Prom For People Who Hate Prom: Maria Sherman on Indie Pop Prom

Prom For People Who Hate Prom: Maria Sherman on Indie Pop Prom Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh

This article appears in AdHoc Issue 18.

I never went to my high school prom. My boyfriend at the time and I thought we were too alternative to take part in such an antiquated ritual, so instead, we took a train 40 minutes to see Portugal the Man perform in a packed warehouse. It was my first time having a partner I could feasibly invite to something like that, but going to prom never crossed my mind. Prom was for normies, after all. I didn’t think I was missing out on much.

As an adult, I’m still not big on traditional heteronormative practices, but I am a fan of coopting uncomfortable relics of the past and creating something new and exciting. Obviously, when it comes cultural appropriation, there is a line. I’m talking about the inverting-McDonald's-logos-for-band-merch type of appropriation, not the insensitive cultural kind. Fucking up prom made sense to me.

The first Indie Pop Prom I put on, in 2013, was probably the most successful: a bill full of friends at the now-defunct 285 Kent. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart headlined, with Swearin’, Waxahatchee, Potty Mouth, and Weed Hounds supporting. The New York Times covered it, and I’m proud of the headline to this day: “Independent Women Celebrate Genres That Never Went Away.” People actually dressed up—and many said it was much more fun than their actual prom.

I can’t remember exactly why we decided to make it an annual thing, though I’m sure AdHoc’s Ric Leichtung is the man to blame for that fantastic idea. In any case, it became bigger than my initial vision, which was pretty straightforward: I wanted to book a show around my birthday, because I wanted my friends to come hang out with me, and I wanted a bill full of women. It seemed like the audience was in agreement with the latter ambition; they wanted to dress up for a silly night on the town, and they wanted to support the female musicians who were making some of the most exciting music around.

The next year, following the shuttering of 285 Kent, Indie Pop Prom moved to Baby’s All Right. The Crutchfield sisters reunited their old project Bad Banana for the gig—a kindness I won’t soon forget. Places to Hide, a band with whom I’d only corresponded via email, drove over 700 miles from Atlanta to play. Pity Sex traveled about the same distance, but from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Perfect Pussy played under the false name “Traitor Bitches.” In its third year, Indie Pop Prom returned to Baby’s; DC’s Priests headlined, with some help from Amanda X and Mannequin Pussy from Philly, and Leggy and Sports from Ohio. Last year, Indie Pop Prom moved to Market Hotel, and hosted Allison Crutchfield, New York’s Eskimeaux and WALL, and Philly/LA’s Pouty.

What makes these lineups unique—and why they should be viewed in their totality—is not simply the spectrum of genders and sexualities they represent, but how the acts interact with one another. A lot of the bands that play Indie Pop Prom are already friendly with each other, and see it as an annual reunion. Others form new friendships, and the same is true for the people in the audience. I’ve traveled all over the country and have heard people talking about the night as though it were a festival, or some other event way more massive than a single show. The ambience skirts the line between a gig and a party—presented in a safe space, where the only real aspiration is to make memories. I think a lot of people attend just to dress up and celebrate prom on their own terms, though I hope those people also leave with a new favorite band.

This year is special: I’ve relocated to Philadelphia and taken the show with me, so that Indie Pop Prom now comprises two nights, one in each of the East Coast cities. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Sports have returned, joined by Sad13 on both days. In Philly, the openers are local: Swanning and Mercury Girls. So are the ones in New York: T-Rextasy and Half Waif.

For the first time ever, Indie Pop Prom is also a benefit show, with proceeds going to the Pink Fund, an organization that offers financial assistance to breast cancer patients. The cause reflects the feminine focus of the event, but it came to me after my mom was diagnosed, on Halloween in 2016. We’re lucky enough to have insurance, and while it’s a burden, it’s one my family can afford. Others aren’t so lucky, and with Trump in office, women’s healthcare doesn’t seem like it’s going to get easier any time soon. Now, in addition to being personally and politically meaningful, I’m proud to say that Indie Pop Prom is going to help people. That’s something high school prom doesn’t offer anyone. 

Download a PDF of AdHoc Issue 18 at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy here as well.)

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