Join or Die (hereafter referred to as JOD) is the upper echelon of parkour experiences. Since the inaugural event in 2019, JOD has exploded in attendance and scope. Potentially one of the most forward-thinking parkour gatherings of our time, JOD boasts multiple days of training with some of the best athletes the sport has to offer, live entertainment, a series of street competitions including skill challenges, freerunning battles, and the deeply competitive flyest fit and most wholesome and harmonious awards. In just a few short years, this event has become a fixture of the parkour community and sets the standard for artistic development and inclusivity amongst the myriad of parkour jams that crop up every year. At midnight on a Tuesday, I called Alec Reduker and David Ehrlich, the hosts of JOD, to speak about their experiences crafting and directing an event that is equal parts community outreach and unfettered parkour diablerie.
Me: When did Join or Die start, and what was its goal?
David: The Commons and Join or Die started in 2019. The Commons was a medium to get the entire Boston parkour community training together. In Boston there are different factions of people who train; you have the Hub Parkour Training Center people like Dylan Polin and all the coaches and students who are phenomenal, you have Parkour Generations who are great and kind of do their own thing, and then there are a bunch of unaffiliated randos and the freerunners who train in the woods. So I wanted a place where people could come together and train as a community. That evolved into a jam. This was around the same time that FIG was starting their own competitions and taking over parkour, I wanted to host a jam that was very much taking a stance against that and have a very grassroots jam and competition. Hence, Join or Die Jam and Street Competition. The term “join or die” was originally a French Revolution thing, and then it was co-opted by Ben Franklin for the American Revolution as a way to unite the 13 colonies. I wanted to establish our event as an East Coast jam, fast forward and here we are today.
Me: Have you guys been hosting it since the beginning?
David: (to Alec) Did you come in JOD 2 or 3?
Alec: I was involved with The Commons from the beginning, but not in the role that I am now. I guess I got more involved during JOD 2 in 2020, and then became very involved during JOD 3.
David: For JOD 3 Alec had more of a “creative director” role. Pretty much anything that involved art and the heart and soul of The Commons was given to Alec. He had complete creative freedom, and I’ve never been happier.
Me: How has the jam changed over the years?
David: So, The Commons tagline is “For the people, by the people.”
Alec: No, it’s “By the people, for the people.”
David: Hahaha I always mix it up! The intention that I had was like, community sessions and giving people the opportunity to make content together as a community, kind of like how Ampisound did back in the day for the Cambridge community. If you’re at all familiar with Unit 45 in Montreal, it was just one dude with a camera filming the community’s antics and making banger edits. I wanted to do that, so after JOD 2, Alec and everyone from Boston picked a week where they wanted to do an edit, everyone had their own ideas, it was every editing style, and it was supposed to be a completely open-source community project exclusive to Boston. Now, it’s evolved to the point where we have Noah (@northstreetboogie) and the Norf Kids doing our video media, artists from all over giving creative input, it’s no longer just the Boston community contributing, it’s the entirety of the parkour community contributing to make it amazing.
Me: It’s really impressive, every year JOD seems to get larger in both attendance and scope. How are you dealing with the event’s substantial growth from both logistical and monetary standpoints?
Alec: Hahaha now we’re getting into it. This is gonna be good.
David: Yeah, it’s a fair amount of luck.
Alec: In the boat we’re in now, one rain out would fuck us over. Logistically, we manage but it’s very hectic. This year we built our team and practiced delegating a lot. This year felt like it would have been impossible to run without our team.
David: Our team is a number of people from the Boston Community, as well as people from outside who have stepped up and said, “I love The Commons, I love you guys, I want to help any way I can.” For instance, we have Zack Karro (@canaryhills) from Beans who was making shirts for us, we had a guy who’s a student at Hub making sweaters for us, and helping set up the food and catering, people running our merch stall, people helping us build, and even the people who flew in on Friday; shoutout to Tristan (@artisancraftstime) he helped finish building and sanding the setup, and all of Sneknek (@sneknek) who helped move the entire build, they were like the Snek moving service. Everybody put hands in to make the production happen and it was incredible.
Me: Speaking of the team, the staff photos that were posted are amazing. What was everyone’s role in the event?
