lead singer was swinging from the lights and stomping all over his poor drummer. He climbed the 6 foot monitor and layed down on top of it, screaming the wrong lyrics to the wrong song while the rest of the band played as fast and as hard as they could. He sprayed beer in my face which was as gross as it was cool. I moshed with the three other people who were there to see them. I even got to meet them after the show where they all graciously signed my cassette tape and asked me if I had any Ecstasy. I didn’t have any Ecstasy or know where to get any Ecstasy or had ever seen any Ecstasy before period, so they stopped talking to me pretty fast. (Although I did get a dirty look or two when I told a 16 year old girl to stay out the fuck out of their van when they were trying to lure her in. Whether or not they knew or cared about her age remains a mystery.)  A few days later I was still in a daze, my throat was sore from screaming still and my arms were bruised from the mini-pit. I was hanging out with some new friends who couldn’t pronounce my first name at all and I was explaining to them with super fan girl excitement about the mind blowing punk show I just saw at Mohawk the other night. When I got up to get myself a bottle of water, I heard them stumbling around with my name one of the guys yelled out “YO, BALLZY!” so I turned around to find myself saddled with that nickname forever. Without Mohawk there is no Ballzy. Since that day however, I have stopped listening to Cerebral Ballzy because let’s face it, they suck now. (Or always did?) By the end of this article it will seem redundant to call Mohawk home but I find myself spending more and more time there. There have been nights when you’d almost have to pry me away from the place because I find it so comforting to be there. If I’m not working a show, I’m upstairs practicing with my band or I’m on stage performing. Needless to say, it feels more like home than home does.

One of the most important attributes about Mohawk Place is it’s charismatic and boisterous owner, Rick Platt. Rick always kind of struck me as part Ferris Bueller and part Jimmy Conway. In a good way. He’s a rare breed for a venue owner, in the sense that when it comes to caring for musicians, he just gets it. Often going above and beyond to make sure that performers are fed, paid and happy. Rick has an appreciation for musicians both local and national and said that some of his favorite local bands are Jack Topht & Little Cake, Soul Butchers, Pine Fever and Malarchuk. “Some of the coolest nationals,” he stated “were bands like Diarrhea Planet, Francy, Cabinet and Metz.”
Rick’s family has owned the bar next door, Electric Avenue since 1980. He’s seen every transition of 47 East Mohawk from The Theatre Hotel to The Griffin to both previous generations of Mohawk Place under Pete Perrone and Scott Leary. When I asked him what made him decide to step up and buy Mohawk when the opportunity presented itself, he humbly shrugged and said “I wanted to preserve the ‘Buffalo feel’. I didn’t want to see it squandered or turned into something stupid like a Carl’s Jr.  Or see it be changed into like, an acoustic indie cafe. Not that there’s anything wrong with those places, just not here.”
He continued to tell me that he felt like the place had always been under utilized, that it has amazing potential and he always saw that in the Mohawk. “You can feel the energy ready to scream out of the walls,” he said, adding that he gets the same kicks off the roar of an excited crowd that the performers do. “And the great thing is there is no niche. With so much talent to experience, why limit yourself?”. Rick makes an excellent point here. One of the beautiful things about Mohawk is that it doesn’t limit itself to one genre, “scene” or demographic. On any given week, you wouldn’t see the same show booked twice. When I asked him if he had any advice for up and coming bands he said “Practice. Get out and go see other bands, ya know. Interact and talk to people.” (Another great point because there could be a future Metalhead stuck with his friends in the jam band scene just a-waiting for you to hand him a flier to the show that’s gonna change his life forever. Can you find it in your blackened heart to convert and save a troubled hippie, today?)

The staff is comprised of mainly musicians. Including myself, there’s our bartender Tim Domes of Malarchuk and our sound technicians Todd Allan and Tony DeRosa who are both active in various local bands and open mics all over the city. When I asked Rick if this was intentional or something that he has set out to do he said that it wasn’t his goal but it fits. Another bartender on staff at both Mohawk Place and Electric Avenue is Pine Fever’s own Alex Cline. Alex is our sometimes salty yet lovable dread head. Now 31, Alex told me he’s been attending shows at Mohawk here and there since high school. “But I’ve definitely spent more time here since it reopened.” I asked him it felt any different, to which he replied “The only real difference is it lost the ‘dive bar feel’ by not being open all day but aesthetically, they kept all the good stuff and ditched all the shit.” Pine Fever has played Mohawk dozens of times but Alex admits that he still gets excited to play because “it’s a good place for musicians and it’s always a good time.” Alex said that the first time Pine Fever ever played Mohawk was before it had closed down and laughed while giving the praise “the stage no longer feels like it’s going to collapse.” Alex went on to say that as far as bars are concerned, and he’s played many, that Mohawk really knows how to take care of their musicians and no matter why he’s there, he always feels right at home.

