I still don’t understand America. I’m not sure I get the core tenets of what Americans are all about. In this strange hyper speed chrome world, they all lock themselves off in cars and behind smartphones. There is a strange cult of self that seems to define a lot of the people I’ve met. Within 48 hours of moving to this strange land I found the one place that would stand as a constant in a very strange, turbulent summer. This place proved to be the only place I could really find where people took a moment to slow down, turn away, and find a path that allowed them to communicate with others. I am talking of course about the anarchistic and strangely refreshing world of Fennario’s Coffee.
I was first introduced to this shop back in April, when I came to America for a week and got to hang out with Cris Kailer of Rollin’ Loaded. I walked into the cafe and a metal dude was behind the counter blaring Cynic on the speakers. I immediately knew this was a place I would want to be. When I moved here I immediately went over and found them to be hosting a show. The first thing I heard came from the lips of a drunken 16 year old who turned to me and said “Are you the photogenic metal dude from the internet?” I knew I had found a place that reflected the magic of this strange nation. See, Fennario’s is among the most active, and perhaps the best venue in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the town I call home. It’s this sort of coffee shop, filled with pretentious hipsters and run by a 40 something surfer dude that allows local music and arts to thrive.
Ultimately, this is what has made this simple coffee shop so important to me, it defines the spirit of the local scene, it is a bastion of good music and tasty drinks, but moreover, a place that allows young kids to go out and put on a show. Sure, they get a lot of shit from the police, but they try to keep the debauchery in check, prevent people from moshing at shows, and stop kids from drinking in the street. But it’s hard. There is a strange balance about this place, on the one hand it’s probably the best place to put on a show, and perhaps one of the companies that gives the most to the local arts community, but on the other, it is perhaps one of the most hassled by police. Despite the fact that many of their shows see five or six guys handling security for sixty people, they still can’t find freedom from the overbearing cops. It speaks to the strange and rather demented nature of the American system, that the people encouraging free thought and community involvement should get the most shit from the fuzz. It demonstrates how America seems to have a fear of creativity, development, and finding a way forward.
What I’m trying to say, I think, is that in some way, places like this are a lodestone for deviants and creatives. I’ve had conversations with bondage enthusiasts and bird watchers on the same night, and that is part of what makes this place such a perfect example of what the local scene should be about. Fennario’s captures the true spirit of America because it allows anyone with drive to flourish, I may come for the creatives, but there are certainly more than a few squares who hang out around here. After a few months of coming I’m still not sure if they are trying to be hip, or if they simply like the coffee, but in the words of the owner “Three quarters of the people who come by don’t really smoke weed or listen to underground music.”
Part of the beauty of this cafe has to be the regulars. They define the experience, people who you see every time you come here and always talk to. These figures have almost become legendary after a fashion. There is a certain beauty to it actually, a sort of stability in an ever changing world. While I might not yet have reached this status, I’ve certainly met many of them. They range in age from 16 to 50, oftentimes they’re hipsters, but frequently they can just be normal dudes, squares even, working shitty data entry jobs from the coffee shop because their homes are just too goddamn oppressive. Fennario’s has given folks like me, and folks very unlike me, a place where they can feel accepted and whole, where they can regularly go to find some sort of peace, an inner triumph that allows them to stand up and say “This is where I belong.”
The range of ages, social classes, and races here is impressive, while you might think a place like this appeals to young middle class white kids who strive to be ‘artsy’, there are actually all manner of folk who wander in. In the first show I booked here there were college professors (West Chester University is roughly eight blocks down the road) standing along sides pot smoking punk elitists. In this very cafe I’ve met anarchists, republicans, and fellow Europeans. The raw diversity here is a part of what has defined my American experience thus far. The fact that everybody talks and looks beyond their smartphones, those demented portals into other worlds, simply makes it more special. The fact that I can meet an ex-con who was once on trial for suspicion of murder at the same place my dad has started going for morning coffee is mind boggling, but perhaps it speaks to the greater magic of Fennario’s as a sort of symbol for what the American scene should be about. Sure the hipsters may dominate, but anyone with the right sort of passion can come out and book a show.
It’s actually a little bit freakish to consider the ease at which I got to put on my first show here. You walk in, name a date, and suddenly you’re penciled in, suddenly there is an obligation. Out of seemingly nowhere you have to get up, find bands to play, and then promote a show at a venue that is rapidly becoming quasi-legendary. In this place where a friendly old black dude named Danny will hold the door for you, some legendary local acts have played, and so meeting that bar sets up a strange kind of pressure. Sure, they’ll be fine if you only bring 20 kids through the door, but matching up to famous lineups of yore is always a challenge. If people don’t like the band playing they just leave, there is a certain honesty to it though, a sort of democratic approach to popularity. Sure there are kids who attend every set, but most just spend their time outside smoking, frightening off the old white Republicans who run this town.
So here I am, inside Fennario’s Coffee on the last day of summer, trying to understand where I fit into this whole thing. While I didn’t spend my entire summer in the land of jazz and hot dogs, I certainly spent a good chunk of it here, and I feel like this simple coffee shop has allowed me to better understand this world. Tomorrow I leave for college, ready for the next great adventure, yet despite all the emotion, I know that I will always have this mythical constant. The world of Fennario’s Coffee is a strange one. Despite their unrelenting willingnesss to help the community, people look down on them, but perhaps that’s how it always is. Its this kind of desperate beauty that shows the underground will never die. No matter what, people like the guys behind Fennarios are going to stick around and stand tall, unwilling to let the squares win. We need places like this to allow the music we love to thrive. Without places like this local bands could never take off, its the ultimate in supporting your scene, you stand up and honor the glory of those who came before, and those yet to come. Fennario’s boldly defines the spirit of the underground and will refuse to be vanquished.