MusicMusic Features

The Spoke Easy Hosts Carolina Abortion Fund Benefit Concert

Ten local acts to play outdoor show on Aug. 27

Rusty Colton and Lindsey Miller
Rusty Colton and Lindsey Miller at The Spoke Easy. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Rusty Colton and Lindsey Miller weren’t alone in their first reactions: outrage. Then came a sense of urgency.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion after nearly 50 years. The majority ruling, supported by six Republican appointed judges, gave state legislatures the right to outlaw abortions. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision, which overlooks half a century of settled law and instead quotes anti-abortion activists and scholars, including 17th-century jurist Sir Matthew Hale who supported marital rape and had at least two women executed for witchcraft.

The assault on fundamental constitutional rights set off a cascade of appallingly cruel trigger laws, poised to take effect after the court’s decision. As Queen City Nerve goes to press, six states ban abortion outright and an additional four make the procedure illegal after six weeks, when many women are not even aware they’re pregnant. Even North Carolina, considered a pro-choice haven where woman can get safe and legal abortions, was tainted when U.S. District Judge William Osteen reinstated the state’s 20-week abortion ban.

A series of horror stories followed in the wake of states’ instituting draconian abortion laws. Three days after the court’s decision, a 10-year old rape victim was forced to travel from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion. On Aug. 16, a Florida court ruled that a 16-year old girl was too immature for an abortion, yet mature enough to raise a child. Also in August, a Louisiana woman was forced to carry a headless fetus to term or travel to Florida for an abortion. Earlier this year, a Texas woman who survived cancer drove 10 hours for an abortion to avoid dying. Another Texas woman shared her story from 2020 when she was forced to carry a dead fetus due to the state’s inhuman laws.

“We thought, ‘We have to do something!’” says Colton, a Charlotte musician who currently plays in his band Pretty Baby. “There are multiple people in my life whose lives would be totally altered [without abortion rights].” 

Like Colton, Miller was galvanized by the proliferation of abortion restrictions.

“Bodily autonomy is important and no one should have to be told what to do with their bodies,” Miller says.

A woman stands in a crowd holding a sign supporting abortion rights that reads, "Not your body, not your life, not your choice.:"
Pro-choice protesters gathered outside of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

In the end, Colton and Miller chose not to move quickly but carefully in their quest to help, wanting to ensure that their actions and contributions could help the most people possible. Miller had held a stint as bar and events manager at The Spoke Easy bicycle shop in the Elizabeth neighborhood. As luck and/or fate would have it, The Spoke Easy had recently been increasing the number of community events held on its patio, including concerts, as management at the bicycle shop and bar steadily worked to elevate their profile as a Charlotte music venue.

“We quickly realized the need for a venue like ours and have been energized by the creative spirit of Charlotte’s youth,” wrote Spoke Easy co-founder Kevin Kennedy and general manager Dread Fiyah in a co-composed email sent to Queen City Nerve. “The patio shows have become incredibly popular, and we’re grateful to have been accepted by the local music scene as a destination for more and more shows.” 

With the support of The Spoke Easy staff — including Kennedy and co-founders Chris Scorsone, Fiyah and Genevieve Goldner, who took over as events manager when Miller left — Colton and Miller drew on their love of Charlotte’s thriving music scene to put together a concert to raise funds for abortion care and access in their community.

Colton also has a previous connection with The Spoke Easy through his fiancé Erin Coffin. The Spoke Easy shares its property on Elizabeth Avenue with Cluck Design Collaborative PLLC, an architecture and design firm, founded in 2005 by Kennedy and Scorsone. In 2011, Kennedy and Scorsone opened The Spoke Easy to promote and support cycling, selling bikes and cycling equipment in a space shared with Cluck Design, then located in South End. Both businesses relocated to Elizabeth in 2018, with Cluck on the top two floors and The Spoke Easy on the ground floor. Colton’s fiancé Coffin is Cluck’s marketing coordinator. 

