Trenton musician Nikki Nalbone — aka Nikki Nailbomb — describes Art All Night as her favorite event of all the events she plays — even though she was in attendance at last year’s gang-related shooting.
But the 32-year-old singer and guitarist also says she will put that past behind her and be performing when Art All Night returns for 24 hours starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 15. Due to security concerns, however, the venue will be open only to working artists and volunteers from 1 to 7 a.m.
With others musicians and artists doing and saying the same, Nalbone is a de facto ambassador of an arts community intent on building Trenton’s spirit and future.
Born in Trenton and raised in Lawrence, Nalbone can be seen and heard in several Trenton bands. That includes Molly Rhythm, Party Show (formerly Moron Girls), and the all-female Destroylet.
She is also working on a new project with rotating musicians including the weekly jam nights she hosts with fellow Molly Rhythm member Caleb Walker at Championship Bar on Chambers Street in Trenton.
That Tuesday Night Open Jam is an open mic and open instrument event where both experienced punk and hip-hop musicians and newcomers looking for a platform or trying something new can come together and mix it up on stage.
In addition to organizing events at Championship Bar (aka Champs), she — along with boyfriend Drew Glenn — manages the bar.
“We all try to do the right thing,” she says referring to the bar’s staff and owners, former band drummer Hank Ransome and his daughter, Heather. “This bar is so beautiful. It taught me so much about people. It shouldn’t be about drinking. It’s about hanging out. You should be able to feel and do whatever,” she says.
Music is in Nalbone’s blood. She started on the piano at seven and played cello in middle school into high school, where she also picked up the bass guitar. Then her musician father, Frank, sprung for a six-string guitar. She says that was when she became inspired by the power in music, especially defiant female power.
But there is more. Her parents owned and operated the now-defunct City Gardens music venue, a legendary Trenton punk destination.
“I grew up seeing a lot of bands,” Nalbone says.” At 12 I saw my all-time favorite band there, (the all-female punk band) the Friggs. I thought, ‘I can do this,’” she says.
After living in New Brunswick and playing punk houses, Nalbone moved back to Trenton about a decade ago.
Reflecting on Trenton’s past, Nalbone says she is aware of how economics and race have affected the city. That includes her own family’s history with City Gardens. She says the property had been a black-owned club that hosted musicians such as George Clinton and hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow.
Disturbed by the loss of the proposed Princetel Project through Trenton City Council’s inaction (see U.S. 1, May 1), Nalbone says that Trenton residents need to affect change. “We can have nice shit. We can do this if we’re all passionate about it. We can do it without gentrification. I want a place that has room if people want to have kids. We’ve got houses here. I want people to prosper here. We need to take care of our people. We need to boost morale here in a healthy and non-sellout way,” she says.
Up next for Nalbone is the Art All Night performance of the Molly Rhythm, a group she calls “dueling harmonies with two guitarists. We want to say stuff we think is important in a pop, catchy way. It’s a fun platform. We try to break the rules as much as possible. Through thick and thin, we’ve been through all types of ups and downs together.”
“Art All Night is the best festival ever,” she says. “I don’t know how the security is going to work after last year. But I hope it goes well. There are a lot of problems with the police here. I just want to bring people together, and I want them to feel safe. We do some cool shit here,” she says.
The question regarding security is related to a young man’s late night arrival at the 2018 festival to settle a score with another attendee.
Nalbone, who had performed earlier, says she was on the scene with her father and singer and Champs regular Liz Cisco when the gunshots came.
“I dove down behind a wall,” she says, “Me, Liz, and this other lady who’s like my sister now. My dad was right on the other side of the wall from me. I had no idea what was happening. It was more than just a few shots, too. It sounded like a high-tech video game. I was terrified.”
Then, she says, “I learned that the guy who fired the shots had some issues with mental illness and he was trying to get help. He couldn’t get the help he needed. The system failed him. I feel as bad for him as I do for all the people who were running from the shots.”
Nalbone says she will never let one incident ruin the experience of Art All Night for her. “Bringing everyone together is important,” she says.
That’s also an attitude shared by the Art All Night staff at the nonprofit Artworks Trenton and the City of Trenton as they make been making changes to create a space summed up with three words: Art. Community. Nonviolence.
Art All Night, Roebling Wire Works, 675 South Clinton Avenue, Trenton. Saturday, June 15, 3 p.m. through, Sunday, June 16, 3 p.m. Donation requested. www.artworkstrenton.org/artallnight
Nikki and Caleb’s Open Jam, Championship Bar, 931 Chambers Street, Trenton. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. www.championshipbartrenton.com.