Williamsburg’s Black Bear Bar hosted a skinhead punk festival on Saturday night, then pulled the show’s Sunday slot after locals and anti-racism groups accused it of welcoming “hate music” bands and a crowd that performed Nazi salutes.
The N. Sixth Street watering hole and its booker claim they didn’t see anything suspicious about NYC Oi! Fest’s lineup of bands with names such as Close Shave and Iron City Hooligans, but one bar regular said she knew something was up as soon as she caught a glimpse of the hundreds of skinheads standing in front of the venue at 7 pm, and felt too uncomfortable to stick around.
“There must have been around 250 skinheads. They took over the whole sidewalk,” said the long-time local, who is Dominican and asked to remain anonymous due to fears for her safety. “I felt like I wasn’t welcomed and was stared at.”
Locals and activists swarmed the bar’s social media accounts after the festival organizer’s announced it would be the venue on Saturday — a day after noted civil right organization the Southern Poverty Law Center posted a warning about the event, identifying ties between “far-right” groups and many of the bands, organizers, and attendees at last year’s event, which took place in Manhattan.
The bar and its booker New Island Entertainment eventually canceled the Sunday show and apologized later that evening — blaming an outside promoter for hoodwinking it about the nature of the event — but not before the bar repeatedly defended the bands and crowd as diverse and inoffensive on the bar’s Facebook page.
“We saw last night that the crowd and performers consisted of many people of various ethnicities and backgrounds,” they wrote in a statement on Instagram, after responding to critics’ concerns by posting photos of some people of color in the audience and noting that some bands included members of color, which they argued showed it couldn’t be a “Nazi” event.
Footage from the event, however, paints a different picture. One clip shows band Offensive Weapon covering a song by British white power group Brutal Attack.
In another, the band dedicates a song to “English” Nick Solares — a writer at food blog Eater who recently apologized for being part of New York’s “white pride” scene in the ’80s — before launching into a song by his then-band Youth Defense League.
And, the online critics argued — as the Southern Poverty Law Center article does — Caucasians don’t have a monopoly on fascism or bigotry.
Either way, the disgruntled bar patron said she found the attendees to be a stark contrast to the friendly, diverse crowd that usually frequents the bar.
But those regulars may not be back. The woman said she feels Black Bear handled the whole thing “poorly” and should have taken responsibility, and she doesn’t think the skaters who hang out there will forgive easily — nor will she.
“I don’t support fascist acts,” she said. “Their booker should have done their research.”
Oi! Fest’s organizers did not return requests for comment.