Teenage Riot

For a new all-ages scene, rock & roll can't wait

There might be more money in bars, says Rehbein, but there's less transacted. "It sounds kind of cornball," he says, "but when I was 16 and sometimes shit sucked and you didn't really understand the world around you, you had music."

Standing in the 7th St. Entry and watching the other bands, Rehbein and the rest of Small Towns are dressed in keeping with the concert's advertised theme: a rock tribute to Wet Hot American Summer, the cultish 2001 film about 1981. Rehbein, who was two years old that year, wears a vintage jogging suit and fat headband. Bassist Ryan Traster, 23, wears tube socks, a T-shirt reading "I never claimed to be perfect, just very good," and skimpy running shorts. "As long as I don't get a boner onstage, I'll be fine," he says.

When Gloria, the fourth band, kick into their song "The Quickest Way to a Man's Heart Is Chuck Norris's Fist," Small Towns bound onto the stage and sing along, jumping up and down. "Tommy, that headband is all kinds of you," says Gloria's singer.

These bands all know each other and share equipment and friends between them. "There's a lot of camaraderie in Minneapolis that you don't see in other cities," says new Small Towns drummer Josh McKay, 21, who has been saddled with the nickname "Newbs."

"People jokingly refer to Minneapolis as 'the family,'" adds Jaci Howart, his fiancée.

At 7:30 p.m., with the venue sold out, Small Towns finally take the stage for their own set. Confident in his quintet's new music—culled from a bracing forthcoming sophomore full-length due out on a label-to-be-determined this fall—26-year-old singer Danny Wolf tosses his hair and wails right on key. He has Bono's unembarrassed abandon, and the band has previously acknowledged its U2 fandom, dressing up as the group for Halloween (albeit with a second Edge, guitarist Joel Trowbridge). Inevitably, other musicians come up to participate, and the three "Pat" fans on the floor beam as Pat Brown himself takes the second vocal part on "Alias: The Beekeeper."

When the song is done, Brown leaps out from the back of the stage, elated, his thumbs busy on his tiny flat phone. He's already texting his girlfriend out in the crowd.

The band name Small Towns Burn a Little Slower, coined by original singer Jeff McIlvenna, proved fitting for the various Newbs who succeeded him: All the band's members, including Iowa native Wolf, hail from small towns or suburbs. But the title also seems widely prophetic: Small-town rock has begun to catch up to cities, to the point that a house in Austin, Minnesota, recently hosted 25 punk bands from across the nation. Punks have made the commute from the country to the city since the '80s, but the notion of doing the reverse is relatively new.

The day after the Entry show, an all-ages club called the Vault hosts its grand opening one hour's drive away, in the cobblestoned, lakeside town of Buffalo, Minnesota. The show draws kids from Minneapolis and beyond for 15 punk bands—including a few national Christian ones picked up from the SonShine festival, held the day before in Willmar ("Cheaper than SonShine," trumpets the Vault poster). Looking a little like a young Buddy Bradley from Hate comics, Vault co-owner Bobby Olson, 20, folds his arms outside the white-brick venue, looking on as police disperse the punk-looking fans emptying out of a set by Duluth's No Wings to Speak Of.

The cops say they've received a loitering complaint and are enforcing the law in question, which came onto the books the last time somebody started an all-ages club here, the government-funded (and now discontinued) Cafe 22 up the street. To avoid citations, Olson asks ticket buyers to take a walk for the 15 minutes between sets, and many head to the nearby grocery store.

"I was a kid, too," says one of the buzz-cut police officers in shades, shaking his head at one young man's T-shirt, which reads, "I GIVE NO FUCKS."

"That's his statement. But this is downtown Buffalo, not Minneapolis."

Soon the police disappear, and a distant siren follows them. "See, now they've got a more important call," says Olson. "So they can stop bugging us."

Idyllic towns such as Buffalo will have to get used to DIY rock shows as a commonplace occurrence: There are now nonprofit and for-profit all-ages venues featuring amplified music in Shakopee (the Enigma), Stillwater (the Firewall, next to the Salvation Army's skate park), St. Cloud (Cheap Thrills), Northfield (the Key), Morris (the Common Cup), Brainerd (the Eclectic Cafe), Duluth (the Knockout and the Encounter), Rogers (Showcase Skatepark), Hudson, Wisconsin (the Coffeehouse Live), and La Crosse, Wisconsin (the Warehouse). The local suburban models for many of these organizations are the Garage in Burnsville and the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, which are run by many of the same young people going to shows.

"The intention was never to be a music venue," says Garage manager Eric Billiet, 35, who helped open the gym-sized club in 1999, initially as part of an all-around teen center housed across the street from a police station. "It just happened that the diverse groups that came here, whether they're African American or Latino or punks or Goths, they found something in common with music. We really just used music to do education about democracy—the process is the focus, not the product."

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