An Introspective into the New Paltz DIY Scene, Past and Present

DIY, in terms of music, typically means refusing to work with the mainstream music industry.

It’s a Friday night in New Paltz and you have no plans. This is a catastrophe. What is there to do? You could go out to the bars… again. You could also visit a fraternity house for a cramped and sweaty experience. 

“Or…,” one of your friends might suggest, “We could go to that house show I heard about tonight.” Why not? So you find out where exactly this show is and head out. There, you find a basement full of excited people dancing around a few musicians playing their hearts out. You watch and listen; you might even get rowdy with the crowd. In any case you leave feeling exhausted, but satisfied. It was a good night. 

This is often the way people find out about the do-it-yourself (DIY) scene at New Paltz. It’s how my friends and I discovered it a year and a half ago, and we’ve been going back ever since. House shows have remained our option of choice amongst the handful of entertainment options at New Paltz. After well over a year of participating in the scene I began to ask myself: what exactly is so alluring about DIY? How did the house show community become what it is now? And where exactly is DIY going? 

In order to answer some of these questions I turned to scene veteran Dan Chisena, otherwise known as “Crazy Dan.” The proprietor of Crazy Dan’s Second Hand Hardcore (a vintage clothing and record/CD spot) and employee of Dragon Realm (alternative and fantasy merchandise store), both located in the heart of New Paltz, Chisena is also one of the most experienced people around when it comes to local music. 

“New Paltz, the college, always had a music scene prior to our generation,” Chisena said. Since New Paltz is a vibrant college town with students coming and going in generational waves, the music scene has remained dynamic and ever-changing. 

“In the ‘90s there was always a DIY gutter punk scene. Basement shows and noise shows and everything else.” Chisena elaborated on how the music scene developed primarily on the streets of New Paltz. 

According to Chisena, his generation met and congregated around “the stoop,” a slab of concrete outside of where the restaurant B-Side Grill currently stands. Back then it was a spot where travelers and punks of all sorts could meet and make music. However, this group was not always well received by the locals. Chesina described a period around the mid-2010s when the stoop was being cracked down on by local authorities. 

“They were being more rough about people who were hanging out on the streets,” he said. After this era Chesina began to make his own music more prevalent through a New Paltz institution: Snug Harbor. 

“We all used to do shows at Snugs called ‘friends’ shows… that’s how the scene kind of got built,” stated Chesina. This movement, primarily made up of metal musicians, began around 2009 to 2011. Acts outside of metal like Frenchy and the Punk, comprised of singer/percussionist Samantha Stephenson and guitarist/drummer Scott Helland (musical inspirations for Chesina), also established themselves during this time. Crazy Dan himself performed solo acts at open mics with nothing but a drum machine and a loud guitar. After that, Chesina became involved in the metal outfit Minotaurs Redemption before landing in his current group: Dark Hippy. From then on it was a matter of taking things into his own hands.

“If you can’t find a place to do something, then just make a place,” declared Chesina. And that is exactly what he did. Beginning with annual Halloween events, Chesina began to put on shows in his own venue. Although it is small in terms of square footage, Crazy Dan’s Second Hand Hardcore more than makes up for its physical size with big sounds and a bigger personality. Chesina commented on the humble beginnings of his venue. 

“At first I was skeptical, but then I saw what a success it was and realized people like the small spot… it was a lot of fun, and a schooling for me. To learn how sound works, how to say no if you need to say no, to not take things personally.” 

Since 2013 Crazy Dan has been operating his venue purely for the fun of it. While it’s mostly been smooth sailing, he has taken care to keep it that way. 

“There were maybe a few times when the bands were too loud and neighbors complained,” Chesina said. “I try soundproofing as much as I can.”

 Despite the rambunctious nature of shows at his venue, Chesina has managed to maintain good relations with both his neighbors and the local authorities. 

“Communication is the key,” he added. Making sure that a show runs without complications is always a tricky task. This sentiment is shared by another DIY venue operator: Peter Macaloney. 

“It’s extremely stressful to manage any kind of team,” Macaloney divulged. “I have to make sure everything gets done by a certain point… it can also be really stressful to have a hundred people you don’t know in your house. But it’s also very, very fun.” 

Macaloney and his crew have operated the venue, Sanctum House, since October of 2019. They mainly host punk rock and indie bands with a sprinkle of hip-hop artists. Prior to opening his venue, Macaloney did photography for other house shows which were posted to his Instagram account, @Hinderance

Both Macaloney and Chesina understand the risks of putting on DIY shows, but they are more than willing to take a chance for the benefit of the scene as a whole. 

“What I like about the house shows is that it’s more of a community… It’s more supportive, it’s more people wanting to enjoy music,” Chesina said. 

Earlier Chesina had confessed that in the past, house shows were more akin to parties with a band playing more or less in the background. However, he believes that this trend has turned around and that people are going to shows to see the bands and not just to party. Right now, New Paltz DIY is flourishing as a result of its strong and supportive community. The movement is filled with genuinely talented bands and individuals who continue to make a real impact on people. It’s as simple as having a place to go where you feel at home. DIY is rewarding for both ordinary attendees and the handful of people who run the scene. 

“It’s very rewarding,” Macaloney said with pride, “to be able to provide a space that’s safe for people to come and enjoy music with their friends.” 

Chesina emphasized a similar point, “Meeting people at the right time and creating a spark — that’s what DIY is about.” 

Despite being from different eras, both Macaloney and Chesina understand the core of what makes DIY so enjoyable: great people sharing great experiences. With any luck, the DIY scene will continue to be an essential part of the New Paltz experience for years to come.