The Districts, a four-man, indie-rock group from Pennsylvania, had just finished playing the Old Rock House on October 15 when its tour manager called the band over to share some bad news. Sometime during its 40-minute gig that evening, a thief (or possibly thieves) busted the driver's side lock on the band's tour van and nabbed hundreds of dollars worth of personal gear. The list of stolen items included a GPS device, a duffel bag of clothes, an iPod, a power inverter and a phone charger.
For the Districts, the news had the disagreeable familiarity of déjà vu. Just four months earlier the band was making a brief pit stop in St. Louis between shows in Indianapolis and Columbia when thieves targeted the same van. Only that time crooks stole the entire vehicle from a gated lot across from City Museum. Police recovered the van twenty days later — June 27 — near Fairground Park. Missing from vehicle was all of the Districts' musical instruments, personal effects and cash from the band's recent concerts.
Now the band was back in St. Louis and once more victims of crime.
"It felt like you just made dinner, sat on the couch and dropped it on the floor by accident," comments drummer Braden Lawrence of last month's incident at the Old Rock House.
And it wasn't as though the band's members were careless about their van during that October show. They placed a lock on the steering wheel. They drew the blinds on the van's windows so passersby couldn't see the contents inside. And they made sure the parking lot had an attendant.
"Our manager was there and went out to check like three times during our set. Plus the venue guard was there, so we thought we'd be fine," continues Lawrence in an email from London where the Districts was touring earlier this month.
Brian McCormac, manager and talent buyer at the Old Rock House, confirms that a parking-lot attendant was watching the Districts' van as well as another tour bus parked that night outside the club at South Seventh and Hickory streets.
"Literally, [the guard] was on one side of the vehicles, and I guess [the thieves] snuck up Sixth Street and hit the side he wasn't on," says McCormac, who estimates that the break-in took just fifteen seconds to complete.
The Districts' experience in St. Louis is not an uncommon one lately. Since May, at least twelve touring bands have had their vans broken into during visits to the Gateway City. The victims include Nashville metal act Yautja, whose members had passports and cash stolen from their van outside Schlafly Tap Room on October 11. A month earlier, Texas emo band Mineral lost thousands of dollars worth of equipment and cash when its van was broken into September 16 following a show at the Firebird. Five days before that, the Iowa-based folk-wave duo Field Division had its van broken into twice in the same night while parked outside Plush. The list goes on. And while the artists, genres and venues vary, the crime itself has the familiar punch of a three-chord hook: Vans with out-of-state plates are getting hit repeatedly outside downtown and midtown clubs.
It's a trend that some club owners say is already taking a toll.
"I've talked to booking agents who've said, 'I just got told by a band: Don't book me in St. Louis,'" says Mike Cracchiolo, owner of midtown club the Firebird. "That's going to put people out of business."
Spose, a hip-hop artist from Maine, is already one musical act who has sworn off St. Louis. The day after an October 19 show at the Firebird, he was eating lunch at Pappy's Smokehouse when a thief broke into his van in broad daylight and made off with musical equipment, a camera, an iPad, cell phones, multiple laptops and — worst of all — external hard drives containing music for his next albums.
"We were in the restaurant for 30 minutes. And they essentially took my job, all the work I had done for the past two years building up to 2015," wrote Spose in a Facebook screed that went viral. "There's no amount of likes or comments that'll bring anything back, I just wanted to let the people who robbed us know FUCK YOU and let our fans know I'll be performing the next few shows with limited resources on this tour." (Sympathetic fans later contributed $18,420 to a crowd-funding campaign to help Spose replace his stolen gear.)
Spose also wrote that the October 19 show would be his last in St. Louis.
"If you wanna see me perform in the future come to Chicago or something, cuz St. Louis is dead to me."
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