Gingerfest: How To Build A Festival From The Ground Up

A new punk mini-festival will descend upon Sydney this December when the inaugural Gingerfest brings acts like The Snowdroppers, 28 Days, Bagster and The Decline together for one epic punk-filled day. While music fans should rejoice in the birth of this new niche festival, what sets Gingerfest apart is its unlikely muse.

A punk rock diehard, Nicholas Sofer-Schreiber, was known to many as the ‘Ginger Ninja’, a nod to both his unmissable red afro and his unique ability to quickly befriend the bands who played the music he adored. He wasn’t in a band himself, but was known by all in the local Canberra and Sydney punk scene for his infectious enthusiasm and unwavering support.

In late December last year the community was rattled by the crippling news that Nicholas, their beloved Ginger Ninja who had charmed his way into their worlds, had been murdered in his own Canberra home at the tender age of 27.

Though losing Nicholas has left a cloud over the local scene, those who knew him are determined to honour his life the best way they knew how — through punk rock. And so Gingerfest, a festival in honour of Nicholas, was born. It’s also raising funds in his name for Vision Australia, a charity who provided support for him over the years as he was also legally blind.

In the lead up to the inaugural Gingerfest, set for Saturday, 6th December at Sydney’s Factory Theatre, organisers Aaron Gaffney and Luke Griffis, Gingerfest artists and Strung Out’s Jordan Burns share a few of their most treasured Ginger Ninja memories, and their hopes for the festival’s future.

Watch: The Snowdroppers – Moving Out Of Eden

First encounters with Nicholas ‘The Ginger Ninja’ Sofer-Schreiber

By all accounts, Nicholas Sofer-Schreiber was a man you remembered meeting for the first time. Here Gingerfest organisers and acts recount their very first Ginger Ninja encounter.

Gingerfest organiser Aaron Gaffney: “I first met him at an Unpaid Debt concert at a venue called The Ground Floor in Canberra, back in 2004. He was still quite a young grom back then – bright red hair, and an assortment of punk rock shirts that were way too big for him. He was quite timid at first, but once he came out of his shell, his personality, random quotes and terrible jokes had us in stitches.”

Gingerfest organiser Luke Griffis: “I first met Ginge online in 2008, he was buying records on ebay from me, sending messages back and forth. Shortly after that a band he was selling merch for, Aaron’s band Lamexcuse, had a show with my old band in Newcastle at the Lucky Hotel, from there we stayed in touch and eventually became the best of friends.

Ceeds of Chris Duke & The Royals: “Chris Duke and the Royals were playing Canberra for the first time and I didn’t really know anyone from the scene or in the room, other than my bandmates. First song in, you couldn’t miss his giant ginger coloured afro. He was up the front and centre dancing along and after the show he was hanging out partying with us.

Jordan Burns of Strung Out: “He was a big fan of our band and would come to all of our shows I think my first impression of him was he was this really goofy awkward red headed guy with a huge afro. Always seemed very nice, but always seemed nervously excited to be around any of us too.”

Pat Decline of The Decline: “I met him in a van on the way to our first ever Canberra show 5 years ago. But what made it interesting is the realisation I came to when he started asking me about Descendents and All.

“Nick told me practically immediately that he had just been over in the states as well and had met Bill at an ALL show and he thinks maybe he annoyed him. This was super funny for me and the guys in my band, because Bill had actually told us about a red-headed aussie guy who got up in his face at an ALL show and at the time, we didn’t know Ginger yet, so we just assumed it was another red-headed Aussie guy who had been at the shows in the states; Burgs from Grim Fandango.

“But really, it was Nick! and the first time we met him, the four of us realised that, and  what it even funnier was that we’d somehow managed to convince Bill from Descendents it was someone else, which we all thought was terrific.”

Remembering Nicholas the man

Nicholas’s friends remember what made The Ginger Ninja such a special mate.

Ceeds: “Ginger was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. I’ll never forget one time we were playing a massive show at the Annandale, we were supporting Bedouin Soundlash and were on first. My gear was fucking up during sound check and I was busily trying to sort it out before we started. Ginger saw I was stressed, came up to the stage and said ‘Hey Ceeds have you heard what they are saying about Velcro? It’s a RIP OFF!’ His attitude as a punter was just so refreshing and made him the best audience member ever.”

