Fests are exhausting so please excuse the quick drive-by.
Sk8barpalooza is a three-day music festival hosted by Sk8bar in downtown Saint Joseph, Missouri created to raise funds for a city skatepark. And also just to have a party. By all accounts, it accomplished both remarkably well. I only found my way to day three of the festival – a Sunday evening bill featuring local St. Joe favorites alongside regional acts from Lawrence, Kansas City, and Omaha.
First, a bit about Sk8bar. It's a dive bar. It's a skate shop. And on weekends, it's a music venue. It's located in a bright storefront in St. Joe's historic downtown. For a town rumored to be abandoned, there seem to be quite a few interesting things going on around there. I've been sleeping on both the city and the bar, but Kansas City bands have been playing on the low stage at the back of the joint under red can lighting for a year or so. Their stickers cover the benches and booths in the bar, offering the comfort of home amid the more exotic stickers from local bands and the far-flung acts that have come through. While only 45 minutes up I-29 from downtown Kansas City, it has a distinct scene from its bigger brother. It has its own bands, its own fans, and based on the number of embroidered Sk8bar patches I saw sewn onto clothing, the bar seems to be the epicenter of this scene. Make the drive, that's my advice.
As the first act prepared to take the stage, a carnival barker in a striped shirt, a bowler, and a cane took the microphone to hawk raffle tickets. She looked like Fee Waybill of The Tubes and sounded like Natasha Lyonne. Funds collected by the raffle would go toward the creation of a skate park. A new deck was the prize. According to our barker, Louis Storm, the deck was worth $10,000 and who could argue with that. She'd reappear making her pitch throughout the night as well as skating up and down Francis Street while making her pitch. It made sense as there were often more patrons on the sidewalks than there were in the club. Most of them smoking. They smoke a lot up in Saint Joe. Also, it was a very nice evening.
The music commenced with Scud from Lawrence, Kansas. A punk three-piece of vocals, bass, and drums that bravely says "no thanks" to guitar. Try it. You might like it. Josh Jameson sings. He's a tall man hanging on a microphone stand. He occasionally falls to the floor. He has lots of charisma, and just enough stage presence. Bassist Cole Davidson carries most of the weight, offering foundational rhythm as well as tons of strummed chords and even guitar-styled leads. Drummer Grant Davidson kept busy throughout the half-hour set that was littered with disparate covers. With such a small sample size, I don’t know if I have analogs. Maybe the band sounds like Descendents, but only that band's fast songs that I could take or leave. So don't expect "Silly Girl" or "Get the Time." But maybe you'll get "Hurtin' Crue."
Gutter Buds were up next. The band claims Raytown as it's hometown. Most bands would hide that fact but not Gutter Buds. This band is proud to be the ditch weed of the local punk scene. "Biblo Mak" sings and plays bass. He took the stage in only shorts. No shirt. No shoes. Service to be determined. Plenty of screaming and a gruff voice that may have been the result of temporary fatigue more than a permanent feature. His bass locked in with drummer "Burt POGgus," whose form was relentless. Just no chance of him opening up to a groove. How he also provided backing vocals is a mystery. The guitar work of "Pit Barrel, Jr" aka "PBJ" was just as quick. Punk rock power chords with a few metallic solos tossed in just to keep the cops off the scent. When Mak's voice had no more, the band called up Osiris Gray to the stage for a chaotic finale that had Gray in the middle of a crowd shouting with an intensity that no vocalist matched for the rest of the night. Gray works for Sk8bar doing whatever needs to be done. On this day he mostly seemed to be hauling hot dogs out to people sitting outside. I'm not sure where they came from, and I ate before the show.
Locals Double Downer followed. The band is fronted by Nick Fitzpatrick. He looks like Jesus. The whole band looks like Jesus. They have a song about that. He wore sunglasses and sang up to the ceiling belting out his tunes. A bit of a Chris Cornell vibe. He wore a lab coat, open to reveal his shorts and sliders. The rest of the band wore lab coats as well, including keyboardist Austin Montee, 5-string bassist Lucas Hancock, and drummer Aidan Simmons. The quartet straddles several genres, building a sound that has post-grunge earnestness, electro quirk, and post-punk atmosphere. The closer songs skewed to the latter, the happier I was. "Halloween in July" veered closest to darkwave with some nice post-punk yelping in the chorus. The final song in the eight-song set had a catchy Stranglers-esque keyboard line that I'd love to hear again. I'm not sure I got the banter though. "Where are my motherf*cking Chiefs fans at?!" Really? During a cover of "Sabotage," Fitzpatrick shouted "Push somebody!" to the crowd. I liked that interjection.
