The owner of Williamsburg’s Black Bear Bar says she is attempting to pick up the pieces of her venue’s tattered reputation after it hosted a controversial skinhead punk show last Saturday, dealing with bands and disc jockeys pulling out of gigs and angry residents yelling at staff.
“I’m devastated, my staff are getting threatened, I’m getting threatened,” said Jessica Wertz, who also owns the bars Lone Wolf in Bushwick and No Name in Greenpoint. “Our reputation is destroyed.”
Residents and anti-racism activists tore into the bar for hosting an event called Oi! Fest on May 28, after civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled it a covert “hate music” show and video taken inside showed what critics say were Sieg Heiling attendees.
Last Wednesday, massive local music festival Northside cancelled all the shows it had scheduled there.
Wertz claims she was as surprised as anyone to learn one of her venues was hosting such a show on the night.
She oversees the main bar, but says she contracted out all the booking for its attached performance space last year to an outfit run by Chip Su and Cenk Eryaman, who also run booking company New Island Entertainment and Gold Sounds bar in Bushwick.
The bookers agree Wertz was not involved and “take full accountability,” but also claimed they were hoodwinked by a trusted third-party booker who told them it would be a “fun punk show with no political leanings” and only presented them with a handful of seemingly above-board bands on the lineup beforehand.
“I consider us victims of this, too,” they said in a phone interview during which they declined to give their individual names in favor of just “the venue management team.”
Once the show started and “scary looking” skinheads walked in, they claim they immediately saw red flags and moved to cancel the fest’s Sunday slot — even though someone from their side of things repeatedly defended the bands and attendees and mocked critics on the bar’s Facebook page throughout the event.
They claim that was an intern, who they have since fired.
Wentz said she doesn’t buy the excuses — she claims she was the one who insisted on cancelling the Sunday show once she got wind of the event — but accepts the blame as the bar’s owner, and says she is now attempting to terminate the bookers’ contract and take back management of the stage.
“I do apologize and take responsibility for trusting in these guys to book the venue that is part of my bar,” said Wentz, who is a board member of local business group the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce.
For their part, the bookers say they plan to donate any profits from the event to an anti-fascism organization, and would like to host a panel discussion to educate others on how to avoid being duped into hosting neo-Nazi concerts. They believe the bar has no basis to tear up their contract.
Wentz says she plans to host a show this month in honor of Black Music Month, and that she is in the process of reaching out to everyone who has booked future shows to explain what happened and attempt to win their trust back.
“I’m going to each out personally to people who had events on the calendar and try to start from scratch and keep it back together,” she said.