Friday, March 13, 2009

A Lesson In Punk Rock Economics: The Harper’s Bizarre Ledgers

I moved a while ago, and in doing so came across an interesting bit of punk history: the financial ledgers of the Harper’s Bizarre club, which operated in Springfield circa 1996-1997. They provide a good example of how DIY music shows were run at the time, as well as how little money is to be made in such endeavors. Let’s start with a small show. On Oct. 26th, 1996 the Richards played along with Dysfunctional Family and the Sex Offenders, both out of Kansas City. 51 people paid to get in, which was actually pretty solid for a Springfield show (Joplin shows usually drew better). At four bucks a head, that comes to $204. A few Cokes were sold at a buck a piece, and the bands sold some tapes and shirts for themselves. At the end of the night, the club had $214. Both of the KC bands got $40, and the Richards got $20 for gas, making for a profit of about $90. Not bad, but consider that the rent on the place was $425 a month. On Aug. 30th of that same year, Naked Aggression (a fairly popular anarcho-punk act at the time) played with Brine and Squelch. 60 people paid to get in, plus the club sold a bunch of Cokes and waters, bringing the profit for the night to $286. Naked Aggression was guaranteed $200, along with $20 for a couple of pizzas (they also got a free place to sleep that night). Brine got $40, as their singer had to drive in from KC. Squelch got nada, as was the norm at the club for bands that came from in town. That left the club a grand total of…$26. You can start to see here why booking smaller time punk acts was often more profitable, at least in the Ozarks at that time: About the same number of people would show up, but you could pay the bands less money. For a good laugh, consider the Mustard Plug/Rowskabouts/Bishops show on Oct. 12th, 1996. Mustard Plug was a pretty big ska act, while the Rowskabouts brought out the Joplin folks. The Bishops, if I remember right, were a local ska band from Columbia, Mo. Punk shows are usually a handshake thing; contracts are very rarely used. You could make a lot of money off of ska bands, but they were a bit too professional for their own good. Consider the contract in this case. The club was supposed to supply “a clean, well lit, lockable dressing room able to comfortably accommodate 5 to 10 people”. Those of you who remember Harper’s Bizarre are no doubt laughing by now, as the club had nothing even remotely approaching a dressing room. I won’t even get into the P.A. requirements, which a DIY punk club could not even hope to meet. All of this was explained to the booking agency beforehand, yet they signed the contract anyway. Contract silliness aside, the show was profitable (as I noted, ska was a good moneymaker). 74 people paid to get in at $6 a head, giving a total of $444. Drink sales took the total to about $460. Mustard plug got $200 plus a $50 meal buy out. The Bishops got $40, and the Rowskabouts got $20. The club ended up with about $150. Perhaps the ultimate moral of this economic story: If you want to make any real amount of money running a music club, book cover bands and sell alcohol. Only book punk if you love it.


Robert said...

Great story, Gabe. Really takes me back. It gives a glimpse of what you must've gone through with that place. I know it couldn't have been easy, but it was definitely worth it (at least to an outsider).

I remember when we (The Richards) played with the Sex Offenders there. Wasn't that the time that their bass player kicked over one of your PA speakers and the show kind of came to a screeching halt for a few minutes while you (VERY justifiably) bitched him out?

I was also at the Mustard Plug show. Don't ask me why I remember this particular detail (God knows I don't remember much else from that period), but The Bishops were actually from Lincoln, NE. I think it was because they kept going on about being from "NebraSKA."

Also, I'll never forget coming to a show there in the middle of the winter. It was cold as hell, but you had brought in this huge cannon-looking thing that kind of shot flames and actually worked really well provided you were standing right in front of it.

The thing that really sticks out in my mind: "...the Richards got $20..." I kind of miss the days when I would say "OK" to that kind of arrangement. Maybe I'm jaded or maybe I'm just older (both, I guess), but I just don't think I could do that anymore. Then again, I don't play the same kind of music these days. Now that I think about it, I'd say the average Richards show from that period probably WAS worth about $15.

Gabe said...

Hi Rob,

One of the many things that was wrong with the Harper’s Bizarre club was the fact that the slumlord who owned the place would never fix the gas pipes (the city had shut off the gas long ago). The big cannon thing you remember was a gigantic propane heater I borrowed from my Dad to heat the place. It was designed for outdoor use on construction sites. It had a tank about five feet high filled with propane gas. I remember my Dad’s foreman saying, “If it ever springs a leak, just run”. What sucked was that place had no insulation in the walls. So I’d run the giant scary heater for about 15 minutes before a show to heat the place up. Within 20 minutes of turning it off, it would be as cold as it was outside again. Of course, Harper’s Bizarre had numerous other fire hazards (exposed wiring, etc.). I got my permit even though no inspectors ever came out. The Looney Bin never had permit one. I took a lot more risks back then.

Joshua said...

what great times! I actually bought a Bishops tshirt that night that I still have. It was Omaha, NebraSKA lol! Just for fun ill say my fave Harper's show was Earth Crisis and maybe was it Wingnut Supreme and Brine opening?