Touring

How a Teenager Turned a Denny's Into the Best Punk Club Ever, For One Night Only

Denny's
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Denny's 

Bryson Del Valle had never promoted a concert before when he signed a paper reserving a restaurant ballroom in Orange County, California.

The 17-year-old from Costa Mesa had been going to punk shows around Southern California for about a year and had an epiphany that if he found a unique-enough venue, he might be able to work with his favorite band, Wacko.

And hence the viral Denny's punk show riot of 2019 was born.

"All it took was some initiative," the high school senior told Billboard, partially shocked by his own moxie and the lack of scrutiny from a Denny's manager when Del Valle paid a $100 deposit to rent a room in the back of the Santa Ana restaurant for four hours on a Saturday night. (A Denny's spokesperson told Billboard the manager assumed Del Valle was renting the space for a meal "which is the room's intended purpose").

By the time show started, the ballroom was way beyond the 50-person capacity. One of the band members' dad's introduced the group, telling the audience, "I came for the senior citizens special. And they tell me the special tonight is Wacko."

The band started playing and pandomonium followed. Dozens of kids who couldn't get in pushed through the emergency exits and joined a frenzied circle pit. Someone pulled down one of the restaurant's light fixtures, another person threw a laptop in the mosh pit and, after being warned that the cops had been called, Del Valle agreed to shut the show down at the manager's insistence -- after one last song.

"The pit was going hard the whole show and now it was going super hard," Del Valle explains, saying at this point the manager insisted everyone leave.

"She was super nice the whole time, though," Del Valle adds.

The band headed to a nearby flood control channel where they had a generator waiting to power their second set and shot off fireworks, unencumbered by the restrictions of a chain restaurant trying to hit its nightly quota of Crazy Spicy Sizzlin' Skillets and Moons Over My Hammys. Del Valle stayed behind to survey the damage.

Besides photocopying his drivers license, the manager told him to call back in a few days to get the bill for the damage. When he did three days later, "they told me it was probably about $500," he said. "I knew that was low and told the band we should try to raise double that just in case."

The band set up a GoFundMe for Del Valle and quickly raised a $1,000 as the story of the Denny's punk show went viral.

"We knew we had to help him out," Wacko frontman Zaine Drayton told Billboard. "I hadnt met him before until this show when he messaged me and asked, 'You want to play a show at Denny's?' I was like, 'Oh, don't play with me man.'"

On Wednesday, Del Valle finally heard from a Denny's manager about how much he owed, coming out to nearly triple what he was first told.

"They just texted me and told me they wanted $1,800 for damage and that I had to pay it through cashiers check or money order," the 17-year-old tells Billboard. "I don't even know what a money order is."

Video from the crazy set and the GoFundMe immediately went viral and was shared by fans, bands and SoCal promoters

"Wow, this is so great," said Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett of Goldenvoice, who got his start promoting punk shows in Pomona and Long Beach at the now defunct Fenders Ballroom.

"Fenders was where I learned so much," Tollett said of the club owned by John Fender that hosted shows by Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction, Black Flag, Bad Religion, No Doubt and Sublime in the mid-to-late '80s. "After every early day show I promoted we would stop at Denny's afterward for hours, dissecting what happened."

Dan Berkowitz with CID Entertainment, who works with artists like Phish, Sturgill Simpson and Luke Bryan was also impressed with Del Valle's DIY ethos.

"Pretty amazing if you ask me," he told Billboard. "What do they say? Lit AF? Hard AF? Something about ALF? Whatever that term is that’s what he is."

Del Valle tells Billboard that Denny's didn't ask many questions when he rented the space, but a spokesperson for Denny's said no one has ever done anything like this before and the restaurant's staff was surprised that he was planning to throw a concert. In 2013 a band in Houston performed a metal show at a Denny's but the spokesperson said the restaurant had been abandoned and was not a functioning location.

While Del Valle is not shirking from his responsibilities and plans to pay everything he owes, he's not clear what was on the document he signed and tells Billboard he wasn't given a copy.

