February 24, 2018

The Soc Hop(s) rocked

Roger Calkins (center) and the Fabulous Silver Tones at the original Soc Hop.

If it was not the Kansas City area’s earliest and most consequential rock club, The Soc Hop was certainly one of them.

Created in 1960 in an old cattle barn near the northwest corner of 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue, The Soc Hop was part of the transformation of Johnson County, Kan., from rural to suburban. (Click on map/business card below right and all thumbnail photos on this page to enlarge.)

The owners of the original Soc Hop had these business cards with maps made.

It was the creation of brothers-in-law Mike Weaver and Ed Bowers, who saw it as both a money-making opportunity and a place for their seven teenage children and their peers to have some fun.

They transformed the barn into a club that packed in teens by the hundreds to dance to the blues-rockin’ house band, Roger Calkins and the Fabulous Silver Tones.

The barn's last incarnation -- a restaurant.

The fun at 95th and Metcalf lasted just two years, however. The Soc Hop predated the city of Overland Park, having gained a two-year operating permit from Mission Township. OP denied them renewal in 1961.

The partners didn’t miss a beat, though, turning the former Silver Spur Country Club at 8940 Quivira Road in Lenexa into a new Soc Hop by the summer of 1962.

The new Soc Hop opened in Lenexa in 1962.

Based around a swimming pool complex, the new Soc Hop also contained a barn-like auditorium with a stage and wooden dance floor, plus an outdoor stage.

The crowds followed the proprietors to the new Soc Hop, but so did some of the problems with crowd control. That and a broken filtration system that closed the pool during the summer of 1963 spelled doom for the second Soc Hop after just two seasons.

Ad for COYAS Castle

The place had once last hurrah when auto salesman Clair Beeman reopened it in 1967 as COYAS Castle. COYAS was an acronym for Club of Young Americans. But again, the club lasted only a couple of seasons.

So, did you attend a dance at The Soc Hop or COYAS Castle? What bands did you see? What was it like? Please leave a comment below.

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.

An epitaph for Epitaph

Epitaph co-owners Jeff Gladhart and Rachel Burch Williams.

Rachel Williams made these matchbooks.

An ad from 1988

Epitaph, 11 E. 31st St., was the apotheosis of punk in Kansas City. Shabby-chic, tragically hip and infused with art-student sensibilities, the bar was a stone’s throw from VFW Post #18 but miles from that scene’s hardcore aesthetic. Black lights made the blue martinis served by bartender Rubber Robbin glow even more devilishly.

No doubt, though, it was Epitaph’s blood red and evil

Rachel on the bar at Epitaph

The bathroom at Epitaph

black color scheme and its gothic iconography of crosses and crowns that drew Christian picketers to the corner of 31st and Walnut streets a few times during its two-year lifespan, 1986-88.

While there is no shortage of conjecture, the real motive of the arsonist who burned the place down may never be public knowledge. In any case, the spot where Epitaph stood at the base of the KCMO/KCTV

Halloween Party patron

tower is today a parking lot used by Public Television station KCPT.

Halloween Party patron

However, thanks to Jeff Gladhart and Rachel Williams, the Kansas City Art Institute grads who founded Epitaph and Archaic Smile clothing and who now live in New Orleans, we can go back for a Halloween party circa 1987. As I recall it, the soundtrack would include stuff like Love and Rockets, Phillip Boa, Depeche Mode and Wolfgang Press.


Jeff as a skeleton

Patrons in costume for Halloween