From ComFest and Columbus to Soho Zat and back again

Performers and crowd members at ComFest 2012 in Goodale Park in Columbus, Ohio. Photos by Clayton Patterson

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  |  It was an honor for me to get invited back to ComFest. In 1987, Darryl Mendelson first invited me to document this festival.

From a political perspective, I think ComFest is one of the best examples of a working, community, cooperative affair. It takes a whole community of volunteers to pull this off, and pull it off they do. It has to be the largest free festival in America, totally unencumbered with any ties to corporate sponsorship or corporate ownership and run by volunteers.

It’s completely self-run, using only local resources, and the festival has a good working relationship with the police and the necessary politicians. There’s no problem with sanitation as these idealists walk the talk — after the event, by the next afternoon the grounds are completely cleaned up and the park looks good.

ComFest is filled with noncorporate, small, independent, local businesses, crafts to food, to beer, to head shops, to Krishna teachers. There are multiple stages with great acts, poetry, performance and lots and lots of high-quality music, from jazz to punk. The one thing a band needed to get a spot to play was quality — they had to be good.

Goodale Park in Columbus, Ohio, is a green oasis in the middle of the city. There were plenty of shade trees for everyone and everyone could find a place to chill out in the park. At 33 acres, it’s a grand-sized park with plenty of room.

After my first 1987 visit, I sent ComFest 10 hours of archivial video I had shot over my weekend visit. I sent them more than 3,000 photos I took of the festival.

This year I will likely send them a mother lode of images to help strengthen and develop the archives, to help link it to my own archives, and to have it linked to The Villager and the East Villager and to NO!art.

It turns out a number of people in Columbus read The Villager. For example, Stan Bobrof was a close friend of Steve Ben Israel, and they were in constant contact. Steve never mentioned he was sick and then Stan read the obit in The Villager. Small world.

In the 1980s I was a fan and a friend of Darryl Mendelson and Stan Bobrof, who ran Soho Zat, at 307 West Broadway. Soho Zat was one of those amazing, independent, retail shops that sold almost everything one could think of connected to underground culture.

Soho Zat was years ahead of the curve. For example, they had chapbooks by modern primitive Fakir Musafar, piercer Jim Ward, Tattoo Time by Hardy Marks, Annie Sprinkle and her body language and sex-oriented philosophy, years before the popular “Modern Primitives” book came out in 1989, opening up the body culture to a much wider audience.

Zat was one of the only places that sold products connected to graffiti. Also vintage clothing, soft-drug paraphernalia and information, as well as, a wide cross-section of magazines befitting the late ’70s/early ’80s wild West Side of Lower Manhattan they occupied.

Zat specialized in comics, both mainstream and underground. They carried domestic, as well as foreign and underground press papers. You could buy Overthrow, the Yippie newspaper, or come Saturday night and see in person almost any famous person living Downtown coming to buy the Sunday New York Times. In those days Zat was one of the few Downtown locations that sold the Times.

Housing in Soho and Tribeca from the outside, looked industrial. But by the early ’80s it had started to become made-over — industrial, chic, expensive, creative peoples’ LOFTS. The property became expensive.

Stan and Darryl opened Soho Zat in 1978. They were forced to close the store in 1992 when the rent hit $6,000.

The ComFest connection is that Stan is from Columbus, while Darryl, born in Brooklyn, went to college in Columbus. They both moved back there, and with Roz-e Mendelson, Darryl’s brother, continued to educate the world through a store called Monkey’s Retreat, which now too has been gentrified out of existence.

We need to save our small independent businesses.