Episode Eleven: Rocky McIntire & DIY Virginia Punk Houses
Since the genre began, punk music has held strong to the ethos of doing it yourself, or DIY for short. Very few punk bands make a living playing this music, it wasn’t commercially viable even before the recording industry was hollowed out by the rise of streaming services. Venues for aggressive music exist in cities with big enough scenes to support them, but in most of America these established venues are few and far between. This is where the DIY ethos shines, and how houses become DIY venues.
Pat Jarrett, from the Virginia Folklife Program, began documenting DIY punk house venues in 2021. Playing shows and experiencing live music with his peers is a connection he’s nurtured since adolescence, and he’s never known life without that connection. Jarrett’s photos are on display with an essay by Harrisonburg’s Grant Penrod (from the band Crab Action) at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach as part of their group show, More Than Shelter, until February 5, 2023.
In this episode of Folklife Fieldnotes, Pat shares sound he recorded at a variety of house venues in Virginia, along with an interview he did featuring Rocky McIntire who runs Cactus Crypt, a DIY house venue in Stephens City.
** Bands Featured In This Episode**
Trapp Hill Collision (Stephens City); Crab Action (Harrisonburg); Lacking (Fredericksburg); Goat Piss (New Jersey); GWAR (Richmond)
Pat Jarrett: So I've been going to a lot of basement shows lately. I've been working on a project about house venues in Virginia. A lot of punk and metal bands play in basements and play in houses. Because of Virginia's unique liquor license laws and beer license laws, you really can't have bars like we had in Cleveland growing up. In Cleveland, they're just bars with stages and they were open, they sold booze, they sold beer, and they had bands on stage and that was it. But in Virginia, you need to be able to sell food. So what that does is it forces a lot of these bands into DIY spaces and those are house shows.
Harrisonburg was a hotbed of house show activity for years - still is. So Harrisonburg has JMU and it hasn’t always been the JMU that people know today. The downtown wasn't always what it was. There hasn’t always been venues. So I remember when I first moved here, people were talking about the house shows here in Harrisonburg. Grant Penrod, who is the front man of the punk band Crab Action, gave me a whole history of growing up here in Harrisonburg. Grant told me that they were probably about a dozen houses that were active at any time when he was growing up in the 80s and 90s and he was a skater going to shows.
One of the longest-running in Harrisonburg is Crayola House and it has been active since the 90s which in house venue years is equivalent of an ancient artifact. This is like the Roman Colosseum having NASCAR races. Some of these houses in Harrisonburg would be active for a semester. They might be active for sometimes a show. As always, and is still the case, you have to know to know - you have to be part of the scene, the going phrase on the flyers is always “ask a punk for the address.”
I talked to Rocky McIntyre up in Stephens City at the Cactus Crypt.
Chris Boros: The cactus Crypt is one of these houses?
PJ: Yeah, the Cactus Crypt is his venue. And the thing that he talks about is punk is a youth movement and the kids need a place to go.
Rocky McIntyre: There's a lot of love for music around here, but the metal scene is much more active. There's always shows going on at Blue Fox, but the punk scene doesn't crossover because it's a younger crowd and they can't get into those venues, simply by not being 18. There are definitely kids in this area that want to experience live music and punk rock, and they want to embrace it, but kind of the only chance they really get to is when something happens at the Bright Box. It's like a big thing. It's a big deal. When Destructor Disc did their show there, I think 270 something people showed up to it. And they were all under 20. People would show up. It's just they need a place to show up to. Punk is a youth driven movement. We have 14, 15 year old kids coming to our shows here. That's awesome but that wouldn't happen when we're playing at a bar. It's going to be an older crowd and a crowd that's probably not really into punk rock either.
CB: Explain to me what is a house punk concert? What is it like when you go to the Crayola House?
PJ: Well, first of all, a concert is a pretty formal term. It’s a show. They're advertised - back in the day it was flyers, you hung up at the record store. You put them at the skate shop. Now a lot of it is on social media but you kind of have to know. Now there's a note that says DM for the address. Send a direct message for the address and that's so that you can be screened. We’ll check you out.
CB: It's almost like needing the password at a speakeasy.
PJ: It kind of is, man.
CB: Pat sent me!
