Punk Takeover: Free Punk Fest “Punk Island” Returns to Randall’s Island

Mohawks, makeshift stages and mosh pit enjoyers of all ages took over Randall’s Island this past Saturday for Punk Island’s sixteenth anniversary. The festival returned to Randall’s Island for the first time since the pandemic, and the day could not have been more perfect for blaring guitars and screaming singers with a view of the East River and Manhattan’s skyscrapers. 

The six stages had everything from hardcore rock and screamo to indie, alt rock and pop rock. Crush Fund and its passionate rage to the nostalgic sounds of the band Car Becomes Airplane filled the field with all sorts of different sounds. The event featured not only old school bands to reassure the older punkheads that the scene was still alive, but also actively catered to its newer audiences and worked hard to stay up to date with the current culture. 

Every stage had a decent audience, but there was plenty of room for more to join at each stage. The festival was a wonderful opportunity to discover new music, and it also was the perfect place for bands and show organizers to get experience putting on shows in front of a lively audience. Tall neon mohawks, plaid pants, extravagant makeup and everything in between filled the bus to Randall’s Island. 

Punk Island began in 2008 when Chloe Anderson, an NYU undergraduate student with an interest in punk was interning at Make Music New York (MMNY), a non-profit that supports free, outdoor music events. When MMNY received its first large grant for an outdoor summer festival, the intern was determined to make a punk festival happen. 

After a few years, Aaron Friedman, the founder of MMNY, asked ABC No Rio, a punk collective, to take over as organizers of the festival. Joey Steele, a member of ABC No Rio, took the lead. “I love that event,” he told me. “I love the idea of there being an all day, all free, all ages punk show that people just show up to and go to like ten different bands all at once.”

Punk Island

He was also a member of the band Cop Out, and he worked hard to make sure the festival accurately depicted New York’s ever changing punk scene. “We organized it on the principle that we are all different but we all work together, and we want to empower and support each other,” he said. 

Antonio Rodriguez, the current lead organizer, said that this event has remained an all free event, due to the support of the Punk Island Collective and the fiscal support of MMNY. Punk Island raises money year-round through benefit shows, selling merch, and more, while MMNY pays for the logistical aspects — permits, porta-potties and dumpsters, etc — for the event. “Their funding is crucial in making this work,” Rodriguez said, “and you know that’s true of all public arts funding; it’s crucial.” 

Punk Island

Punk Island has persevered through the difficulties of the pandemic and general disorganization, but maintained their long-term efforts towards sharing this inclusive community. 

Now, sixteen years and many organizers since being founded, punks from across the city still come together to put on huge free punk festivals, working hard, not for the profit, but for  the community.  It’s put simply in the collective’s motto: “We aim to support a philosophy of creativity, rebellion and work to feed those who are hungry for a world where passion is valued over profit. We promote a counter-culture through our collective, art, music, writing and events.”  

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