The early 90s was a heyday for the DIY punk scene in Wheeling. In 1993, a band called Lincoln came to Wheeling from Morgantown to play at a venue called The Hanger (it’s now the ever-popular 19th Hole). The vibe at The Hanger is much different than what you’d expect today. “We played here in winter, it was a very, very cold shell of a place.” Says former band member, Jay Demko. He explained that the stage was up against a garage door, with cool coming off the windows. While the venue lacked comfort, it was rich with possibility and was a space that they could make their own. “Somebody must have brought a sound system,” says Demko, in reference to the do-it-yourself nature of the whole operation. More interestingly, though, was that “Krishnas came from New Vrindaban and brought food.” While the layman’s idea of punk may not include community-provided food, Jay says it was a familiar thing, that there was often a spiritual vibe to the shows. “Great food and cool people and high energy.”
That’s part of the energy Jay hopes to bring back to Wheeling, well “not necessarily bring back, I don’t think it’s ever gone away, but really jump full into DIY,” he explains. Jay thinks most of the nostalgia for that 90s era of punk comes from that DIY nature of things. “At lot of places we toured at that time, we just found local places…a VFW hall or a church.”
Jay recently returned to the area from Portland, Oregon, where he worked as a live sound engineer and touring musician. He finished up a tour with his band, Explosions in the Sky, in February 2020 only to return home and find that…well, 2020 happened. With the limitations and abrupt lifestyle changes promoted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jay and his family decided that it was time to get back to his roots in West Virginia.
When he found his current home on Chapline Street, Jay knew it wouldn’t just be a beautiful home, but a great spot to build a recording studio. Jay describes his home studio as “a real welcoming place” full of natural light and great acoustics, which are very beneficial to his analog “old school” style of tape-recording albums. Since moving back to Wheeling, he has recorded several albums with local artists, including familiar names like Ananga Martin, Adrian Niles, and his own band Exit Angles. Exit Angles is more than just Jay. It’s made up of Ella Jennings on guitar, Shaun Lyvers on bass, Isa Campbell on keys and guitar, and Brian Wolfe on drums. “This band has been recording for two years and we’re excited to have our first live show in Wheeling.”
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Exit Angles are gearing up for their live debut this Thursday at Waterfront Hall. Jay shared his excitement for this unique venue, “it holds a decent amount of people but still feels intimate.” He believes that venues like Waterfront Hall are important for bringing back the 90s energy when “the crowd was going as wild as the band.”
In speaking with Jay, the excitement he has for his own band is contagious, and it will surely infect the crowd this Thursday, too. “It’s a pretty amazing band,” Jay said, with such earnest excitement for the people he makes music with, that it’s bound to be an amazing show.
If you can’t make it, Jay doesn’t plan to stop after Thursday night’s show. He hopes to take Exit Angles across the region and beyond, and bring new bands to Wheeling along the way. He’s already started to do this by sharing Thursday night’s stage with Breezy Supreme, a Washington, DC-based pop-punk band. You can get a taste of both bands’ music by searing them on all major music streaming services.
If you feel like experiencing Wheeling’s punk scene firsthand you can this Thursday at Waterfront Hall. Doors open at 8 p.m. with Breezy Supreme as the show opener, followed by Exit Angles. You’ll get a taste of post-punk and pop-punk for the cost of just $15 ticket. To learn more about this show and purchase your tickets in advance, visit waterfronthall.com.
• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.