Tourists love Savannah for its haunted, dark corners, Antebellum homes, ghost tours, and (let’s face it) amazing art galleries, restaurants, and bars, but, in the Starland District this weekend, a festival dedicated to music and activism is the best thing the city has going for it. Starting Thursday, QuoLab, a queer safe(r) space created for art and action, will be hosting the World’s Second Smallest Music Festival for three days. There will be fifty bands from all over the country, food trucks, yoga, community organizers, and activists. For those with lots of questions, one of the collective’s founders, Raine Raine, responded (once the house regained electricity after Hurricane Matthew swept through) to a few of mine about their mission, activism, the upcoming festivities, and their plans for the future.
Intersectionality drives QuoLab’s mission as a DIY queer safe(r) space. The three primary QuoLaborators, Raine, Greg Hornak, and Taylor Qualls, are all white and queer in a gentrified district in Savannah, but they “seek to center the experiences and work of people of color and black folx to the best of [their] knowledge and ability.” Their commitment to openness extends to their willingness to be taught and challenged by new ideas, strategies, and narratives. But, to that, Raine added:
“Safe(r) spaces or intentional spaces are in many ways unattainable. We understand that within our space, there is still the capacity for people to be triggered, ignored, excluded, or erased. What we ask is that people make extra space within themselves and through their actions to take accountability for the ways their actions affect the people around them. It can be easy at times for white queer folx to conflate their experiences with that of POC, which is something I think we’ve tried to be wary of as we generate a dialogue about the sometimes discriminatory nature of our city towards that of gender variant and queer people.”
The strategy is “explicitness.” From the beginning, they’ve tried to make their mission very clear to everyone involved, from touring bands to resident artists, to foster a network. For Raine, that means “taking extra work to confer with people we’re booking about our mission, taking time out of shows to reiterate some of our tenets (i.e. ‘please be respectful of ppls gender id/pronouns if you don’t know’) and doing community work outside of the shows we book.”
Savannah has been an ideal place for QuoLab, in that both Hornak and Raine are graduates of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and they wanted to buck tradition and stay in the city after graduation to make change happen. They saw “a real sense of apathy from students about their ability to get involved in a community outside of their school, meaning a lot of students take their gusto elsewhere after they graduate and never immerse themselves in the socio-political landscape of the city.” Instead of leaving Savannah, they “wanted to create a resource that might empower younger folx to get involved in their community, whether that means hosting someone’s first show, album release, or helping people become aware of other community organizations that do work in our city.” The anti-heteronormative population of the city is small, despite a few bars and clubs that welcome the queer community, and they saw a need for an all-ages spot outside of the bar scene that was inclusive and safe(r).
The obstacles for QuoLab are largely material, but they also struggle with issues related to being an open space. They are “100% no-profit” but not a certified non-profit, and they fund the entire operation themselves with the help of donations and volunteer support. They worry about money, space, and accessibility. Raine said:
“I think Greg and I both wish we had the ability to run a more legitimate space because the constant threat of being shut down is real, even though we’ve had no issues in our neighborhood since we opened. Our new space is two stories, so I am always concerned with the limited accessibility of a house space with stairs. Other obstacles boil down to the experiential level of addressing people’s individual issues within the space, like music being too loud, making sure people who need seats have them, or how to address interpersonal issues within the space with call-ins or call-outs.”
Yet, their progress is apparent in this weekend’s event. The World’s Second Smallest Music Festival is an embodiment of all that the QuoLaborators have been working toward. From last year’s festival, a series of shows during the summer, showcasing thirty bands, they’ve grown to a three-day extravaganza. They expect an open house of sorts and are hoping to introduce a lot of new people to their mission and goals, but they also want the showgoers and performers to make the space their own. “We understand how reassuring it can be to see a lineup in any capacity that reflects the diversity of the South/East music and that community can often fall by the wayside in the name of genre or aesthetic, so we hope to continue to curate a DIY space that provides a sense of authority/autonomy for everyone involved to define the atmosphere of the space, including the people who come to the event.”
Bands and speakers? Well, I’ll let Raine tell it:
“We’re very excited to have Abdu Ali and Joy Postell from Baltimore coming thru as our headlining artists. About half the acts are local and half are touring, the farthest coming from Olympia, Washington (Fake Sick). Many of the artists, including Diaspoura (from Charleston) are coming from the Southeast region, although several are coming from New York as well (Nada Hada, eightyseven., SPOILGROUND). As a venue that often books ‘lesser known’ acts or folx who are just getting started, we relish the opportunities to link up artists from all over who might benefit from seeing each other play and spending time together. (Author’s note: A few of Auntie Bellum’s favorite bands, Helen of Coi, She Returns from War, and My Brother/My Sister will also be performing).
“We’re doing a talk as the QuoLaborators about ‘intentional space’ and ‘safe(r) space’ to address different critiques and pitfalls of this kind of language as well as some open-ended discussions/workshops about community care and zine publishing. Savannah Food Not Bombs will also be in house doing an informational session!”
Add food trucks from Chazitos Latin Night Cuisine on Thursday and Sly’s Sliders and Fries on Friday and Civil Liberties Yoga by Brittany Johnson on Saturday and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect this weekend.
This event is part of a changing South, and the folx (I like that) at QuoLab are doing the hard work to make that change happen. The last question I asked Raine was about the other organizers, activists, and supporters around Savannah. You’ll find them listed below, and I encourage you to go their event page to find the full listing of bands. If you’re able and willing, check out QuoLab and the World’s Second Smallest Music Festival. Take it all in, make it your own, and let’s find a new way forward.
Christian Deveaux of AnkleSOX
Anjali Naik, Charleston community organizer and performer as Diaspoura
Molly Lieberman of Loop It Up Savannah
Coco Papy, AJ Javier and Betsy Bull of Emergent Savannah
*photos provided by QuoLab