“WHAT THE F@#K IS UP, DENNY’S?”: An Informal History of Denny’s Grand Slam II

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2018—the year the internet was graced with the Denny’s Grand Slam.  And no, I do not mean the value breakfast entree.

In the summer of 2018, a short, 20-second video suddenly appeared on every popular internet platform.  Every punk, hardcore and metal meme page and their mother, including hardcore twitter and r/hardcore on reddit, lit this short video up.  It soon transcended the scene to reach mainstream meme pages on instagram and the front page of reddit, solidifying itself as a quotable internet joke for punks and non-punks alike.

“What’s up?! What’s up,” the singer belts in the video, pacing back and forth, taunting the crowd on a shaky lo-fi camera.  The band bobs and bounces to the bassline, edging towards a breakdown.  There’s tension in the air, bodies flying mostly out of frame, a thrown hat flies toward the drum set.  It’s just another punk show, or is it?  There’s something else striking about the pastel yellow walls, the olive green doors, the dirty grey carpets.  And as the realization dawns on the viewer, the singer lets you in on the schtick: “WHAT THE F@#K IS UP, DENNY’S??”

The drummer delivers two heavy slams before the room explodes, the guitar budging in and mixing with the singer’s growls to create a symphony of excess that lights the center of the room up with violence.  Soon elbows are being swung, bodies are being thrown, and carnage is being introduced to the poor Denny’s banquet hall that naively thought it could handle a hardcore show.

The video originated from a 2013 set by the Houston hardcore band Live Without.  As the story goes, the local Houston Denny’s was closing and this group of Houston scene kids got together to rent out the banquet hall for a night.  The end result was the “Denny’s Grand Slam”, a beautiful event that would likely only serve as an infinitely funny meme for hardcore kids.  Everyone knew this would never be allowed to happen again.

Flash forward six years later: 2019.  Orange County punk band Wacko announces a show in a Santa Ana Denny’s with other Southern California bands like NNN and Evers Dead Babies, an incident that would outdo its predecessor both in scale and infamy.

The concert was put on by Bryson Del Valle and his skate punk apparel company, Bastards Club, with promoting support from Natalie Cardos, a 19-year-old punk from Newport Beach.  

I met with Nat to get her perspective on the hectic night.  We met at Piecemakers, where she gets products like thread and needles to sew patches on her jackets and crust pants.

We quickly related to each other through stories of the crazy antics caught at punk shows. Soon we were reminiscing about unofficial backyard venues in Santa Ana and Anaheim like Parvo Pit in Stanton and The Roughhouse in Anaheim.  With the Orange County punk scene gravitating more to the cities, as opposed to the suburbs where they began, there has been a decline in backyard and park shows; correlating with the increasing difficulty in booking them and keeping them discreet.  Nat got into punk mainly through the backyard scene. But, like many OC kids she had an idea of the subculture from her uncle, who was an OC punk back in the day.

Nat, like many punks, initially got into it through pop punk as a teenager.  However, she always enjoyed a variety of music genres; from K-Pop to classic rock like Blue Oyster Cult, to trap, and even French music. But, Nat didn’t make it to her first local show until about 3 years ago, hosted at the Santa Ana record store Beatnik Bandito. 

Nat recalls the lineup full of OC bands including Raukous and The Sanitys, as well as the lack of a bathroom at the Beatnik.  Unfortunately for them, the closest bathroom was inside the neighboring Church of Scientology. “They did not like us,” she laughs.  “We were all sweaty and gross… and there were like 20 people in there at one point.”

Like many OC kids before her, it wasn’t long before she was going to three concerts a week.  Friends in the scene inadvertently got her a job at a record store, where she started learning about the legacy punk bands. “A lot of punk is history, and I started getting into the history of punk. The punk scene in Orange County is basically historic at this point—in Southern California, period.”

Nat first met Long Beach punk band Wacko through her friends in another Long Beach band Evers Dead Babies. She had hung around Wacko on a few occasions, mainly their bassist Luke. “I wanted to be his friend for the longest time, ’cause he’s just so nice,” Nat explains happily.  By the time they met, she had already been a fan of the band for 2 years.