The night took a turn for the heavy at this point, starting with From This Day Forward from Omaha. The band is metalcore with pre-recorded electronic beats and loops tossed into the fray. It's not a new invention (see Enter Shikari twenty years ago) but the band was awfully proud of it. The five-piece is fronted by Bobby Wright. He's cocky and good at working up a crowd. He started by shouting "You're not ready for this!" at the small bar and later rewarded the moving bodies with a "Oh, you guys f*ck with metalcore?" Sure, his banter was often outsized to both the band's performance and its material, but maybe that was the intent. Why else set up a wall of death for eight or ten people to collide into each other? It worked. Bodies crashed, the fans loved it, and thus the fans loved the band.
Throughout the set Wright's voice moved from a scratchy emo confession to a scream to a deep shriek that seemed beyond his small frame and baby face. He paced to and fro on the packed stage, holding his microphone, bending at the waist, stomping with the crunching guitars around him, or jumping in unison with the rest of the band – Eddie Deets (guitar), Cole Buckley (7-string guitar), Jake Persons (5-string bass) and Michael Donnelly (drums). The band built to quick dancefloor-friendly hardcore but were always ready with a crushing breakdown accented by chugging guitars and punctuated by a particularly sick-sounding cymbal. I'm not in the market for an electronically augmented metalcore band now, but if I were, this would be the band.
Drifter were tapped to play next. The Lawrence, Kansas trio is led by Dean Edington who sings, plays bass, and adds in assorted noises and digital percussion from an enormous rack of toys that I couldn't begin to describe. He's joined by Brodie Belt's deafening guitar and secondary analog percussion, and the thunderous drumming of Joel Denton. I don't believe any of them addressed the audience during the threesome's ear-splitting and immersive set. But it wasn't missed, as there are no lulls between songs that require banter, instead, the trio created textured moments that acted as liminal pieces to keep the audience engrossed. There is some improvisation on the fringes, but most of the band's post-rock was carefully constructed, with impeccable delivery from the cohesive unit. Each show has been more powerful than the last. In previous sets I recalled more filigree – more moments of calm and quietude – but this set was heavy, dark, and beautiful. In the most structured moments, particularly when Edington adds his elongated baritone vocals, fans may hear the gothic metal of Type O-Negative. In the loudest, most otherworldly moments, audiences can find the doom of Sunn O))), or maybe more specifically of that band's less glacial progenitor, Thorr's Hammer. The audience had shrunk from its earlier high, but the score of fans that remained were impressed down to the person.
It was 11:15 when Tragic Fate began not only the final set of the night, but of the weekend-long festival. The St. Joe quartet refers to itself as horrorcore. I don’t think that I knew that was a thing, but it makes sense. I'd have called it metalcore with an unhinged dark clown sort of vibe. Some face paint but not black metal or clowncore or any other recognizable subculture. The band played a 35-minute set that featured both of its (digitally-) released singles, a handful of unreleased tunes, and two covers of songs by Marilyn Manson and Bullet for My Valentine. Frontman Tim Leland had a wireless mic and spent a good portion of the set either in the modest push pit alongside a dozen dancers or outside taunting the smokers whose plans for the night didn't involve the indoors. Leland's voice moved from a clean, possibly even trained, emotive style to a spooky and deranged scream. There were plenty of growls in the middle. And then there were the laughs. Nightmare material. If you say his name three times, it summons him, so be careful. The rest of the band (guitarist Brad Smith, bassist Travis “Wurm” Higgins, and drummer Kyle Culp) left the stage histrionics to Leland. Instead, the rhythm section kept things quick and crunchy, holding space for Smith's frequent leads and solos. I still don't know what horrorcore is, but I think it did its job by scaring me, and by getting the audience bouncing on a Sunday night.
After the last band, our barker returned to the stage to manage the raffle. I didn't win the $10,000 skateboard, but I did have a wonderful time in the curious little dive bar / skate shop / music venue in the not-actually abandoned downtown of Saint Joseph, Missouri. Then the microphone was handed to the organizer who thanked everyone for coming and announced that the bar would be closed a few days to recover. I suspect the organizers had some sleep to catch up on, and it wouldn't hurt to give those lungs and livers a bit of a respite too. But you can be sure that when Sk8bar is back, I will be too.