In 2012, where are the punk-rock shows in Kansas City? That depends. Millennial crowds favor semi-legal spaces like the Studded Bird, which closed late last year, or the ridiculously named squatter-house venues that have popped up in its wake along Troost. The occasional punk nights at Davey's Uptown skew a little older. In between are non-venue bars, such as Harling's and the News Room, that have demonstrated a willingness to open their doors to punk parties every couple of weeks, and which combine underground DIY grime with the functionality of a full bar.
This weekend, the News Room is doubling down on its efforts by booking the first annual Center of the City Fest. Sixteen punk acts — eight on Friday night, eight on Saturday night — are slated to play.
"There's always been an independent punk-rock scene around town," says Mike Alexander, who fronts Hipshot Killer and, along with Matt Warriner, has conceived and organized Center of the City. "It just doesn't rear its head too much in the mainstream. It's a lot of basements and house shows. But I really believe there are some great, independent punk bands in this city.
"And we had been kicking around the idea of a big two-day fest for a while," he continues. "And it just happened to fall on the same weekend as Middle of the Map. So we decided to call it Center of the City.
"It's in no way a 'fuck you' to Middle of the Map," Alexander insists. "But there aren't really any local DIY punk bands playing Middle of the Map. And it's pretty clear to a lot of us that our bands, and bands like us, weren't really welcome on it. So it was like, Fuck it, let's just do our own thing."
The News Room, on Broadway just a few blocks north of all the Middle of the Map festivities, was a natural venue for the fest, Warriner says. "They've been doing a lot of punk shows the past year or so, and I really like the atmosphere. There's no separation between the band and the crowd."
The acts assembled traverse the punk spectrum. Joplin's Brutally Frank peddles punk rockabilly; Iron Guts Kelly, from Lawrence, plays tough-guy hardcore; Hipshot Killer embraces the pop sensibilities, but not the bombast, of punk bands like Against Me. "I'm basically excited about all the bands playing," says Warriner, who plays bass in Smash the State. "It's just awesome-ass bands for two nights in a row."
Given its timing, it would be easy to dismiss Center of the City as the sort of passive-aggressive underdog posturing that far too many punks lean on for an identity. But both Alexander and Warriner evince a genuine sense of purpose and conviction about the undertaking.
"The city seems to be going through one of its I-don't-like-rock-and-roll phases," Alexander says. "I've been playing around for a long time, and I've seen how that kind of ebbs and flows. And I'm not trying to talk shit on any particular band or type of band, but it seems like there's not a lot of amped-up, pure animalistic rock and roll going on out at the bars.
"It's a lot of keyboards and weirdo dissonant minor chords," he continues, "and not a lot of three chords and the truth. I'm not seeing enough explosions-in-a-room type of shows. That's what we wanted to create with the Center of the City shows — one big eight-band-long explosion."
"I really like the concept of five or six straight hours of solid, kicking-your-ass punk rock," Warriner adds. "We're hoping that it's the kind of show where people turn up because of the event, as opposed to coming to see one specific band and burning out. Those are always my favorite shows to go to."
So far, both Alexander and Warriner say the planning has been smooth, and the response has been enthusiastic. "One of the guys in my band stopped in at Broadway Café the other day and asked to put up a flier," Warriner says. "I guess the guy working there took one look at it, walked over, tore down the Middle of the Map flier, and put up the Center of the City flier."
Entrance for the fest (which is 21-and-older) costs a modest $5 a night. Are wristbands involved? "Man, fuck no," Alexander says, shaking his head and smiling. "Fuck no."
"If you're lucky, you'll get a big black X on your hand," Warriner says.