On New Paltz’s famous Main Street, a small blue church with a bold red door showcases a rainbow flag alongside a wooden cross. Recently, on Friday and Saturday nights, that church turns into a venue teeming with enthusiastic music lovers, moshing to punk songs and enjoying their friends’ bands. Then, on Sunday mornings, Christians file in for worship as if nothing had happened the night before.
The St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has been hosting all-ages, drug- and alcohol-free punk rock shows for six months. The idea came after the church was contacted by DIY music collective Doors At Seven founder Noelle Janasiewicz. Since then, the church has been a vital piece of the changing music scene in New Paltz.
“It’s keeping [the music scene] alive in a great way,”musician Curt Giventer said. “It’s a more open and accepting kind of space.”
Giventer is a fourth-year English major at SUNY New Paltz and has played for artists and bands like Polanco, No Momentum and Decent Colors. Giventer has played at St. Andrew’s specifically with No Momentum and APE Metro.
Performers in New Paltz previously relied on houses opening themselves up to bands and allowing them to perform. Now, though, the house venue presence is declining and event planners are forced to look for other spaces. Maintaining a music scene without house shows seemed difficult, but St. Andrew’s became an unlikely venue for local punk and rock groups.
Janasiewicz began reaching out to new venues to host shows earlier this year. She formerly ran Radioshack, a popular basement venue located right off campus. When Radioshack closed its doors, Janasiewicz began looking for places outside of basements to provide a more accommodating and welcoming space.
“I struck out hard though. No one was interested in the music. Everyone was expecting us to bring in a party and basically trash the place. I expressed that this isn’t the goal of our shows. We try to benefit the community as much as possible,” Janasiewicz said. “So I turned to the local churches…I, again, struck out at most places until I met with the folks at St. Andrews.”
The St. Andrew’s Reverend Allison Moore knows that many people would say punk and rock shows don’t belong in a church setting. That never stopped her. Rev. Moore has been ministering at St. Andrew’s since February 2020 and boasts other parishioner experience in the metropolitan New York City area. She is also the college chaplain at SUNY New Paltz.
“I want to look for ways for people to know that, in many ways, the church they think of and don’t like isn’t all there is to church,” Rev. Moore said. “Our task as church leaders is, instead of expecting people to come and conform to what has been, to step out the doors and see, what do people need? What’s the new way?”
Throughout her career, Rev. Moore has always been looking for ways to revitalize the church. Becoming a music venue is just another way to accomplish that goal.
“I love the church and I think the church can be profoundly boring and irrelevant,” the Reverend said. “I’ve always tried to be in places like a domestic violence shelter and a church, or a church that ran an HIV program or gay support program and I loved it.”
Initially, Rev. Moore and other parishioners had similar concerns as the other places Janasiewicz reached out to. When Rev. Moore brought up these concerns, Janasiewicz assured her that there would be a culture of mutual respect.
“It seems like [the church] really likes the Doors at Seven crew, because they constantly have a turnout. They’re doing a show every Friday and they take care of the place,” Giventer said.
The crowds, too, are just as alive as other venues. The church setting doesn’t make it awkward, and it definitely doesn’t repel attendees. In fact, Giventer said many people feel safer in the church as opposed to basements of strangers or other, more unknown venues.
Overall, what Rev. Moore wants most is to provide an opening and accepting space to all. She wants to make New Paltz a place where everyone can feel safe and welcome. Hosting shows is one small yet important way of accomplishing that.
“I want the church to be of use to the community, because that’s its purpose, but also because I think Jesus would like that. We want to share the resources we have. One of the resources is a building,” the Reverend said.
The positive impact that St. Andrew’s has had on the local music scene is undeniable. Performers and show attendees alike both feel it. Music is central to New Paltz’s identity and with house shows declining, the future seemed scary. St. Andrew’s offers an important beacon of hope that highlights the talent, spirit and culture of New Paltz and surrounding areas.
“Another young musician came after church one Sunday and said, ‘I’ve heard that you have bands here and I want to bring my band and some people I know here too,’ ” the Reverend said. “He said, ‘I’m really grateful for what you’re doing to the New Paltz music scene … You’re not out for profit, to make money on drinks, and you’re letting a whole range of musicians good, bad and otherwise, have a place to be heard.’ ”
In the future, Rev. Moore hopes to expand St. Andrew’s venue presence. The only roadblocks are the logistics. Rev. Moore wants a church member to be present near the shows, but in a church whose population is aging, it’s difficult to find people willing to chaperone. Rev. Moore hopes that new people can be trained so that more bands and locals can enjoy St. Andrew’s performances.
Every show at St. Andrew’s benefits the New Paltz Free Food Fridge, in coalition with the nonprofit Millions of Butterflies. St. Andrew’s next show on Nov. 10 will feature Common Sage, Late Waves, No Momentum and Alliteration.