"If it wasn't for punk rock," says Johnston, "I'd be a suicide statistic, and that's a fucking fact. Punk rock replaced religion for me. All those Christians telling us we were going to go to Hell really made the scene."

Springfield and Joplin served as the primary nexus for punk. Those relatively populous cities harbored the region's most popular bands and, despite their remote locales, national touring acts considered them a perfect stopping point while driving from, say, Chicago to Dallas. One such band was the Queers, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, group that still tours frequently.

"Back in the '90s, Springfield and Joplin had really good punk scenes," says lead singer Joe Queer. "It was a big surprise — we always heard they were off in the boonies."

Gabe Harper.
Jennifer Silverberg
Gabe Harper.
Jason Kearbey at the Looney Bin's former location.
Jennifer Silverberg
Jason Kearbey at the Looney Bin's former location.


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His group had a memorable show at a Joplin joint called Culture Shock in 1995. Some 150 kids showed up, and quite a few bought the band's merch. "It was a good, lucrative show," Queer says. "It's weird that I remember it as well as I do because we used to drink a lot. But I remember that one vividly."

In the Ozarks no one was making any money — and that was the point. The anti-commercial mentality stressed art above commerce. Joplin musician Arik Gilbert remembers playing with his band Big Bad Chubba at a now-bulldozed Joplin locale called the Wherehouse. "We charged $2 a head," he remembers. "We thought we couldn't go over two [dollars] because it would look like we were being greedy. In fact, people didn't come to the MU330 show we hosted because it was five bucks, and they thought that was too much."

Harper adds: "It was all promises and handshakes, never any contract deals. I'd pay bands that came in from Joplin $25 or $30, tops, for gas. If they were an out-of-town touring band, I'd offer them a guarantee of $50. They'd sleep on your floor — or another punk person's place in town — and I'd hopefully get them food for the night and enough gas to get to the next town. I usually said bands from Springfield didn't get paid anything because they didn't have to drive anywhere.

"You're not really a punk band if you're expecting to get paid for a local show."

Since his days in the Springfield experimental band Boring Dog Cheese Guard, Mitch Potts has changed his name, become a female and run for Congress twice. Now known as Midge, Potts unsuccessfully challenged outgoing Republican whip Roy Blunt for his U.S. House seat this year as a write-in candidate.

The 39-year-old Potts, a Gulf War Navy veteran who was injured during service and now lives off disability benefits, was involved in some of the scene's most memorable shows. In 1994, she helped organize the largest punk event ever held in the Ozarks: Midwest Music Fest, which took place on a piece of rural property just north of Springfield owned by Potts' mother.

More than 500 people watched two dozen bands play before police arrived. "People were cutting themselves with razor blades and stuff," Potts recalls. "A band called Cocknoose threw a deer head filled with black powder, and it exploded out on the land. Then after the flames went down, Joe Morton of [Springfield band] Grout grabbed a power saw and commenced to cutting up the deer head."

Potts also hosted shows on the front porch of her pastel-color shack on West Walnut Street, known as the Pink House. Concertgoers would sometimes slip away and sneak past the industrial gas supplier's unlocked gates across the street, where they would steal tanks of nitrous oxide from the loading docks.

"I witnessed this once," says Harper. "They inhaled an industrial-sized tank of the gas in about an hour. God knows how many brain cells they killed."

Other favorite Springfield punk spots included downtown the 423 Club, which was run by Jason Kearbey and his brother Justin. Its owner refused to spring for heat, and the pipes froze. For a year, anyone who wanted to use the bathroom had to go to a nearby brewpub. Eventually, the Kearbeys stopped paying rent altogether and were forced to leave when the city realized they didn't have the necessary permits.

"[Before] our last show, the power got cut off to the building, so we had to go into the basement and run a 100-foot extension cord from a light socket to the main level," says Jason Kearbey. "The whole show was powered from that!"

The Looney Bin was located next to a redneck nudie bar in the north part of town. "A guy got murdered behind the joint," says Harper, a Looney Bin co-proprietor. "I never had the balls to go in there."

Despite the dodgy locale, Ded Bugs member Matt Bug recalls being impressed upon playing there in 1997. "At that point we'd only released one album, and it was just a small show, but what I remember most is the enthusiasm of the kids we met," says the vocalist and guitarist for the DeSoto pop-punk mainstays. "Bright kids with easy smiles. I was surprised, and probably a bit taken aback, that we were received so well and that anyone even knew our music."

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