Rocky: It's pretty hard for younger musicians to have a place to thrive because they can't play at the Blue Fox or Granny's. They can't go to shows there and booking at Bright Box is hard. Now that we have the space and we can just throw whatever shows we want, I can plan shows that we're not playing, I can focus on that stuff so that the bands can just focus on playing. They don't have the stress of having to set up their own PA and run their own sound.
PJ: Over the past year, I’ve been photographing different houses around Virginia and surrounding areas. What I found out is that these places not only serve the bands, but it also acts as an incubator because the people that go to house shows are enthusiastic about the music. They know what they're getting into and they are more likely to talk to their friends about a band they saw at a house because they're passionate about it. It's kind of twofold the benefit of these small spaces. And a lot of these bands that will fill basements, you'll see them at clubs and people will be like, we're did all of these people come from? This is the first time they're on our stage. How are they filling the place up? And it's because they were selling out basements.
CB: Do people live at the Crayola house?
PJ: Yeah, these are residences. And so you have to take some precautions. There's a lot of trust and there's a lot of respect that comes along with inviting strangers into your house to see punk music.
CB: I never thought of it that way, that you really are inviting people you don't know into your home, there has to be a lot of trust.
PJ: There's a lot of trust and you see that. I went to a house in Takoma Park, Maryland, called Hell. It was one of the most radically accepting and loving places I've ever been. The community was so tight. I've never heard the phrase “I love you” more outside of a family gathering than I did at Hell that night. These communities, they really are communities, support each other. It's really full of love and acceptance and it's a great place for the weirdos and the punks to go to express themselves. It's awesome.
CB: It seems like this community, they need a space like this to express themselves.
PJ: That's it. Because a lot of the music is very extreme. And people need a place to go to express themselves and these DIY spaces provide that.
Rocky: We are sitting at the Cactus Crypt in Stephens City, Virginia. There was a flyer I saw for these two bands that were playing a show. One of the bands was called the Cryptkeeper 5 and the other band was called White Cactus and the way it was laid out the words cactus and crypt were next to each other and I saw it and something just clicked and I was like, that’s the name. The Winchester scene is really interesting because there is both a punk and a metal scene. But metal really dominates because the metal scene exists in the bars around here. Blue Fox and Granny’s are like the bigger spots around here and then there's another venue called the Bright Box where anyone can book. That's where a lot of the punk bands play. Yeah, it's kind of weird how it's divided because all the metal bands play in the bars and stuff and punk bands don't really do that because most of the bars are 18 and up around here. So kids really can't go to shows.
CB: We've heard from some people that rock is dead. But it makes me feel good knowing there's kids who are still rocking.
PJ: I feel the same way. Chris, the kids are alright. I really love what Rocky is doing. He's a young man. He's in his early 20s but he really understands that the punk community is young and they got to have a place to go to experience it. In some regards, Chris, you're right. Rock is dead. You think about major stadium tours.
CB: You can go to a stadium and see a huge bad but you're not there. You're not four feet from the stage, you’re not in a sweaty basement with other people that look like you and love what you love. You paid 250 bucks for that ticket. That's not rock.
PJ: No, no. And who can afford it? I can't afford a 250 dollar ticket right now, and this is why I like going to small basement venues and small clubs. That's the real experience. That's where Rock and Roll lives is in these small basements. That’s where punk lives, is in these basements.
Rocky: I want this place to be a creative space for the bands that don't really have room in the bigger scene around here. They don't have much of a creative outlet. It's become increasingly harder for the smaller punk bands to get out and do stuff. So that's what I want to bring here.
CB: It's so great to know that punk still lives. And it's interesting that you say it's a young movement because when I think of punk, I think the late 70s.
PJ: When I go to these shows, a lot of times I'm the old man of the show and I'm okay with it. This is music that has been part of my life since I heard it when I was in 8th grade. It was about the age where Rocky met his bandmates and started playing bass in his bands.
Rocky: I was in eighth grade. I was not an athletic as a kid, but I would do the stats for the basketball team. So I was always around that crowd and the basketball coach introduced me to Pantera at the private Christian school I went to. So we would roll up to basketball games listening to Cowboys From Hell and that was how I got into heavier music.