Alec: Hahaha shoutout to Connor Pettington for that Instagram post. But to answer your question, I guess I’d say that this is David’s brainchild, even if we co-lead. There’s something about David, he’s particularly special because he’s really great at being inclusive and making other people feel welcome, and he has friends everywhere. You want to help David, you know? I guess I’m responsible for all of the content, media, and stuff that gets built. Not that I do it all myself, but that it all runs through me. I did most of the building, the t-shirt designs, that sort of stuff. Connor Pettington does a lot of graphic design, so he did all of our social media and marketing posts, and he’s generally really helpful. Noah Heath is in charge of our video production, but he and I will talk about what sort of video we want beforehand, and Ethan Rud takes on a lot of responsibility in that role as well. I can say stuff about everyone on the team. Naomi Pearlman (@naomipearlman) brings like half of the jam there herself, and houses like 30 people.
David: Yeah, some people have really explicit roles, and for others it’s like, “On jam day, you are going to stand over here, and you’re gonna make sure everything runs smoothly.” That’s it, just all hands on deck to make it look like we have our shit together.
ME: JOD gets a lot of attention outside of Boston, which isn’t very common for U.S. based parkour jams. How have you made this event so far reaching, and how do you incentivize coming from out of town?
Alec: I feel like, in terms of incentivizing coming from out of town, staying here is a really fun experience. I think David is to thank for a lot of that. I also think that we really run with ideas. We will take the wackiest ideas we can think of and try things out, and we experiment a lot. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way it ends up being good marketing.
Me: Can you tell me about a time when an experiment did or didn’t work?
David: So, this year, we built the entire setup in our backyard. It was weeks of stealing pallets and doing night missions to grab random scraps and blocks of wood and barriers, just putting it all in our yard. Then for the comp, I got a moving truck, and we moved the whole setup to the spot. We had Davis Vasconcellos MCing, and it was amazing. Imagine a WWE style walkout with people coming out of the back of the truck for their freerunning battles.
Alec: Yeah, I totally can’t wait for that video to come out.
David: Can I do one more? It’s not really that wacky, but the film screenings that we do to highlight people coming in and bringing projects are so tremendously powerful. It’s not wacky, but does it change people’s lives and inspire people to make more longform content to have a room filled with thunderous applause by your peers? Yes, it’s amazing. So, we live in a place called Allston. Which is also known as Rat City. We’ve had a standing challenge in The Commons House for the past four years, that if you catch a rat bare-handed, I will give you $200 on the spot. And someone did it this year hahaha. Ezra from Toasty Lizards Movement straight up caught a rat, walked over and showed it to me, so I gave him $200 hahaha. I can’t say it’s entirely a Commons thing, but is it us? Wholeheartedly yes!
Alec: Also, we always experiment with our competition format a lot. I thought this year was really fun, and we’ve found something that maybe we’ll continue to do in the future. We like to do as much community activation as we can. Maybe something that didn’t work out this year though, was having large portions of the event take place at our house. That was very stressful, and a huge liability for us. We only got the cops called once though! David, do you want to talk about the skill comp?
David: I might just rattle off all of the comps so I can get to the one dearest to my heart. So, the skill comp is where I intend to activate. It’s a very common thing amongst parkour people, parkourists, whatever they’re called, they go to a jam, and they say “Oh I just don’t train well at jams. Or I get really anxious at jams.” It’s a fair percentage of the community. I wanted to create a way that people can work on challenges together. Like capture that essence of a really good, vibing, parkour session and put it into a day so that people can feel like they got a bunch of value and meaningful connections out of a situation. In the past my three core values for setting skill challenges were: There should not be only one solution, it should not be a blatant power challenge, and it should inspire people to work on it together. There was a brilliant moment during JOD 2 where we had set this “Jackie Chan” challenge, where you had to take three steps up a wall to a cat. And halfway through the jam, there were people all working together and talking about the technique and foot placement, until one by one people were breaking the challenge. People were clapping for each other and getting each other hyped and filming, and people even talked about it the next day like, “Remember when we did that together?” It was amazing, and I love it. This year we changed it a little bit, we kept the same values, but we had the staff set challenges of their own. So, we had Alec, Zack from Beans, 60-year-old Brian from Hub, Naomi and Sen (@sen.freerun), me, everyone set three challenges that represented their style, and I think it went well and it felt really inclusive. I’m happy with the way that skill goes, I feel like it gets people really engaged.
Alec: One of the other comps we introduced this year was our Flyest Fit Comp. Judged by @sussyparkourfits, @bussyparkourfits, and @assyparkourfits, which are three accounts which will remain anonymous so that we can continue to use them as judges. Our winner for this year was Burrito from Philly. He looked very fly. I’ll let David talk about the last competition.