Even if he did sign a rental contract for the space, it's not likely enforceable in California because Del Valle is a minor, attorney Michael Seville of San Francisco law firm Seville Briggs Law tells Billboard.

"The general rule is that a minor cannot have a contract enforced against them," Seville says, adding it was likely any contract Del Valle signed could "probably be voided."

Hosting a concert and misrepresenting your intentions to the building's owner is an important rite of passage in the music business. Kevin Lyman, founder of Van's Warped Tour said he saw the story on the Denny's show and thought of his early days promoting punk shows in Pomona, California, including a night-time gig for the band Chardon Square at the city-owned Taylor Hall to raise money for a ski trip.

"We didn't tell them it was for a show, i think we said it was a meeting of the Cal Poly Pomona Ski Team," he recalled. The venue restricted him from selling beer so instead he sold mugs and allowed concert goers to fill up the mugs with free beer. "Our buddy who was the care-taker and was supposed to clean everything up got drunk and passed out in the broom closet. A couple had rented out the venue the next day for a wedding and had to cancel because it was still trashed."

Dance promoter "Disco" Donnie Estopinal told Billboard his first show was in New Orleans in 1994 during one of the hottest days of September. 

"We rented a meat and fish locker, thinking we could turn on the refrigerators and cool the place off, but the day before the show, the owner showed up and was like, 'Who the hell turned these things on?'" Estopinal says. "We did the shows and it was insanely hot, like 100 degrees and people were taking off their clothes. We had no security, no one checking IDs and no one who really knew what they were doing -- I fully committed to every liability possible."

Berkowitz remembers his first gig in 2002 with Disco Biscuits at the now-defunct Locust Club in Philadelphia.

"My mom worked the door, my best friend from high school worked the show and the guy doing sounds had no idea what he was doing," joked Berkowitz, who said two of the people who helped him with the show still work with him today.

Del Valle told Billboard he did the show because he loves Wacko and was surprised how quickly it went viral after the band posted a flyer on Instagram. After the show, the band took to Instagram to encourage fans to help Del Valle pay for the damage.

"He's 17 years old and the first show he ever booked was the dennys grand slam which is so fkn nuts," the band wrote in a post. "Unfortunately the restaurant pinned him on the heavy damages done to the place. Between a few table a few chairs and those chandelier hanging light thingys the damages racked up to close to thousand dollars they claim (Pshhh bulllshiiiiiit). Fck that, well give em 600 bucks and tell em to go to Wal-Mart for replacements."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by WACKO (@wacko_theband_fckyou) on

 

The band's lead singer Drayton tells Billboard he was stunned at the amount of attention the band generated and said he's been getting a bunch of emails from promoters and music biz folks who want to work with the band. With songs that include the 59-second "4 out of 4 Americans Got Me F---ed Up" and the slightly longer "Tides of S---" Wacko's music feels like '80s New York hardcore with some occassional surf-rock Dick Dale riffs, hip-hop-adjacent samples and call-and-response segments reminscient of Bad Brains or even early Sick of It All. Most of their videos are shot on an old tape camcorder and their flyers have a distinct collage, copy-shop feel, similar to artist Winston Smith who designed album covers for the Dead Kennedys and Green Day.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by WACKO (@wacko_theband_fckyou) on

 

“It’s great to be outdone by 17-year-old kids. When I was in my late '20s, I booked some shows outside of a coffee shop... but that is not even in the ballpark as cool as this," says Jon Halperin, longtime punk veteran who booked Anaheim's Chain Reaction in the early 2000s and now books the Glass House in Pomona. "It’s refreshing to see the kids who will be booking The Glass House and festivals in a decade to come. Shoot, this just screams FYF early 2000s."

Del Valle says his promoting days are just getting started and he's already got a location in mind for his next gig, although he's not sure he can ever get as many looks as he did with the Denny's show.

"My mom was so proud," he told Billboard. "She told me, 'I'm trying not to be too proud because what you did was probably illegal, but I am proud.'"

To learn more about Wacko, visit wackobandcamp.bandcamp.com. You can help Bryson reach his $400 goal to cover the remaining expenses from the show here