Most nights behind me in my roped off little table area, at the heart of the house you’ll find Marty Boratin our booking guy, firing through emails and booking inquiries while tossing back a Hayburner IPA. Marty is like Bernie Sanders’ younger rock & roll cousin from Buffalo. An archaeologist by day, you can sometimes catch him sporting his field khakis and waders.   Marty’s been with Mohawk pretty much since the start, having worked for the club on and off for over 20 years. Marty got the job from helping out the original booking agent John Hunter and since he had always been working in a record store (either Home Of The Hits, World Records or Record Theatre) it went hand in hand. In the late 90’s he became more involved with booking and when I asked him what’s changed he smirked and said “Seriously? Nothing.”. He added that the front stage was the only stage and that it used to be open during the day regardless of there being a show but ultimately, “it’s back to where it was ten years ago. It’s still still a great place to come out, hear some great up and coming original music with the occasional national act and grab a drink with friends.”
The way that public relations are facilitated now has changed dramatically since most bands rely heavily on the crutch of social media which has become the inevitable Sword of Damocles for most musician’s publicity options. Marty remarked “We used to spend all day Saturday, every Saturday putting up posters and fliers for upcoming shows all over the city. People just don’t seem to make or send posters anymore.” When I asked him if it’s easier or harder for bands to get recognized and communicate with the use of social media he paused and half heartedly sighed “Well, it should be easier but there’s just so much more out there to wade through now.” (Probably why he needs his waders on while checking emails) I asked him if he had any advice for bands from the perspective of someone who’s job is to decipher what the hell your drummer was trying to say in that email he sent real quick. “Try to give as much information as possible when emailing a promoter. Most importantly, make sure it’s the right venue for you.” He added that some venues just don’t work for certain acts and that you should always be aware of the situation you’re putting yourselves into.
Surprisingly, Marty isn’t now or ever has been a musician, although he and wife Susan both love and support music heavily. Marty grew up the son of teachers who constantly housed exchange students, so visitors aren’t a problem for him. He’s always housed bands, fed them and did whatever he could to help a musician in need. Marty’s tireless passion for music is certainly his driving force. For as long as he has been working with Mohawk he was always working 40 hours a week in various record stores and would endure “twenty day stretches of out of town bands” spending countless weeks burning the candle at both ends. A task that he’s not a stranger to these days, either. When I asked Marty if in all the years he’s been working and booking if he had a favorite band or performance and he admitted that he couldn’t pick just one because he’s seen too many awesome, talent-packed shows. However when I asked him what the worst band or performance he had ever experienced was he answered without hesitation “Antigone Rising.” I had to laugh. When I asked him why an “all female alt-country rock band from New York City” stood out as the worst thing (somewhat ironically, I mean come on.) he said “They had nasty attitudes and they weren’t very talented. People used to paste things on their photo.” The signed Antigone Rising framed headshot still hangs at Mohawk. Marty did add that getting to work with and see Hawkwind perform recently at Mohawk was probably the best show experience he’s had since the bar reopened. Like most of us, Marty regards Mohawk as home.

One of Mohawk’s musicians on staff is Tim Domes, guitarist for Buffalo Doom band Malarchuk. Tim is an easy going guy and probably one of the nicest co-workers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Behind the pine he’s always there with a quick one liner or music trivia tidbit but on stage he rips through dimensions with his memorable and incendiary riffs. I had a chat with Tim to discuss working in a music venue, Malarchuk and more.

Did you ever used to come to Mohawk back in the day? What was your favorite experience as a show goer?