Drawing on a close bond with The Spoke Easy staff that’s almost akin to family, Colton and Miller are seeing their desire to respond to the Supreme Court decision come to fruition with the Carolina Abortion Fund concert at The Spoke Easy on Aug. 27. A bill of 10 local acts — Lena Gray, Josh Cotterino, Buried in Roses, Mindvac, Pretty Baby, Pleasure House, Phase Gawd, Faye, Gasp and Invader Houses — kicks off at 3 p.m. The event also includes DJs, raffles, vendors and more, with a $10 suggested donation. 

Proceeds from the event go to the nonprofit Carolina Abortion Fund, a pro-abortion and pro-choice organization that partners with local, regional and national reproductive justice organizations to support access to parenting, abortion and adoption. CAF also operates a confidential toll-free helpline that provides financial, practical and emotional support to callers in North and South Carolina.

“Everything [CAF] does is what I would do, given the power to [do so],” Miller says. “They allocate their money in a good way, help people pay for abortions, [and help] them deal with the aftercare of it, too.”

As Colton and Miller make final preparations to see their hard work, networking and connections pay off in a high-profile funding event, Colton says he’s glad he and Miller held off on their urge to do something immediately after the Supreme Court handed down its authoritarian decision.

“We initially wanted to put something together immediately after the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Colton says. “We were incensed.” 

The more the two friends talked about the situation, however, the more they turned to putting on the best show they could with plenty of planning.

“I hope we’re able to hand CAF a fat stack of cash, and be able to help such an incredible organization,” Miller says.

 At the same time, Colton is glad that the planning for the event didn’t take too long. 

“There’s a pretty short shelf life on news stories when the world seems to be constantly burning down in different ways,” he says.

A musical community

Given Colton’s career as a musician and Miller’s background as an events promoter and photographer, the two friends believe they were bound to cross paths in Charlotte’s intersecting music and arts communities.

Growing up in south Gastonia, Colton discovered the musical parodies of “Weird Al” Yankovic when he was seven. By the time he was a teen, Colton’s tastes had expanded to include punk rock. Ironically, Colton’s father, an accomplished blues guitarist, declined to teach his son the instrument, because Colton refused to learn to play piano. Colton attended UNC Charlotte to delve into Religious Studies and English in 2011, but he dropped out in 2013. 

“I immediately started playing in bands and sometimes booking shows at the house where I lived on Pegram Street,” Colton remembers. He formed the short-lived pop punk band Girl Pants. Next he launched the acoustic solo project Pretty Baby, partly as an antidote to the loud music he’s been playing. 

In time, Pretty Baby became a louder quartet, including Lofidels founder Lenny Muckle on guitar. The band, which Colton calls “weirdo punk rock,” will play at the Carolina Abortion Fund concert.

Miller grew up listening to classic country and Motown. Like Colton, she hosted concerts at her house, this one on Commonwealth Avenue, while she was at UNC Charlotte studying political science. After her 2018 stint at Spoke Easy, Miller earned her masters in sociology with a focus on cultural sociology.

Miller and Colton figure they must have met prior to an art show at Petra’s in Plaza Midwood, curated by Miller. Pretty Baby played at the event and Miller showed collages made from her 35mm photography prints.

“It was a few months before Roe v. Wade was overturned,” Miller remembers. “Rusty and I both donated all the money that we got from the show to Carolina Abortion Fund.” Thus, when the fundraising event at the Spoke Easy started to come together, CAF seemed the obvious recipient.

As COVID restrictions began to relax a bit in late 2020, The Spoke Easy started hosting bicycle-themed events like group rides and architectural bicycle tours, launched from its patio.

Tables and chairs on the patio of The Spoke Easy
The Carolina Abortion Fund concert will be held on the patio at The Spoke Easy. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

“As things opened back up, we’ve seen a lot of interest in the patio as an independent music venue,” write Kennedy and Fiyah. “The sound and energy on the patio was great. Since then, we’ve supported all the bands that have asked to play, and have continued to expand our events and concert offerings.”

