Story and photos by Shane Maland
A recognizable sound can be heard reverberating from a familiar stairwell on Roberts Street in Fargo.
For music lovers that thought their music was dead and gone from their favorite venue, four of Fargo’s finest in punk and metal music have offered a new refuge. Welcome to The New Direction.
The New Direction is the brainchild of artists Chuck Wang, Jack Stenerson, Rusty Steele and Jed Felix. Each a member of a local band, the four had always wanted to open up a venue of their own, but the opportunity took a while to show itself. Then, they heard that The Red Raven was moving.
The venue still shows its roots
Black paint and show posters still collide with the recognizable stone walls of the main stage room of what used to be The Red Raven.
Today, the coffee room has been transformed into the central hangout room – complete with seating, a record player and an entertainment center, television and Nintendo 64. It also includes a stereo and a cardboard cutout of Will Smith peering from the window facing the outside stairway.
The sign above the once coffee stained bar reads “The New Direction: All Ages – Always.” That’s the reason for the hangout space. That’s the reason for re-opening the spot in the first place. The New Direction is here for the kids that feel that when The Red Raven left, they didn’t just lose a cool coffee bar and hangout spot; they lost their music as well.
The Raven took away more than coffee
The new location for The Red Raven isn’t suitable for metal and thrash music, so bands that used to have an easy time finding a space to play all ages shows have had a harder time finding a place to play.
“It’s really unfortunate that the Red Raven will no longer be a venue for ‘thrash’ music or loud music of any kind. I hope the owners reconsider or that the efforts to re-open the old space for loud music are successful,” said local fan Brandon Marback after reading of the restrictions found at the new Red Raven location. “I used to go to the Red Raven all the time and it wasn’t for the coffee, books, wall art, free wi-fi or the fantastic atmosphere, it was for the Rock ‘N’ Roll. I wonder where all the high school rockers will be able to play now.”
The fellows at The New Direction are here to help, Brandon.
“All of us book hardcore, metal and punk,” said venue operator Chuck Wang.
“We’re going to try and diversify and make a place for all musicians and all artists.”
The New Direction won’t just be for music
Through an employee’s only door at the back of the main music room, The New Direction venue boasts a large room that has since lost its partitioned walls, and instead shows off an open floor plan perfect for an up and coming artists’ studio.
“The idea to utilize this space, we wouldn’t have to find the people to do it because there are already plenty of artists that we’ve discovered that just don’t have studios. So, allowing them to use this space is using up unused space in our building,” said co-founder Rusty Steele.
Local artist Chelsey Dahlstrom is leading the push for a New Direction art studio.
“During the summer, I want to start doing workshops with local kids – screen-printing, Shrinky Dinks, stuff like that,” said Dahlstrom. “That’s the whole point of The New
Direction, having it open to all ages.”
Dahlstrom is also looking to start workshops for adults throughout the community.
“There are more opportunities now for different artists and different mediums. Midwest Mud isn’t just for ceramics people, it’s for everyone. I want to do that, too. It’s just another opportunity for all ages. Even if they aren’t artists, they’ll still have a place to work. That’s the plan for it,” said Dahlstrom.
The open space used to be an antique shop. It’s fitting that the founders of The New Direction have found their own way to bring back the past that made this venue a staple in the first place.
Erasing the stigma
The venue still faces challenges. They are a self-proclaimed “non-profit” business. Their main income, aside from admission, is all monetary donation. At the end of each month, the venue will host a benefit show for itself in hopes of at least breaking even. But, money challenges aren’t the only issues weighing on the minds of the founders.
The stigmas of punk and metal music, as well as those genres fans, have long been the plank in the eye of many communities around the world. The New Direction wants to change the ideas of many in the community by offering a clean and safe performance venue for kids of all ages in the area.
“We don’t want to have the community look down on us. These are ‘smart punks’ doing something good for the community,” said Steele. “The more the community knows that this is a good thing, the more the city would feel scrutiny if they ever thought of shutting it down.
The venue is gaining respect
The founders are also getting nods from unlikely allies.
“We were just at the bank two days ago and the branch manager came up and said, ‘It’s great that you guys are opening that. My son always used to go to shows and he doesn’t have a place anymore,” said the third New Direction founder Jack Stenerson.
The venue displays a strict no drugs, no alcohol policy.
“We want it to be a very positive space; somewhere where parents can come down and say, ‘My kids are safe here,’” said Wang. “It’s hard to find a place like this in a lot of cities, not just Fargo. It’s hard to make it happen, but it’s something that we’re working on.”
It looks as if The New Direction is living up to its name.
Edited by Grant Nelson, MSUM journalism major
|What do you think? Is a venue like The New Direction a good addition to the Fargo music scene?|