I’ve been going to shows at Mohawk for probably 10 or 11 years now. Two of my fondest early memories of show-going at Mohawk are probably when I saw Converge there in ‘07 or ‘08 and it was absolutely insane. It was packed and despite standing in the back corner by the load in/out door, I still got kicked in the head and left with some bruises. (to be expected from a good hardcore show.) Also I saw Pittsburgh math-rock band Don Cabellero there years ago. I had heard their drummer was kind of a dick and he sure lived up to his reputation. After the first song he said he couldn’t go on until someone brought him water. After their set was over he proceeded to lay on the stage behind his kit like he just run a marathon or something. They were good but he was a douche. It was pretty funny. More recently, probably about 4 or 5 years ago I saw Southern Sludge band Weedeater there and that was awesome. When I walked in the band members were all moping around and bitching that they were tired and had been on the road for too long, and that they almost didn’t make it across the border because of the cocaine residue all over their clothes. I was worried they were gonna suck. As the night went on and bottles of whiskey were emptied they were in a much better mood and they played a great set, with their drummer not sitting on a throne, but a beer cooler.

How long have you been playing at Mohawk? What was your favorite show experience as a performer?

The first time I played at Mohawk was probably in 2009 I think, with my old (now defunct) band SPR CPU. I would have to say my favorite show I played there was with my current band (Malarchuk) opening up for High On Fire. I was pretty excited to share the stage with Matt Pike, the fuckin’ dude who wrote Dopesmoker! As far as the actual show it was cool, a lot of people were there, some of my family came, lots of friends, we played well, as did the other bands. The highlight of the night for me though was afterwards all the bands were loading out gear, waiting to get paid, etc, and I was outside smoking a joint with some people. I tried to hand it to Matt Pike but he just looked at me and walked away. The fuckin’ dude who wrote Dopesmoker! He had just gotten out of rehab though so I understand.

How did it feel when you were asked to bartend?

I wasn’t actually asked to bartend. I asked Rick for a job for about a year before I finally got it. He kept telling me that he admired my persistence (I think I just bothered him enough about it.) I was pretty fuckin’ excited when he actually said he had a spot for me. It was a good night all around. We (Malarchuk) were playing that night, opening up for Hawkwind (fuckin’ sweet!) and as I was loading my gear out after our set, I was smoking a cig in the alley and Thorpe, the bar manager came out and gave me his card and told me to give him a call sometime. I’m gonna chalk that night up to a success.

As a musician, what do you like about working for Mohawk/Rick?

As a musician working at Mohawk/for Rick is great. I get the opportunity to see tons of cool shows and meet lots of like-minded folks from all over the place. I really like that Rick makes it a point to take care of the bands and people that come through. We give the bands a killer discount on booze, make sure that people are fed and all around just try a be the best representation of our city and scene that we can be. Buffalo is a great place and we want to make sure that out-of-towners leave with that in mind. I just really like that Rick has that attitude, which then in turn the rest of the staff does too. It’s the trickle-down effect. Also it’s a good business move. Word travels and we want people to want to come back and tell their friends it’s a cool place. Also as a musician it’s a great place to network. One of my favorite things about the job is before doors actually open and it’s just the bands in there I get to just sit around and chat with touring musicians and booking agents and what not.

What’s new with Malarchuk? Any big shows or exciting news?

What’s new with Malarchuk? Well, we recorded a full length over the summer of 2015 and now we’re trying to figure out how to get it out to the masses. We’re releasing one song every month or two online and trying to figure out how we want to release it physically. I think we’re gonna do a small run DIY cassette release then hopefully find someone to pay to press it to vinyl for us haha. As far as shows we have a couple cool things on the horizon. We’re opening for Torche at the Waiting Room on April 11th and then in June we’re playing with Come To Grief (Grief reincarnation) at the Bug Jar in Rochester. Also we’re gonna try to book one or two small regional tours for the summer hopefully. Been working on some new jams too!

How long have you been bartending? What is it like getting to bartend at Mohawk versus previous bars?

I’ve been in the service industry on and off, mostly on, for almost 15 years now. One of the most gratifying things about Mohawk is that it is a bar, not a bar/restaurant. Serving food to people can be such a pain in the ass. It opens up a whole other world of shit for people to bitch about. The world is full of assholes, and they go out to eat. We have chips at Mohawk. That’s it. Sorry… but not really. Also I really like that it’s a place where you drink beer, have mixed drinks and do shots. We don’t do cocktails. I do not miss cocktails. When I first started bartending I thought cocktails were cool and it gave me a way to be creative and express myself and all that shit. That boat sailed fast. Working behind a busy bar and making cocktails for servers at the same time sucks. There would be times at previous jobs where I’d have a full bar and a ticket from a server would come up with ten different cocktails on it. Those things take time. I’m getting fucking anxious thinking about it. If I never see a muddler or a strainer or a jigger again I won’t be upset about it. I also really like that Rick understands that the customer is not always right. He does not expect me to kiss some prick’s ass or apologize to some old hag just because they have a shitty attitude or zero patience, or both. If you know me you know I’m a mellow guy but if someone is being a dick, it’s nice to know I don’t have to take their shit.

