On Fathers Day June 17, 2018, my wife and brother-in-law woke up, looked at Facebook and Reddit respectively, then moved quickly to the windows to see if my car was outside.  It was.  Getting in late I had made my way to my basement couch, not wanting to wake everybody, and sad that the band I wanted to see play Art All Night at midnight had been cancelled by the police who had shut down the stage.  After the shutdown I decided to leave and go home.  When I logged into Facebook that morning I started reading things that didn’t make much sense.  Things then quickly set in.  A wave of emotions ran over me.  I was home safe with my family that morning, including my son who I had to try and explain what had happened at the event that we always go to for Fathers Day.  There were many who weren’t home with their families.  But I’m not here to talk about the incident or gun control or gang violence.  I’m here to talk about the Trenton Art Community.

Many around the world who now know about Art All Night Trenton may not understand that the free event, in its 12th year, is brought to us by Artworks – a non-profit organization located in Trenton, New Jersey.  But it isn’t just Artworks that brings Art All Night to life.  It isn’t just the volunteers who make the event happen.  It isn’t the bands who sing, wail, and shred.  It isn’t about the hundreds of pieces of art that artists work so hard to produce.  It’s about the community.  It’s about friendship.  It’s about the love of the arts whether it be music, movies, photographs, or something painted on a canvas.  It’s a yearly event that locals look forward to.  It is peace, it is love, and it is celebration.

After the events this year it is most likely that Art All Night may never be the same, but the Trenton Art Community will never be stronger.  While I missed the chaos there by a scant few hours I did have friends there.  I had friends of friends there.  Tonight I saw those friends and those friends of friends.  There were many hugs.  Tears of sadness.  Tears of joy.  This isn’t an art community torn apart.  This is a community, just three days later, that is celebrating life.  Celebrating friendship.  Celebrating art.

Mill Hill Saloon is known for its bustling music scene but there usually isn’t live music there on a Tuesday night.  Usually on a Tuesday you may find yourself a part of a game show or grabbing the microphone for “Shitty Karaoke.” Tonight there was music.  Three bands, not only linked together by some of their members, but all with very deep roots in this community.  The crowd was robust and included a man known for his promotion of local projects, a local rapper who just released a kickass album, actors and producers from the local movie scene, fans of the bands, the bands themselves, and those who may have just stepped in for a couple beers.  Some might have been melancholy but it’s understandable if you went through such a traumatic event.

Nearly all the crowd was there to see Honah Lee, Alpha Rabbit, and Pissed! play an impromptu benefit show raising money for Artworks.  Some were in the famous Mill Hill Basement listening to DJs who were scheduled to play Art All Night but had their sets cancelled when the event was shut down.  A plastic jar was filled to the brim with donations.  There was singing.  There was yelling.  There was dancing.  There were smiles.  The community that always is there for Art All Night was there tonight for the love of the arts.  To support the music.  To support Trenton.

The news of Art All Night came and went very quickly as 24 hour news organizations quickly moved on to kids locked in old Walmarts and Space Force.  For everyone local, it is an event they will never forget.  They will never forget but they will never let the event define them.  Art All Night defines them.  The music defines them.  Trenton defines them.  In this instance it will only be the violence that will come and go.  The art community has shown, just days later, that it will not need to repair itself.  There’s no rebuilding because nothing was broken.  There was a tragedy early Sunday morning but it is love that binds the community together.  Love for the music, the arts, and each other.

I sometimes feel like an outsider in this community.  Some walk up and give big hugs.  Some smile.  Some wave.  Some know me by name, some know me from being out and about, some seem to recognize as “some guy they may have met once”, and some that may say, “Who the fuck is that dude with the nerd glasses, backwards baseball cap, and cat t-shirt?”  But these are my people.  My friends.  Some that are like family to me.  Those I drink with, laugh with, and continue to support.  I’m always glad to be around them.  They give me strength whether they know it or not.  They make me want to continue to be creative whether it’s writing here or making silly videos. As I was saying my goodbyes tonight I last ran into one of the great musicians who I truly admire. “Keep doing what you are doing,” he told me. It feels weird to be told that as it feels like I truly do so little, if anything at all, but as long as I have a computer in front of me I’ll keep writing.

In the hours, days, weeks, and months to come I have no doubt that those who take part in the art community will be out there in full force to make sure that the art is available for those who seek it.  Artists will continue to paint and musicians will continue to play.  Never has that been more evident then when I looked around Mill Hill tonight.  The bands who selflessly got up to entertain, giving all the money raised to an amazing organization.  The crowd who refused to let violence keep them away.  They set an example for everyone in Trenton.  Please follow their lead and continue to support the arts.

I’ll close with some words from the Dalai Lama, “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways.  Either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”  For those I saw tonight in Trenton, finding the inner strength after such a tragedy was no challenge at all.

-Ryan McLelland, June 19, 2018, 11:58PM


Learn more about Artworks here: http://artworkstrenton.org
Learn more about Art All Night Trenton here: http://www.artallnighttrenton.org
Learn more about Honah Lee here: https://honahleemusic.com
Learn more about Alpha Rabbit here: https://alphaalpharabbit.bandcamp.com
Learn more about Pissed! here: https://pissednj.bandcamp.com
Learn more about Trenton 365 here: http://www.trenton365.com
Learn more about Ray Strife here: https://raymondstrife.bandcamp.com
Find shows at Mill Hill Basement here: https://www.songkick.com/venues/124430-mill-hill-basement
See the Pop Culture Art of Art All Night 2018 here: http://2guys1review.com/2018/06/17/pop-culture-art-night-trenton-2018

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