Misfit Revolution

The guitarist for kansas City ock band The Large plays to a crowd on Sept. 11 at the URT

The guitarist for kansas City ock band The Large plays to a crowd on Sept. 11 at the URT

Melissa Dunson

Dark guardian angel of the local music scene, the Underground Revolutionary Theatre is sworn to protect the purity of underground culture.

“We’re just kids trying to support what we think real music should be,” said Jeremy Smart, 20, Webb City.

More than the only remaining all ages rock music venue in Joplin, the URT is providing a family for outcast kids, expanding minds and in the process, raising the cultural IQ of the area.

“We wanted to try and bring culture to the town,” said Jonathan Cowan, 20, Austin, Texas. “I mean, there’s nothing to do here except bowl.”

The idea for the venue originated in Smart, and friends Justin Wesson and Josh Mullen, both 19, of Webb City. The three shared a love of theater and music. Finding nowhere to satisfy their aesthetic cravings, they created their own cultural community. In the 1990’s, music magazines named Joplin the eighth best place to play underground music. Smart and his comrades wanted to return the title to Joplin.

The new venue features hardcore, punk, goth and disco music along with poetry readings and open-mic nights.

“In the beginning, we didn’t want this to be about one style,” Smart said. “We wanted something for every style of music and person. At open mic nights all ages showed up. We had 40 and 50-year-olds getting on stage.”

This labor of love comes with a price. Rent, utilities, sound and light equipment and band fees cost far more than the $3-5 per person a show the URT makes.

“Everyone who’s involved in this is in debt from it,” Smart said. “We lose money every month. If we get lucky, we break even.”

The lack of emphasis on money fits alongside the rest of the URT clan’s philosophy of family and freedom.

“We have to make enough money to pay the bands and eat, but we don’t view people as their functions but as people,” said Jordan Metcalf, 20, Webb City, another founder. “A lot of places look at people for what they can do for them, and we don’t. We’re as close as you can get to a French philosophy system.”

Crowds of young people are drawn to this philosophy of the local movement, and the founders that seem to live it so well. The resulting environment is less like an entertainment venue and more like a family.

“It’s turned more into a home and a family,” Cowan said. “First time I came here, someone asked what I could do. I said, anything you want me to do.”

This is especially helpful for those feeling misunderstood or outcast.

“A lot of the people who come in here are the black sheep of society,” Smart said. “But those are the same people who come when everything is falling apart and they’re the ones sweeping our floors.”

Jennifer O’Donnell, 18, Oregon, looks at the URT as her sanctuary and a way to get people involved and keep kids off of the streets.

“Its an outlet for all of my frustrations,” she said.

Not everyone sees the URT’s mission as glorious. Zombie Fest, a music festival normally held during the summer at The Cesspool, sparked a local controversy that eventually resulted in The Cesspool closing.

Zombie Fest was rescheduled at The URT. Some parents and church members were unhappy with the scheduled bands’ messages, including a band named Satan is God. News coverage including several appearances on the front page of The Joplin Globe only increased the event hype. In the end, fewer than 100 people showed up for the festival.

“We beat out Bush and the West Nile Virus, and it was nothing,” Cowan said.

The founders of The URT find the demonizing hard to understand and several consider themselves devout Christians.

“We don’t really mind, because everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and that’s what we stand for,” Smart said, “But we ask everyone to give us a chance.”

Some do give them a chance. In the past, youth groups have come to concerts and befriended the venue’s regulars. For one show, the URT did not have any monitors. Cowan called a church pastor he knew, asked for help and was allowed to borrow the church’s sound equipment.

“We have some who hold giant crosses in front of the building and tell us we’re evil,” Cowan said. “And then we have church pastors who come in and read poetry and talk with us. There’s always going to be people who won’t understand, but when they do, they try to help us out however they can.”

To help perpetuate their dream, the founders are moving the venue from 16th and Main to 12th and Wall in October. The new building will be twice as large as the current location, air conditioned, more accommodating parking and away from residential property. The new location will officially open Oct. 1, but Smart hopes to schedule concerts before that date. The new building will offer a wider variety of events including dueling shows, acoustic music, jazz, comedy and poetry readings.

Smart recently moved to Springfield and hopes to open another URT sometime next summer.