PJ: I think people are reticent to classify this as folk music or folk traditions, right? But if we think to bluegrass, it is considered folk music but it was invented in the 1960s, 10 years before punk. So if we think about it like that, what's to say that punk music isn't folk music, it's a community expression. And I would argue that the communities that I've seen here in Virginia are stronger than a lot of other artistic communities anywhere.
Rocky: My parents and grandparents used to take me to bluegrass festivals and stuff around here because it’s the Shenandoah Valley - there's a ton of bluegrass and Appalachian music. So I went to so many and I was so young, but my family appreciated music because they would take me and do stuff like that. I think my dad's dad played guitar but not like prolifically - kind of just as a hobby. He wasn't trying to be a musician. He was trying to be cattle farmer.
CB: I wonder if back in the day people looked at Bill Monroe as a punk because he had started this music that wasn't the norm and he probably upset some people.
PJ: Well I can't help but think about Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. Plugging in. He certainly made people mad. In order to continue artistic expression, you got to make a couple people mad. And I think that some of the most extreme music I've heard has been in houses and it's got me rethinking what music is in these communities and I love it. I think it's great.
Rocky: A lot of what I'm doing here is inspired by both the Crayola House in Harrisonburg - that opened my eyes to the DIY scene here in Virginia and then GWAR, because when GWAR started out it was this artist community in an abandoned milk bottling plant. People would live there. People would do art gallery shows there. Punk rock bands were rehearsing in the corner to an audience and that's where Dave Brockie started Death Piggy and met the filmmakers who wanted to make Scumdogs of the Universe. And eventually led to the creation of Slave Pit studios which is where they make all their props, they have their own studio where they can record, they rehearse there. That's what I want this place to be, I want it to be everything that Trapp Hill Collision needs to flourish creatively. And then to extend that to the other bands of the community. I want art to thrive here.
CB: I was really excited to hear him mention GWAR because I interviewed Dave Brockie years ago backstage at the Agora in Cleveland. It was me and Dave Brockie, who is passed away now - he was the lead singer of GWAR and played Oderus Urungus in the band. And there I was, sitting with Dave Brockie, surrounded by GWAR costumes. And he talked about the DIY aspect of the art he creates.
Dave Brockie: Slave Pit is the production company we've had now for over 12 years. We do all our own merchandise and all our video production. We record our records in house. We have our own studio. It's a very David Koreshian kind of compound - big barbed wire fence around it, underground passages, heavily-armed, lots of dogs. We're waiting for the day they try to come in and try to take us out. We won't go any way other than boot first. We wanted to make something that was very edgy and surreal and not cool, not cool at all. The idea was never to be a big hit, the idea was never to be a big success. Our idea of success was to fulfill our ideas of what we wanted to be as artists.
PJ: GWAR is so DIY. They did everything.
CB: They're almost the originators in a lot of ways of this esthetic.
PJ: Certainly. And GWAR didn’t work in D.C.
CB: Richmond, Virginia.
PJ: GWAR worked in Virginia.
Dave Brockie: We knew we were artists, whatever. We didn't want to make a big deal about it. In many ways, GWAR was a reaction against the formalized art school academy trip that a lot of these instructors want to get you involved with. Art is only for the elite, cartoons aren't art, horror isn't art, fantasy isn’t art, whatever. In many ways GWAR was a way for us to fire back at our professors.
PJ: GWAR wouldn't exist without the community support. And you can hear that.
CB: And they are a collective. I'm not sure what it’s like now with Slave Pit.
PJ: I talked with Bob Gorman, he manages Slave Pit with Margo. They are working in the shop all the time and he told me that GWAR at its core is an art collective and it wouldn't be that without the community. That's Virginia punk.
CB: If there's one thing you want people to get out of the GWAR experience, what is it?
Dave Brockie: That they are masters of their own destiny, that they have the ability to do anything they want with our lives. We were a bunch of pimply-faced art school students. And somehow, we took from chaos the material to create what I believe one day will be hailed as one of the most important rock n roll bands in history. And we did it with creativity and hard work, and a lot of really talented people. And I hope that inspires people to follow their dreams because you really feel like as you go through the educational system, they try to crush that out of you. They really want you not to try to do that so you can just go be a little corporate cob and work at Kinkos. You can you can follow your dreams and they will take you places like the belly of the world maggot.