Johnny Barrington of Super Best Friends: “I remember him being super enthusiastic to talk to people and to talk about music. That never really changed. Often he grabbed you when a band was mid-song and you could hardly hear what he was saying to you, over the band! Invariably you’d be bent down, straining to listen and your ear would get quite soaked with saliva from him pulling you in so close, his arm around your neck, shouting a punk rock love story at you.”

Luke Griffis: “He had the strangest, weirdest but funniest sense of humour, he had the heart of gold and he helped people out. He let bands stay at his house all the time, he was at every local gig he could possibly go to and people knew what he was all about and they respected him for that.”

Jordan Burns: “He was a humble sweet guy. Could never see him being confrontational. It’s funny because he wasn’t only known in Australia, he was known all over the place and had so many other friends through the punk rock scene. He was a genuine nice guy who really loved and enjoyed music.”

Watch: Out Tonight – Super Best Friends

How one person can influence an entire punk community

Gingerfest organisers and acts tell us exactly what Sofer-Schreiber did to support local bands and help sustain a growing punk community.

Aaron Gaffney: “It goes without saying that [Nicholas] absolutely frothed over the music, but I’d say a lot of it has a lot to do with the friendly, inclusive scene that he came across. When I met him, he didn’t really have any good mates, and was coming out to shows by himself. But it didn’t take long for that to change.

For example, a few years later he travelled to the USA, and while he was there he caught a Descendents show, not really knowing anyone there. But by the end of the show he was hanging out having a few drinks with some of the Descendents guys and even got a lift home with their guitarist Stephen. That’s one of the things I think he loved most. I think his unwavering support kept a lot of bands keen, also he was always showing us some of the latest music that was coming out.”

Pat Decline: “I guess you could really feel the love when you spoke to him. You could tell how stoked he was on the music and all of it. The last time we ever saw him was just before our show with Useless ID in Sydney. I remember that me and Nate were super tired and wanted to sleep an hour or so before the show, and Ginger just let us sleep in his hotel room while he headed to the show.

“It was super funny because we had to sneak in, otherwise he would get in trouble for sharing his room. He went inside, checked in and picked up the keys and when he came outside me and Nate were waiting on the corner. He didn’t see us and started walking the other way so we started yelling ‘Ginger, Ginger!’. All the other people on the street gave me and Nate dirty looks and we couldn’t figure out why until later when it dawned on us that to an outsider, it would’ve looked like we were teasing a stranger about his red hair for no reason.”

Ceeds: “He offered up his house as our accommodation every single time we came down and hosted legendary after parties when all the pubs closed. Some of those kick-ons have become folk lore amongst our friendship circle. Most of all though, he supported our band, just like a million others who played in Canberra. He came to every gig, he got excited, he sung along, he cheered and once danced so hard he dislocated his knee. He left in an ambulance and we had to shut the show down, but he was right back in the same spot at The Basement the next time we were back a few months later.

“It didn’t matter if the room was packed or if he was the only one there, Ginger would be rocking out like the champion he was, because he loved the music. That attitude was infectious when you were watching a band with him. He was the most recognisable person in the scene and he really was what the punk rock community aims for. He was the glue that kept the scene together. He knew everyone because he went to every show and bought every CD and loved being a part of it.

“Today I try to use Ginger as inspiration for me to continue to be involved in the scene. I think of him when I am sitting on the couch in the pouring rain, contemplating whether or not to go out on a Thursday night and watch a friend’s band for the 100th time or just stay in and watch the telly. There is no doubt what Ginger would have done, and I wish he was still here today attending those shows with me.”

Johnny Barrington: “Nick made you feel good about yourself and what you spent so much time and energy and money on. For at least one person besides you, it seemed worth it! That’s the selfish angle. Other than that, he was a mad man in the crowd and people loved him. They’d get him on their shoulders. They’d carry him aloft. And you couldn’t resist having that massive teethy grin at your shows. His problems were arguably way bigger than yours too – being an orphan and also being legally blind – but he was the incarnation of, ‘don’t worry, be happy’.

“Nick could be irritating too, but what mate doesn’t give you the shits occasionally? That’s probably why he suited hanging around bands so much. Bands are basically collections of people who give each other the shits on a regular basis. A mate of ours described Nick as ‘everybody’s designated little brother’ after he passed. I can’t think of a phrase more fitting. You instantly knew there was something different about Nick and that’s how he got away with being Nick.”

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