That’s when Miller brought the idea for the Carolina Abortion Fund concert to The Spoke Easy.

“We pitched it to Genevieve first. Then she pitched it to Kevin, Chris and Dread,” she says. “They jumped on it right away.” 

To fill the concert bill, Colton turned to friends in Charlotte’s tight-knit music community, and called in several favors.

“The messages that I sent to bands were pretty clear,” Colton offers. “It was like, ‘You’re not going to make any money. It’s going to be hot and difficult, but it’s for the Carolina Abortion Fund.’

“Everyone was just straightaway ready to do it,” he continues. “I have eclectic tastes, but if there is a common thread, [there’s] a sort of give-a-shit attitude among the people we’ve booked for the show.”

The Spoke Easy says it is unequivocally on the same page as Colton, Miller and the musicians on the bill.

“We unanimously and enthusiastically approve this event,” wrote Spoke Easy’s Kennedy and Fiyah. “Our goal is a world where all human rights are respected and protected.”

“Opponents of abortion rights need to understand that these bans are an attack on people’s autonomy and … on people who have experienced sexual violence,” adds local electronic musician Lena Gray. 

She believes that forcing people to have kids will lead to more children becoming traumatized within the overcrowded foster care the system.  

“Thinking that removing [women’s] rights will limit or stop all abortions is not only naive but dangerous; disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable in our community,” says Susan Plante of alternative rockers Faye.

Phil Pucci of Invader Houses also believes that making abortion illegal will negatively affect people with lower socioeconomic status the most. 

“Privileged folks will still have the procedure done regardless of its legality, because they will have the resources to get it done safely and without repercussion,” Pucci says. “Poor people will be fucked.” 

“One’s beliefs should not impose on another’s decision about what they can do to or with their body,” says Antony Potts, who raps as Phaze Gawd.

“Any effort to restrict the right of people to make personal decisions is ultimately a violation and should not be tolerated,” adds Ian Pasquini, adding that his indie-rock band Pleasure House is proud to support CAF.

Nathan Louis of adventurous and hard-hitting Rock Hill trio Gasp is adamant that people are allowed  to make their own choices, regardless of what the Supreme Court says.

Members of the band Buried in Roses play music on stage
Buried in Roses (Photo by Jonny Golian)

“As three men in a band, I don’t think we should get to decide whether a woman gets an abortion or not,” Louis says. “Nine Imperial Wizards should not get to decide that either.”

Tessa Harmon of goth pop group Buried in Roses has seen friends drop out of school due to unplanned pregnancies. She says she has compassion, however, for anti-choice activists who say abortion is murder.

“Opponents to the right to choose have been indoctrinated, often violently, to believe that abortion is murder from childhood, and I recognize that it is really hard and uncomfortable to question such deep-seated beliefs shared by everyone close to you,” Harmon says.

“However, you’re crossing a line when your personal beliefs lead you to harass strangers trying to get safe medical care on what is most likely already one of the hardest days of their lives,” she says.

“People should have the freedom to choose,” avant-garde electronic artist Joshua Cotterino says simply.

Gray applauds Colton and Miller’s efforts to bring The Spoke Easy, the musicians and the public together. 

“The first step towards something better is through community efforts like this and by building networks that take care of marginalized people,” says Gray, who is transgender. 

In one way, the intersection of business and art that has led to the CAF fundraiser illustrates how a community can do just what Gray advocates. While one side in the abortion rights struggle seizes the levels of power by optimizing the most anti-democratic features of American governance — the Electoral College, gerrymandering, police and the Supreme Court — the opposing side has turned to education, empathy, democracy and ultimately Miller hopes, commonality and love.

“Being reactionary to someone’s ideas may be easy, but I think with education and compassion minds can be changed,” she says. “It may be a trope, but we all know someone who has benefited from reproductive access rights.”

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