Any favorite bands or shows in mind that you’ve seen since you’ve been working with Mohawk?

Favorite shows since working at Mohawk. The show just (recently) with Conan, Serial Hawk, and Bastard Lord was pretty cool. It’s was loud and heavy and the crowd was awesome. Lots of friends. No shows particularly stand out for me but certain bands I didn’t know about before do. Twin Speak from Utica, I believe are pretty rad and I probably wouldn’t have know about them unless I was working at Mohawk. American Aquarium is pretty cool. They’re an alt-country band from the South I wouldn’t have known about.

Final thoughts?

As you know Buffalo has a pretty cool music scene. It’s diverse, it’s accepting, it’s supportive. Do yourself a favor and come out to more shows, even if you don’t know the bands. The more heads at a show the better the out-of-town bands will feel about Buffalo and like I said before, word travels. Cooler and bigger bands will want to play here if they know it’s a good spot to be. Also if you come out then I will have more customers and make more money hahahaha! In conclusion, come to more shows at Mohawk and listen to Malarchuk.

Every now and again, you can catch my band Nine Layers Deep on stage at Mohawk. We’re a relatively new four piece Stoner/Sludge Metal band that would appeal to (or disgust) fans of Uncle Acid, The Melvins and Acid King or even early-Soundgarden. Loud as Hell and driven by a thunderous rhythm section and screaming sonic leads that cut through your skull like a band-saw, Nine Layers deep is comprised of Kevin Minorcyzk on drums, Jim McFarland on lead guitar, Bryan Radez of Bootlap fame on bass and myself on rhythm guitar and vocals.
We have absolutely no music available online or hard copies to purchase so the only way to actually check us out is to leave your house (gasp) and experience NLD live and in person. Our next show at Mohawk Place is Friday, April 8th with Twin Speak from Utica. If you come to that show and mention this article, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying group high five from all four Sludgers in NLD! (Seriously though, we have zero merch. I sold a kid my guitar pick for a $1 once.)

Now truth be told, I don’t know shit about metal compared to most people around here and I won’t pretend like I do. I honestly don’t even know why I’m writing this article to begin with. This was supposed to be an interview and because a I have like, six Chuck Klosterman books and I’ve watched Almost Famous about 1,700 times (Did I seriously say “incendiary” earlier when describing a guitarist?) when Mr. Marlinski asked me to write an article I agreed to do it but again, I don’t know shit.

I’m not a metal head, first of all. I really, really fuckin’ love metal but I don’t have the energy for festivals and the encyclopedic knowledge of bands and albums. I’m just a stoner in a band who likes to listen to and play heavy fuckin’ music. I do however love that there are people out there who can name every black metal band to ever burn down a church in Norway and I can appreciate that it took you 137 total man hours to make your vest look like a metallic hedgehog but that all just seems so…exhausting. Since working at Mohawk, I’ve seen a lot of performances from bands that I otherwise would’ve passed over upon first impression but after meeting these performers and watching them put every ounce of themselves into the show I couldn’t deny the talent and passion. Underneath it all, Mohawk is a place where you can lose yourself in the music. I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and check out a show you otherwise wouldn’t if only to experience different local talent and meet the other people in this vast and ever expanding musical universe. I don’t believe in “scenes” anymore. It’s a little bit like believing in Santa. It’s all well and good. The idea behind it is wholesome and fills you with a sense of purpose and happiness but once that veil comes off, it’s off, man. There’s no way I could believe in individual scenes after a year at the door of Mohawk Place. Every single “scene” is the same, their clothes and attitudes vary and their guitars are tuned differently but it’s pretty much all the same. There are solid musicians and there are “Rawk Starz”. There are down to Earth mother fuckers and there are some shitty ass snakes, too. Every single scene has the same structure no matter how big or small it may be. If every scene is the same then nothing is different and if nothing is different then cliques are a social construct of your stupid anxiety riddled lizard brain. My driving point to this is we are all one music community. Metal, Punk, Indie, Goth, Folk, it’s all the same. Mohawk is sort of like the catch all for the melange of musical identities floating through Buffalo and I’m damn proud to work there and see it all go down live every night in the comforts of my own home. I love the place. Right down to the lions on the mouldings, I love the place.

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