PJ: I've been all around the state and I feel like I'm just scratching the surface. There's something here, there's something DIY, from Norton to Fredericksburg to Stephens City to Richmond to Norfolk. There are venues hidden in plain sight and it's beautiful. A lot of these guys come from different music scenes. Rocky met the members of his band Trapp Hill Collision in the praise band at church, and that's such a Valley thing.
Rocky: Three of the current members of Trapp Hill Collision, we all went to a private Christian High School together, Mountain View Christian Academy. Trevor and I were in the worship band at our school together. So every Wednesday we had chapel as part of our electives and Trevor and I would do the music for that. And then my roommate, Jeb, was going to this other church, and he was on the worship team there. And then we started trying to push into more of a Christian metal direction. We were covering Skillet and Thousand Foot Krutch and Red. And then sneaking some other stuff in there like A Day To Remember. And then, one practice, we learned Dig Up Her Bones by The Misfits and we are like all right, this is what we want to do. So from then we kind of transitioned out from the Christian worship and Christian metal kind of thing and became more of a horror punk band. I would still consider myself a Christian. I don't think of myself as a judgy Christian. I want people to be people, but I do believe in God.
CB: How many people do you think are like Rocky? For you and me, this is normal, we like metal, but we also like bluegrass. Is that normal for these punk guys? Do you think they listen to lots of different music like you and I do, or are they punk and that's it?
PJ: I'm going to flip that question on its head because I'll tell you what, I've had a lot of conversations with old-time and bluegrass musicians about their favorite punk bands and their favorite metal bands. There's a big crossover between drone metal and old-time music, I can kind of see the connection, but I was surprised. A lot of punk musicians really enjoy that hard driving bluegrass and hard driving old-time dance music. The best thing about the punk scene is that you can come as yourself. So if you're really into bluegrass and you really want to show up in your finest cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat, as long as you're accepting of other people, you'll be accepted. And so I think that there are plenty of people like Rocky, but also there are plenty of bluegrass and old-time musicians that are a lot like Rocky that you wouldn't think.
CB: Do each of these houses have their own identity? Meaning does the Crayola House cater to one type of punk and then another house, maybe it's more hardcore? Or isn't it like that?
PJ: It's kind of like that. But the thing that links them more than anything else is that they’re DIY venues. Something interesting that Grant Penrod was telling me – Grant being the lead vocalist of Crab Action and somebody called him the godfather of punk in Harrisonburg, which I truly believe. He was saying that when he was coming up there were different scenes around different houses and sure there were disagreements here and there, but the scenes weren't big enough to really have rivalries. The hip-hop guys and the indie rock guys, and the metal guys all playing a show together because they was scarcity. And so these houses came up out of necessity for places to make music.
CB: When you're in a basement at one of these houses, what's the show like? Are there lights? How unprofessional is it?
PJ: There are lights, a lot of times it’s Christmas lights. There's sound. Sometimes it's rudimentary. I've got this great photo of Rory, he's a friend of mine from Fredericksburg, running sound at Crawlspace. He's kneeling at the soundboard that is right next to the hot water heater.
CB: And we have this picture on the Folklife Fieldnotes website for this episode. You can check it out.
PJ: Yeah, and that photo is also on the walls of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art with some of the other photos and they will be up until February. Each one of these houses has, you can feel the connectivity. I felt a little bit out of place because I was the new guy and some of these people are really accepting and they showed up to the gallery opening in Virginia Beach. A lot of them did and I felt really embraced. The community support is what it's all about and I feel honored to share in this community expression.
I made a portrait of Rocky in Cactus Crypt where you can definitely see that he lives there. It's interesting to think that this is also a venue because he's sitting on his bed, he's got a Godzilla poster in the background. It looks like my room when I was in my 20s.
CB: Your room today.
PJ: All right, you're right, you're absolutely right.
CB: And that picture is also on the website.
PJ: And it’s also at the Virginia MOCA. The lyrics of that song they close with is “nobody likes you, that's why we like you.” And that's kind of the ethos of these houses. Are you a misfit? Do you not quite fit in with the mainstream? Are you a little bit weird? Let's hang out.