When it comes to how the idea of the show came about, both Nat and Bryson agreed. “It’s off of the meme,” Bryson laughed.  The inception of this idea came from a joke Nat made about hosting a Denny’s show before Bryson ever thought, “But what if I did?”

Aside from the meme, Denny’s was already a staple for punks, being one of the only widespread diners whose closing hours never preceded the end of local performances. “Denny’s became such a tradition after shows that we were like, ‘We Gotta!’” Nat said.

Nat met Bryson when she changed high schools, but really became friends after meeting again at a concert.  Bryson, and his skate punk brand Bastards Club, have put on four shows to date; with the infamous and successful Denny’s spectacle being his first.  He detailed hitting bands up on Instagram through direct message and how it was almost deceivingly easy.

“I was surprised Wacko agreed to do it, I didn’t believe it at first,” he laughs.  “I really didn’t know what I wanted and I think to Denny’s management, I just kind of slipped through the cracks.”  His first jump into the chaotic world of promoting actually worked in his favor when dealing with Denny’s, who were very accommodating when it came to finding a location. With a banquet hall (Sponsored by Mater Dei High School), and after providing a contract, Denny’s was allowing Bryson to host the concert for him and a handful of other local punks.  They definitely had no idea what kind of crowd goes to an Orange County punk show.

The management required Bryson to make an RSVP list for a maximum of 50 people to make sure the banquet hall didn’t reach capacity and violate the fire code.  According to Bryson, the list was full days before the performance date.  And judging from the videos posted all over the day after, it didn’t matter anyway.

The Denny’s—from the stage, to the tables, booths, entrance, and parking lot, was shoulder-to-shoulder with sweaty punks.  Wacko could barely be spotted through the mob except for their instruments and the classic Wacko helmet bobbing in front of the stage.  People were hopping off booths, crowdsurfing into overhead lamps, and turning the center of the room into a cyclone of a pit.  Nat describes wiping the sweat off the window behind the stage so the built-up groups of kids watching from the parking lot could see the madness.  Before management had the chance to tell Bryson to shut it down, kids were bum-rushing the fire exits and cramming inside.  People were shaking the last remnants of bottles into the crowd as smoke puffed up from unknown groups in crowded booths. Bryson described it as suffocating.

“It was like moving through molasses,” he describes pushing through the crowd, delivering the message that the show was being rolled.  The management, who was understandably freaked out during the entire exhibition, expected 50 kids to be accounted for by the RSVP list.  The list was made useless when over 300 people showed up.  This unexpected turnout resulted in over a thousand dollars of property damage from broken lamps, broken fans, a table snapped in half, and a bassist’s foot through a ceiling among other things.

Expecting the show to get rolled early (as punk shows often do), Bryson and Nat had a backup plan.  They organized an after-party that would see the sets of NNN and Evers Dead Babies fully realized.  As if to outdo themselves, this site was located in the Santa Ana riverbed under an overpass.  Videos of the after-show include fireworks, moshing, music, and the same rowdiness you would expect from the Orange County scene.

The aftermath of the hectic night was swift.  The videos gained instant fame both locally and in nationwide music scenes, and currently have over 120k views on youtube.  The videos landed on the reddit threads r/punk and r/hardcore the very next day and within the week, they raised two thousand dollars to cover the damages.  Bryson’s brand Bastards Club has gained traction and he has quit his job to manage the exposure that came along with this show, as well as hire a manager. “It drastically changed everything for me,” he says. For Nat however, she gives me a “solid maybe” on whether or not she will pursue more promoting gigs in the future.

The widespread impact of this show, as well as the ever-increasing availability of the internet to help spread niche events like this and document local scenes, is undeniable.  With YouTube pages like Hate5Six of Philadelphia and 197 Media of Southern California respectively documenting their scenes, the role of filmed sets and exposure through the internet has become crucial for bringing new people into punk, hardcore, and all kinds of heavy music.  The videos of Denny’s Grand Slam will live on in infamy and stand as a testament to DIY organizing within the Southern California music scene.

What is the moral to this story?  I have no idea.  What I can say for certain, though, is that the unexplainable link between Denny’s and the punk scene has only ever grown stronger.