David: Their judgment is unbridled. And this year, I held a competition that was very near and dear to my heart, called the Most Wholesome Harmonious Community Member. I really believe that just because you go to a parkour jam and you’re a really fucking sick athlete, doesn’t mean that you deserve to win accolades, you should also be a good person. Not just a good person, a great person, who wants to be a part of the community, share a space, and also be giving yourself back into that space. People that I see come to a jam and want to do better and expand upon the things that make events like this possible. I wanted to award that, make it a really big deal, and I feel really strongly about it. This year the recipient was Tristan (@artisancraftstime) from Austin, Texas. He went above and beyond and truly helped make this event so wonderful and wholesome. On the last day of the jam before everyone got up and went to the workshops, he was up early making cinnamon rolls for everybody. This guy! We got him custom art donated by Tyler Downing (@spiffie.hippie) who did a gorgeous piece. I got him flowers and chocolate; we really tried to upsell how much love we give to the person who wins this award, because it’s special and I think it should be celebrated.
Me: Those two awards were the coolest thing for me, when I first saw the posts advertising the event. I was like, “Yes, that’s fucking cool, now we have culture awards! That’s what we need!”
David: Yeah, thank you!
Alec: Maybe I’m jumping the gun here but the direction we’re moving is kind of… I mean we always want it to be a parkour jam, but we want it to be a cultural gathering. We want to really cultivate the arts in parkour. Something we want to start doing is a flea market, where artists in the parkour community can come sell their merch, you can buy prints, shirts, clothing, etc. We’re going to keep doing the film screenings, and one thing we added this year was live music. We got a couple of bands and solo acts from parkour people who wanted to play music. It was crazy, we already have people asking if they can participate next year. That’s stuff that we want to expand.
Me: Do you think that cultural elements including your fit and wholesome awards will catch on at other jams?
Alec: I hope so, but not before we get our moment with it! Hahaha!
David: Yeah hahaha. If other jams do a Wholesome and Harmonious award, I can retire. I’ve done it. I’ve highlighted the wholesome value and friendship of the community and achieved my goals. If other jams do something like this, then I truly do believe that we have so much creative talent amongst our team, our community in Boston, and even in this muthafuckin’ house, we’re always going to think of something better and raise the bar every year.
Alec: This jam was nothing like the last one, and the next jam is going to be nothing like this one. For better or worse we always want to be experimenting and providing a unique experience every time.
Me: With the event constantly changing, what was the biggest challenge of hosting JOD this year?
Alec: I feel like my biggest challenge this year, was that it was difficult for me to delegate at first. In the past I’ve had very full creative control, not that I don’t, but I want to let in other influences. It’s just impossible to get everything done alone, and so it was a learning curve trusting things to people, and everybody came through. For instance, I decided this year that my band was going to play at the live show. So I was organizing a set, prepping the band online since we aren’t all in Boston anymore, then I decided I wanted to show a project at the film screening, and on top of all the jam responsibilities it was just way too much. It’s too bad because it feels like every year that it gets bigger it feels like we get to participate less. But it’s really fulfilling to make all of those people have a good time, and it’s more than that. To give them opportunities, you know?
David: The amount of people who have come up to us and said, “This has been the best week of my life, the best event I’ve ever been to.” I can’t even count them, and it makes us feel so full. It’s awesome. I think one of the biggest challenges is that we’re normal people outside of all of this. We both work full time, we have relationships, hobbies, other obligations that take us in other directions. I literally turn off work, turn to my right, and say, “Cool, I guess we’ll order taupe tote bags!”
Alec: It’s a lot of sacrifice.
Me: When do you start making plans for the next event?
Alec: When SHOULD we start making plans, or when DO we start making plans? Because those are usually very different answers hahahaha. I think this year we started preparing at the beginning of July.
David: Yeah, we were like, “Hey, Join or Die is coming.” Then we fucked off hahaha. When we were like three months out, we really started worrying about it. And then I started stealing pallets hahaha.
Alec: When do we start? I think we’re making some pretty big changes for next year. We learned a lot. I feel like we have surpassed the limit of what we can do personally, which is awesome. We want as many people involved as possible. So, I think we are quickly becoming more organized and timelier. I never want to be too organized and timely; you know? I always want it to be a little bit of a shit show. Six months out is when we would like to have dates set and start releasing promo material.
