Three Halloweens ago, Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Misfits played a free, all-ages show in the basement of an undisclosed abandoned building somewhere in Salt Lake City. Show-goers were led to the secret venue and left to traverse a zombie-filled maze of hallways before they found the roar of the undead punk rock legends on a dank basement stage. Pumpkins were smashed, piñatas were beaten to smithereens and a couple hundred SLC punks reveled in the glory of the deceased punk bands, resurrected from their unholy graves. Of course, it wasn’t actually Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Misfits. It was Utah’s own xCOMMUNICATEDx, Pass-A-Fist and Youth Descent, impersonating and playing cover sets of some of their favorite punk bands in a Salt Lake tradition: Punk Rock Halloween. “It’s the idea of dressing up and being someone else for Halloween, but, instead, bands are doing it,” says Robin Banks, the local artist and SLUG Mag contributor who helps organize the event.
Though Punk Rock Halloween has been a Salt Lake tradition for six years now, the first couple of installments weren’t nearly as elaborate as the aforementioned abandoned-building show. “It first started when we were doing Bombs and Beating Hearts, and I remember reading about doing guerilla shows. That was a big point of the band—to make unexpected things happen in everyday places. So the first two of them we took over TRAX trains on Halloween and did the shows inside of them,” Banks says. “The first year wasn’t a cover set. The second year, when James [Miska] played, he did a Prince cover set. It sort of went on from there,” says Banks.
Bands impersonating bands on Halloween isn’t just a Salt Lake thing, though. Banks says, “People do it all over. No one’s connected—I think it’s just a punk thing to do it. I know that last year in Denver, they did a CBGB-themed Punk Rock Halloween. All these bands were Blondie, the Ramones, that whole scene.” Even though Banks and the other punks started doing Halloween shows before they knew it was a “thing,” hearing about the Punk Rock Halloween shows in other places got their pumpkin heads thinking.
The third year, Banks and company decided to go all-out with their Punk Rock Halloween party. While doing some urban spelunking, they stumbled upon the building they would use to house the upcoming event. We all climbed up there like three months before and found out we could sneak into the building and we said, ‘Holy shit! We should do the Halloween show in here.’ So, over the next three months, we turned the first three floors into a haunted house,” says Banks. When Halloween came, hundreds of punks, with no idea of where they would end up, were led into the depths of the dead structure to find their way out. “And then, in the basement … Black Flag, the Misfits and Minor Threat. People had to walk through three floors of haunted house to get to the basement,” says Banks.