The Night It Stopped Snowing

Dispatches from the band's final (probably) show in a Lehigh Valley mall.

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Jul 27 2016, 1:15pm

Photos: Miranda Hever

It’s 6:28 PM on July 16, and Snowing’s John Galm is sitting on the curb in a parking lot in front of the Merchants Square Mall in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

A word about this mall: It isn’t a mall, exactly. There’s no Forever 21, no Spencer Gifts, just, among other things, an antiques store, a model train exhibit, and a pro wrestling museum. In the back, a function hall—the kind of nondescript space that generally hosts flea markets and craft fairs—will tonight welcome Double Decker/Square of Opposition Anniversary Fest. It will also be the last place Snowing ever plays together. Which, truthfully, is exactly as it should be.

“Living in the Lehigh Valley and being in the Valley was very instrumental to Snowing,” Galm says. “The Lehigh Valley, when I was growing up, when I was a teenager, had this great punk scene. There were tons of people, and tons of bands, and shows almost every fucking night, it seemed like.”

While they’d later relocate to Philadelphia, it’s here that the band was born, where they played their first shows, and where Galm worked as a movie theater projectionist with Square of Opposition label manager Chris Regec (known to virtually everyone as Chris Reject), who would press the band’s Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit EP and its only full-length, I Could Do Whatever I Wanted if I Wanted. It’s where they honed their sound—musings on death and despair and drinking too much hollered over instruments that promptly pummeled those feelings into the floorboards, explosive anthems of suburban stagnation as short and ferocious as the band’s career.

This is also where things were supposed to end when Snowing announced their breakup in 2011; their last show was initially slated for an American Legion hall in Bethlehem, but sold out in minutes, prompting a move to the First Unitarian Church in Philly.

For a while, they toyed with the idea of playing two “last” shows, one in the Lehigh Valley, one in Philadelphia. No one seemed to be taking the breakup that seriously, anyway: There were the message board jokes about this being the last show until the inevitable reunion a year later, and even the band was characteristically cavalier in announcing the end, joking that their three-year run made them “over 90 in emo years.”

But Snowing was already finished with emo when they wrapped up their first and only full US tour in 2011. By the time they split, Galm says they were writing songs that leaned toward indie rock—a little less Cap’n Jazz, a little more Teenage Fanclub. “We were talking about doing a really drastic change after our big tour. But that was actually all just…” he trails off. “Breaking up.”

Things are better now—in fact, they’re great. Galm regularly sees guitarist Nate Dionne; in a few days, he’s planning to catch his new project, Yankee Bluff, at PhilaMOCA. He and guitarist Ross Brazuk watch wrestling together. The fact that drummers Justin Renninger (JR) and Brian Baksa (Bean) have relocated to San Francisco and Baltimore, respectively, doesn’t keep them from staying in touch.

“We were definitely not on the best of terms for a while. And then it was really hard to talk to everyone. And then it was really hard to talk about Snowing when we would talk,” Galm says. “It was really like we had to process the breakup, and now we’re friends again.”

Still, there’s no big, significant, intentional reasoning behind this reunion show, or the one that preceded it at Broken World Fest earlier this year, they just… were. It was easy: Broken World Media’s Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak reached out to ask if Snowing would want to play the label’s second-annual fest in Pittsburgh. Galm said no, probably not, but asked her to send an email with the details anyway. And when he forwarded it to his bandmates, everyone, weirdly, said yes.

That was going to be it. One show, one city, and Snowing would return to the grave.

But they couldn’t—and didn’t want to—say no to Reject when he asked if they’d consider one final, final go-around at Square of Opposition’s 15-year anniversary fest. “He was always there like a fucking carnival barker, peddling his shit,” Galm laughs, remembering the label manager’s presence at the shows he attended in his youth. “A lot of his first seven-inches and stuff that he put out were all just local hardcore bands, and then he’d go to every show with his distro and sell them to every impressionable kid, so every kid fell in love with all this shit that’s so LV specific.”

It was Reject’s living room where Galm paced the floor as Snowing broke up—calling Dionne, hanging up, calling Brazuk, hanging up. Calling Dionne back. Calling Brazuk back. (“Poor Bean had literally no say.”)

“When we broke up, everyone was pretty sour with each other,” he says. “So it’s cool to get to do it again and be like, hey, we’re all friends. We’re all in really good spots. Everyone’s doing really well in life, you know? And it just seemed like we could do this and have fun.”

Over the last five years, the band has moved on and grown up, committing themselves new projects, musically and otherwise. Dionne played with Dogs on Acid before joining Yankee Bluff. Galm put out an album with Slow Warm Death, released a solo record, Sky of No Stars, in 2013, and earlier this month debuted his latest project, Bad Heaven. Bean just got his architecture degree and is about to get married to his partner; he’s a stepdad to two kids. JR lives in San Francisco, where he’s happily employed by the video game company Electronic Arts, with his three dogs.

“We’re, like, adults now—some of us more than others. I think Nate and I are still catching up to everybody else,” says Galm, adding that he’ll turn 30 in less than two weeks. “We couldn’t do a tour, a big tour, because we wouldn’t have time. Everyone would have to take off work, and it’s just not feasible in 2016, even if it would go really well.”

So no, Snowing isn’t getting back together. They weren’t even really tempted by the offers to reunite at other festivals this summer—of which there were many, when word broke that they were playing another show, from Riot Fest in Chicago, from The Wrecking Ball in Atlanta.

They wanted to end it here, in eastern Pennsylvania, in the town where they met, in a celebration of the label that helped establish them as one of emo’s quintessential bands.

“I’m sure more people are going to come out,” Galm says, gesturing to the handful of kids milling around outside the nondescript space, “but there’s probably like, a couple hundred people here. It’s not going to be this huge, sell-out crowd, you know?”

“I’m glad we’re doing it this way,” he adds. “For me, personally, and I think for a lot of the other guys, too, it’s righting a wrong. We can’t change history, but it’s making it good.”

“That’s enough. I’d rather we just end it, and be friends, and things are cool, and we don’t try and tarnish some weird legacy.”

Of course, only TV writers get to script their last show, to write a satisfying conclusion, and even they get it wrong about half the time. Three songs into Snowing’s last-ever, wrong-righting set, an overzealous fog machine sets off the Merchant Square Mall smoke alarms. The fire department shows up; a half-hour passes while everyone milled about, hoping the show will go on. This type of thing probably doesn’t happen at the flea market.

And when they finally get the go-ahead to continue, the band launches into “Why Am I Not Going Underwater?” only to have Galm’s mic cut out halfway through the song.

Not that anyone cares. This, too, is a breakup, and breakups are messy, and unpredictable, and inconvenient.

And hey, who knows, really? Maybe in another few years, the timing will be right to try this thing out all over again.

Emily Cassel is on Twitter - @biketrouble