Take a trip with me, friends, back to Springfield, Mo in the 1990’s. Being a college town, the city of course boasted a multitude of watering holes offering stale, conventional rock bands playing to equally uninspiring audiences. But under the nose of the unsuspecting town a seething cauldron of punk rock mayhem festered and thrived in a series of under the radar (and for the most part illegal) rock venues. Here’s a description of some of the most notorious spots and photos of their current condition:
This club was originally run by an old-time punker named Frank, and was later passed on to Dave, the vocalist of Now or Never. Situated in the Commercial Street community building, it operated from circa 1988-1992. Some fairly big acts like Clutch played there. Ironically (or maybe appropriately) the space now serves as a substation for the Springfield Police Department.
The Pink House was the residence of Mitch (now Midge), singer and bass player of Boring Dog Cheese Guard. The place was a mess, an old shack-style house on the west side of town that seemed to constantly be on the verge of falling down. Mitch let various bands use the place as a practice space, recording studio, and occasional venue. I remember one memorable show on a Labor Day (I think it was 1994). Disarm set up their gear and started to play at full volume on the front porch of the house. Not surprisingly, the neighbors called called the police, no doubt frightened by the large group of punks and skinheads congregating in the front yard as well as the sonic chaos that was Disarm. Midge no longer lives there, and it looks as though the house has been pretty heavily renovated, with aluminum siding now covering the striking pink paint job of the old exterior.
Culley’s was a shithole of a bar just off the downtown square that occasionally hosted punk shows. Grout played there quite a bit in the late 1990’s. It eventually became a favorite hangout of the local Nazi skinhead crew. From what I understand, a wall collapsed inside the place a while ago, and the owner felt it wasn’t worth repairing. The place is still shuttered today.
Maybe the most infamous club in Springfield’s sordid punk history. It operated out of an old storefront on the corner of Dale and National in north Springfield for about eight months around 1996-1997. The venue had a bad rep as a violent place that was not undeserved-I personally saw several people get hurt there bad enough to warrant emergency room trips. To make matters worse, the band Violent Karma practiced there, and brought their drunken skinhead friends with them. Negativity aside, there were several great shows there, among them bills featuring Naked Aggression, Earth Crisis, and Mustard Plug. The place eventually shut down due to lack of heat (the owner wouldn’t fix the gas pipes). In another bit of irony, the space is occupied today by the Nu-Brew coffeehouse, which is a church/Christian rock venue.
Probably the overall best space ever occupied by a Springfield punk club, the Looney Bin was located in a storefront on Commercial street, a couple of blocks down from the old Commercial Street Club. It was a huge space, with a loading dock in back and no neighbors nearby to call the cops. It was open for about a year from around 1998-1999, and had a couple of great shows. Today it’s a used furniture store.
This club was run by some people from the band Thee Fine Lines, who had also been involved in running the Looney Bin. It was open from about 1999-2001. Its name was a bit of a misnomer, as the address was in fact 425 Walnut St. rather than 423. The downtown club was well run, and got some big acts in as well as serving as a venue for some lefty political meetings. There were plans to try to get a federal loan and turn the place into a youth community center, but they fell through and the space is currently vacant.
Last year, the voters of Springfield approved an ordinance banning persons under 21 from any establishment that makes the majority of its money from liquor sales. That, plus a lack of a viable all-ages venue makes booking shows difficult. Today punk shows in Springfield are few and far between, with many of them happening at Billiard’s, a downtown bar that is willing to rent its back room.
There were also a bunch of fly by night punk-friendly clubs in Joplin (Culture Shock, the Dead Cowboy, the Warehouse, Better Than Bemo’s, etc.) as well as some in far-flung places like Ft. Smith, Fayetteville, and Pittsburg, KS. But somebody who knew those places better than I will have to write a history for them.