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Mohawk memories: Documentary runs Saturday - INTERVIEW

blog by Nick Mendola  • 

One year ago, after years of kicking, clawing, scrapping and screaming, Buffalo’s physical home of the rock and roll underground had run out of fight: the Mohawk Place was dying.

Documentarian and musician Michael Sobieraj of High Watermark Films was there to capture the final days of the beloved rock club and will be screening the resulting piece, “Bring Me Your Vultures,” on Saturday night at The Town Ballroom.

Sobieraj and some talented friends quickly assembled a crew late last fall when they learned the Mohawk Place as Buffalo knew it would be shutting its doors for the last time.

What works for the film is that its masterminds are insiders. Sobieraj is the drummer in Mohawk regulars Roger Bryan & The Orphans.

Local musicians make up guys behind the cameras, design and production.

“It’s pretty much a group of buddies,” Sobieraj added. “There were no hired guns. If you had to assemble your team, a super team, it would still be those dudes. It just so happens that I was friends with them.”

The group includes Paul Besch of Quiet Country Audio and his brother, graphic designer Ryan Besch of Your Cinema.

Roger Bryan and Mark Nosowicz handled a great deal of the music, while bar manager Erik Roesser interviewed a wide cast of characters and several other video shooters caught footage of bands like Snapcase, Every Time I Die [pictured, above left], Pentimento and Girlpope sending the venue off.

“What makes it special and unique is it falls right in line with the Mohawk Place,” said Town Ballroom owner Donny Kutzbach, one of the Mohawk’s prime promoters.

“It was done by guys who were doing a complete labor of love, who were not making a penny and really won’t make any money off doing it. And they put so many hours into it and so much passion and so much heart.”

“Bring Me Your Vultures” is High Watermark Films’ first feature-length production, on the heels of “My City Limits,” which was a 30-minute film detailing the lives of several refugees resettling in Buffalo.

In “Vultures,” Sobieraj peers inside the lives of musicians and personalities coming to terms with a hallowed ground giving way to the realities of business.

While the building was falling apart, there was still a tremendous desire for it to live on.

Where it used to be bands like White Stripes and Black Keys played to small crowds as they honed their chops, bands like Every Time I Die and Snapcase were stopping by to pay respects to what Mohawk meant to punk rock.

With a bevy of live performances, storytelling from bartenders and musicians and a cataloging of feeling, there’s no neat web-ready description for the piece.

“As far as the mass appeal end of it, I don’t know how to grab the Netflix audience,” Sobieraj said.

“I made it with three kinds of people in mind: Buffalo people, who might look at it as a sliver of Buffalo’s history and music’s history. This is a chance for me to preserve the people I love. Then you have music people who like these bands like Every Time I Die, Two Cow Garage [pictured, above right] and Pentimento, and then there’s the documentary people who just like watching people, the voyeuristic attraction to watching things unfold.

“(In a description) You’d have to work in Buffalo somehow and the Mohawk Place and how it was renowned in the seedy underworld of musicians and indie bands, how it was a haven for people to express themselves through music and for dudes to hang out.”

And it’s emotional. You’re watching as people lament the passing of a friend, with the dark question underneath whether there could ever be another Mohawk Place, another port in the storm for so many outsiders aching to belong.

“A place like that only comes around another 10, 15 years,” Kutzbach said.

“To a degree (such venues) will always exist but a place like Mohawk was something special and that’s why everyone celebrates it and hated to see it go. You can have a room that’s four walls and a stage, and bands come there to play, but you don’t always have what Mohawk has and that’s special.”

Perhaps the whole story is best summed up by English visitor Ged Gray in one of the film’s opening moments.

“I love this place and I love the fact that it’s closing,” Gray said. “You don’t want to end up like some kind of fake club preserved in amber. Mohawk’s had its day and it was a great day. It’s needs to shut down now cause it’s had a great great f****** day.”

Tickets for the screening are $10 in advance [purchase here through Town Ballroom’s website] and $15 day of show.

Doors are at 8 p.m, the screening begins at 9 and there’s an after party to follow.

(Images from past Mohawk Place shows are mostly courtesy of Chuck Alaimo—see photos from Every Time I Die, Blitzen Trapper and Two Cow Garage).

TAGGED: donny kutzbach, downtown, high watermark films, interviews, mohawk place, music venues, nick mendola, screenings, town ballroom

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