Meet the Grassroots Collective Serving Bethlehem’s Punk DIY Scene

It’s Friday the 13th in October, the spookiest day of the year. National Sokols Lodge on Bethlehem’s South Side is nearing capacity, filled with an energetic, multi-generational audience shouting along to cover bands playing their favorite songs from bands like My Chemical Romance, Black Sabbath, and Title Fight. A fog machine billows gray smoke into the air and ghostly balloons float about the floor. Signs on the walls remind audiences members that masking helps protect the vulnerable. Newly-opened Needle & Web Tattoo & Occult offers tarot readings while Bike Biscuits pedals Halloween-themed vegan baked goods. 

Ghost Lily covering Hole @ Soft Guts Friday the 13th Cover Show Oct 2023. Photo: Unknown
We’re From Antarcticia covering My Chemical Romance @ Soft Guts Friday the 13th Cover Show Oct 2023. Photo: Jada Gonzalez
Soft Guts Friday the 13th Cover Show Oct 2023. Photo: Becca

The cover show described above is one of the recent events put on by Soft Guts Collective, a group of three musicians who came together in 2019 with the goal of diversifying the line-ups they were seeing in Bethlehem’s music scene. Founded by Oliver Reilly, Lee Nobody, and Becca Maye, Soft Guts was just starting to take off in the Spring of 2020. Their first big show—Goth Prom—was such a hit they had to turn people away at the door. “We had cover bands, a food vendor, and a dance party,” says Maye. “And that was right before the pandemic, so it’s a really fond memory.” In February of this year, the group put on their first post-COVID show, an Anti-Valentine’s day celebration, which also sold out. “It’s clear to us that it’s resonating with people,” says Reilly. “Now we’re building up that momentum again and getting the word out there that we exist.” 
Becca, Oliver, Lee @ Soft Guts Goth Prom Feb 2020. Photo: Megan Keller
Sophia DJing @ Soft Guts Goth Prom Feb 2020. Photo: Megan Keller
Nia from Grapefruit Connection covering ESG @ Soft Guts Goth Prom Feb 2020. Photo: Megan Keller

The idea for Soft Guts was sparked by conversations between Maye and Reilly after meeting through Lehigh Valley Girl’s Rock (LVGR), a nonprofit organization that seeks to “empower cisgender girls and women + nonbinary and transgender folks through music and art.” Reilly began with the group by leading gender workshops for the youth camp before becoming a participant himself. Originally from East Stroudsburg, Reilly moved to the Lehigh Valley from Philly in 2016. “I went to a lot of shows growing up and played music, but never really thought of myself as a musician because I was self-taught and because as a member of the LGBTQ community I didn’t see anybody playing in these bands that was representative of me and my identity.” He found himself wishing he’d had something like LVGR when he was younger. “Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to be in my early thirties thinking I wasn’t a musician. Maybe I would have tried more, or put myself out there.” As much as they both loved the work of LVGR, they felt there was an opportunity for them to do something else. 

The collective commits itself to giving visibility to creators with marginalized identities, including women, BIPOC, disabled people, and the LGBTQ+ community. “Going to shows in the Lehigh Valley I was re-experiencing what I felt in highschool,” Reilly says. He remembers going to show after show where every band on the bill fit the same identity, where it was clear who was being given a platform and who was being left out. “Becca and I were complaining about it and venting and then asked ‘why don’t we just do it ourselves?’ If no one else is being conscious of this, then we’ll give people a platform.” 

In addition to focusing on shifting this imbalance, Soft Guts also prioritizes highlighting less experienced groups who may get overlooked by other bookers. “Giving newer musicians in the Lehigh Valley a comfortable place to showcase themselves is really important,” says Maye. “We really try to book bands that have maybe never played a show before, or never recorded anything before. Because it’s hard to get yourself out there, to get people to hear your music.” The team considers these two missions—centering marginalized identities and giving platforms to less experienced artists—their most important purpose. “Having cool events that people show up to is a bonus,” says Reilly. “Because we are mission-driven the people who come out have been very kind and considerate and welcoming to each other. One of our friends bartends at National Sokols and says she loves when we do shows because the people who come are always good to her. That’s the kind of community we’re trying to build.” 
Anti-Valentine’s Day Soiree Feb 2023. Photo: Katie Koval Photography
DJ Brad Scott @ Anti-Valentine’s Day Soiree Feb 2023. Photo: Katie Koval Photography
Dr. Homophone @ Anti-Valentine’s Day Soiree Feb 2023. Photo: Katie Koval Photography

When asked about why they chose the name Soft Guts, Maye and Reilly recite their catch phrase: our hearts are full and our guts are soft. They work from a conviction that empathy and softness are strengths that should be celebrated. “Being nice and being kind and being compassionate does not make you weak,” says Maye. “We are strong people and we’re creating a space for other strong people who are also kind and compassionate.” Within a wider culture of casual cynicism, the genuine earnestness of Soft Guts is a breath of fresh air. It’s also pretty punk rock. Keep up with Soft Guts and learn more about upcoming shows on Instagram under the handle @softgutscollective. 

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