October 23, 2017

Between two worlds

The Downliner (i.e., Plaza East bar), 4719 Troost Ave., in 1980, courtesy Banastre Tarleton.

The Downliner (i.e., Plaza East bar), 4719 Troost Ave., in 1980, courtesy Banastre Tarleton.

It is 1979
Troost Street, downtown KC,

Upstairs is the Tavern….
A down on the luck dive.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s blaring from the jukebox,
accompanied by the crunch of peanut shells
cracking under the pointy, scuffed boots
of Coors Light-drinking, red-necked cowboys in plaid collared shirts
alongside disheveled, skid-row drunks, their shoulders hanging over their cocktails,
all lining the bar like hopeless vultures,
Pool balls clacking under a blinking and buzzing fluorescent light and
an occasional drunken fist fight breaks out.

Just below in the basement is The Downliner, a bunker-like, concrete-walled punk club
stuffed and bursting with charged up, spiky, shaved, and Mohawk-headed boys, wearing band buttons on their leather jackets, or starched shirts and skinny ties, with safety pins through their ears, lips, and noses, posturing alongside bleachy blonde or jet black haired, tough girls, in torn tights, ripped tee shirts, tight jeans and stiletto heels. Off of someone’s mix cassette, Poly Styrene is screaming Oh Bondage Up Yours through the PA speakers.

And between these two worlds, just off the landing, is the green room.
Well, more like a closet jammed with a collection broken, old bar stools and peeling paint revealing a flowery wallpaper that fits neither the upstairs or downstairs online casino real money universes…
Between shots of Wild Turkey and cans of Budweiser,
We are busily crossing and uncrossing songs off our set lists which are scribbled onto crisp white sheets of blue-lined composition paper.
A sharp, striking knock rattles the worn wooden door. Someone pops his badly, shaven head
and bike-chained neck through the space between the door and frame and shouts
“Five minutes” and slams it back shut
We can hear chants, shouts, and stomps commanding us to play, an intoxicating, plodding, New York Dolls bass line, and crashing guitars, is exploding distortedly out of the speakers charging up from the basement, intertwining with something Johnny Cash drifting down, down, down, from the Tavern above …

The Debs were Kris Garnier (G), (from left) Peggy Smith (D), Terry Cone (B) and Katie Coffman (G).

The Debs were Kris Garnier (G), (from left) Peggy Smith (D), Terry Cone (B) and Katie Coffman (G). Photo credit: Annette Weatherman


In her teens, Kris Garnier was a singer and guitarist of The Debs, a maverick all-girl band that toured the mid-west in the late 1970s. Over the years, she has morphed into a storytelling, songwriting, create-or-wilt, botanizing, photoholic. She studies Botany at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and co-produces StorySlams, a new-fangled variety show, out of her now hometown of Woodstock, NY. Check out her work soon at her currently under-construction www.krisgarnier.com

A punk progenitor

The building that once housed the Music Box, February 2012.

The birthplace of punk rock in Kansas City is coming down. Well, maybe not the birthplace, but the site of one of the earliest clubs to feature punk and new wave music, mainly by local bands, in a big way has an imminent date with the wrecking ball.

Ron Klaus (left) and John Nichols of the Embarrassment at the Music Box, 1981.

According to a story at kshb.com, the orange brick building on the southeast corner of 47th and Troost is coming down to make way for a new Ollie Gates shopping center. Lately, it housed a payday loan operation. But in 1981 it was the Music Box, where the cool kids gathered and bands like Duchamp, the Gear and Yardapes were in regular rotation.

The building that once housed the Music Box, summer 2011.

According to a Kansas City Star magazine cover story by Art Brisbane and Jo E. Hull (“Rock and Rebellion, Kansas City’s growing New Wave scene,” April 28, 1981) Music Box proprietors Craig and Pam Travitz booked punk bands into the basement of the Plaza East Tavern, 4719 Troost, calling it the Downliner, for nearly a year before they opened the Music Box a few doors to the north. In both places, they booked the progenitors of the local punk scene, as well as regional acts like Wichita’s Embarrassment (see photo here and previous post.), Springfield’s Morells and St. Louis’ Brown and Langrehr.

The building that housed the Downliner was torn down many years ago.

The Music Box

This little club at the southeast corner of 47th and Troost was the home of the punk movement in KC. Here are a series of photographs of Wichita’s great The Embarrassment playing there. Click on pix to embiggen. If you have memories of the Music Box, or its neighbor to the south a few doors, the Downliner, please share them by commenting below.

Guitarist Bill Goffrier, working hard. (All photos by Jo Stone)

'Ot and sweaty

Ron Klaus (bass) and John Nichols (vocals).

Scenester Eric Schindling (left) makes a point to Ron Klaus