David: In our notes and plans, I put seven months.
Me: Was this the first year you guys have had athletes coach workshops? What do you think of using jams as an opportunity for spreading knowledge?
David: So, the workshops were pretty impromptu. The way I thought they were going to go, and the way they went were vastly different, in the best way. We had Tam (@tamwithacam) teaching “Funky Movements and How to Connect them,” and Ezra @ezraschroer teaching “Flip Precisions.” Tam’s performance in Queen City was amazing and she is a phenomenal athlete, and Ezra has always been a huge supporter of the jam, The Commons, and us personally. Both of them crushed it. It was Sunday morning, the day after the jam afterparty. Everyone stayed up until 4:00 am the night before, and when everyone got to the spot on Sunday, no one was training at all. The vibe was super chilled. Then 40 people showed up to Tam’s workshop. She had to scramble and make stations, I was pointing at people that I knew coached, and snapped at them like, “You. You’re an assistant coach now, go over there.” Everyone started jamming and training. She gave this idea where you basically do a pullover up a small wall, like a reverse descent, and we ended up with people who hadn’t spoken the entirety of the jam collaborating with each other, and the jam just ignited. It went straight from there into Ezra’s workshop, and everyone was warmed up by that point, and he of course crushed it. We went into a little competition, where Zack Karro ran a transition workshop, and the best two transitions in a small line won. Best transition was sick, and we’re definitely keeping that idea. Trademarked.
Alec: One thing I wanted to say is that Sundays are always a chill vibe. We don’t want to get rid of that. It’s where everyone can chill out and have loose training. We just wanted to activate the day a little bit more. David loves that word, “activate.”
David: I do! Get people doing stuff!
Me: If someone wanted to host an event like yours, what advice would you give them?
Alec: I’d say just start. To have the bigger events, you have to have the smaller events, and you have to have the community. You can’t do this without building the community first. There’s no amount of marketing and promo that is going to get you the event that you want if you don’t spend the time bolstering the people around you. That’s something that David has worked so hard to cultivate, long before The Commons was even a thought. He’s been setting up weekly community sessions, reaching out to people individually, housing people, way before this event. Don’t try and do it alone.
David: Yeah that’s exactly it. Pour yourself wholeheartedly into the community and you can create something really special.
Me: What’s in store for the future?
Alec: I think a dream that we share is to be able to support people, grow the community, and give people the opportunity to do this for a part of their living. To make a meaningful difference in the lives of our filmmakers, the artists and musicians who contribute. We don’t want to make any money from this event. We cover our expenses, and if there is any money left over at all, it goes straight back into the jam. My other dream, like I said is to be a cultural hub, but also, I just wanna build cool shit. I want a new build every year. Next year there’s going to be a two story build with a giant slide, a dance floor, an airbag off of the roof, fire, barbed wire, it’s just going to get crazier and crazier. The builds, art, and sculpture are going to get better.
David: My own agenda, I want us to be cool enough to turn Boston into the next Colorado, the next Brighton. I genuinely want to poach athletes hahaha. Like walking up to people and saying, “Move here.” And it’s working!
Alec: It’s working, we’re poaching them!
David: We’ll hook people up with housing, find apartments, just move here and make the dream happen! Come here and train!
Alec: One last shoutout I want to give is to Dylan Polin. Take the time that David has been putting into building the Boston community and triple it, and that’s Dylan Polin. We’re so lucky to have Hub Parkour Training Center be the gym that represents Boston, we’re lucky to have him as a community leader and he’s one of our best friends.
David: One more thing, I have to shamelessly plug Unknown Project (@unknownparkour), we have a big project coming out next year. This has nothing to do with The Commons, but I have been given a platform. We’re doing cool things.
Alec: Actually, I have one more thing to plug too. There’s this really cool mobile game, Raid Shadow Legends…
Alec, David, and their team have managed to create something spectacular with JOD. They’ve taken the parkour jam and competition formula, and completely turned it on its head, changing the tried and true into the frontier of festive parkour antics. Alec and David have grabbed the rat with both hands, and seem to have no intention of letting go. The whole team’s ability and aspiration to create something unique every single year speaks volumes to their dedication, sacrifice, and faith in the philosophy of parkour, always adapting and experimenting for the sake of not only themselves, but the many individuals who keep October open on their calendars– just waiting for Join or Die.