You could make a lot of assumptions about the city of Wichita, KS. You could assume it’s a flyover state hellhole devoid of any culture or art, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. You could assume it’s a city full of hayseeds and rednecks who don’t take kindly to outsiders, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. You could assume there aren’t a lot of options for live music outside of country concerts…and you’d be almost right on the button.
There are others, however, who perform in our fair city time and time again—the dogged road warriors who tour relentlessly and build their following the old fashioned way, before YouTube hits made someone a celebrity without leaving their bedroom. When I think of who has played Wichita (country acts notwithstanding) more than anyone else, two names come to mind: rapper Tech N9ne from Kansas City (which practically makes him a local), and Dallas rockabilly legend Reverend Horton Heat.
RHH has played Wichita maybe six or eight times over the past decade. That may not sound like much, but as someone who’s spent the last ten years in the sunflower state pining for the old days when I could drive to LA or Las Vegas to see any concert under the sun, six or eight times in ten years is a lot. As for me, I’ve personally seen RHH at least eight times now in three different states, with three different drummers, but that hardly matters. No matter the circumstances, The Rev always puts on a fantastic show, and Saturday night at The Cotillion was no exception.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Reverend Horton Heat is that, as with a lot of bands who tour exhaustively, they end up playing with just about everyone, which makes for some especially eclectic shows. Over the years, RHH has played with everyone from traditional rockabilly and country acts to White Zombie and Motörhead. Which is to say it should’ve come as no surprise when RHH hit the road with ska/funk/punk heroes Fishbone.
Some may remember Fishbone from their early 90’s commercial peak with the release of The Reality of My Surroundings, featuring their only two singles to make the charts, Everyday Sunshine and Sunless Saturday. Some may also wonder what happened to them since then. It turns out Fishbone is doing just fine, thank you very much.
Fronted by original vocalist/saxophonist Angelo Moore (one of three original members still playing with the band), Fishbone took a somewhat lukewarm crowd and had them eating out of the palms of their hands by the end of their almost hour-long set. Opening with the aforementioned Sunless Saturday, Moore and company set the bar high for the energy level they had to sustain for the rest of the set—a bar they had no problem clearing, and then some. Moore is as entertaining and energetic a frontman as you’re likely to find. His exaggerated facial expressions and grandiose, frenetic body language was fun to watch and a blast to photograph.
With occasional help from a trusty roadie, Angelo switched from vocals to one of a myriad of different saxes with ease, even placing and re-placing the mic stand for his horn on cue every time. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the band sounded incredible. I spent the majority of the set planted in front of bassist and fellow original member Norwood Fisher, who laid down incredible grooves on an array of beautiful basses. By the end of closer Party at Ground Zero, the crowd was hyped and ready to testify.
Reverend Horton Heat, aka Jim Heath, has been cranking out his brand of rockabilly/punkabilly/psychobilly/whatever you want to put in front of “billy” since 1985, and has hardly let up since. Heath and his loyal sidekick/bass player Jim “Jimbo” Wallace were in the midst of recording a new album when previous drummer Scott Churilla decided to go his own way, leaving the band in a tight spot. Luckily, fate intervened in the form of fellow Texan Arjuna “RJ” Contreras, formerly of the terrific-yet-vastly-under-appreciated polka band (yes, that’s right) Brave Combo. He stepped in to record his parts for the album and was on the road touring before he knew what hit him. So would the new drummer change Reverend Horton Heat’s sound? Yes and no.
That’s because many of the songs in RHH’s set were classics and fan favorites. It would take some truly radical drumming to change the sound of set-opening instrumental Big Sky, or the dynamic push and pull of The Devil’s Chasin’ Me, but Contreras definitely has his own style, tinkering with certain drum parts and making them his own. Personally, I think RJ is a great fit for the band and I hope he has a permanent gig with the guys.
The Cotillion Ballroom is probably my favorite venue in Wichita, and possibly the Reverend’s too, as he proudly declared how happy he was to be “in Wichita, Kansas at The Cotillion on Friday night!” despite it being Saturday. He may have been joking (he repeatedly said it was Friday, possibly just to mess with the inebriated), but if he was really confused, it’s easy to forgive—this was their 23rd show in 29 days. I’m impressed he even knew what city he was in, but then, when you’re the hardest working man in rockabilly, I assume touring with nary a day off becomes old hat.
As it turned out, the show at The Cotillion marked the end of their month-long tour with Fishbone and Los Kung Fu Monkeys (the tour’s other support act, Strung Out, bowed out the night before in Peoria, Illinois), and they commemorated the end of the tour by having a huge jam session on stage with members of all three bands. At one point during Fishbone’s set, I even caught the Reverend himself standing three feet from me, taking pictures of the band on his cell phone. It was a great show, and the best part is that with a band that works as hard as they do, I can count on them coming back to town soon.
Side note: if you don’t believe the “hardest working man in rockabilly” claim, check out RHH’s Facebook page—they already have tour dates up for the entire month of October, featuring some shows with country swing and doo wop master Big Sandy, and the entire month of December, those shows being an amazing triple bill featuring roots rock legends The Blasters and country guitar virtuoso Junior Brown. If they’re coming to your town, I highly recommend checking them out. If not, don’t worry—there’s a good chance eventually the Rev will come to you.
I’ve been a Wichita resident for eleven years, and a metal fan for considerably longer. Until recently, those two things—being a metal fan and residing in Wichita—rarely intermingled, as live bands playing anything but country or classic rock were few and far between (Steve Miller Band, anyone?). There was the occasional metal show here and there, but not much in the way of a scene that people could support.
That may be starting to change.
In 2017, Wichita has seen shows by Mushroomhead, Cattle Decapitation, Superjoint, Amon Amarth, Hellyeah, Born of Osiris, and now, The Black Dahlia Murder. Combine that with the steady stream of shows full of local bands at smaller venues, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an actual scene.
The Crown Uptown is a gorgeous place. Although originally a movie theater when it was built in the 20’s (and dinner theater for years after), it seems almost custom made for concerts. As for TBDM show, turnout seemed a bit thin (blame the bad luck of having to book the show on a Sunday), although the fans who did show up were enthusiastic and appeared grateful to have another metal show in their town.
Kicking off the night was hometown act Parallax, playing a short but energetic set. Vocalist Trevor Rickett gave his all to try and pump up the crowd, with help from some vocal Parallax fans in attendance. The band was also shooting a video for a brand new song, so keep an eye out on social media for that one to drop.
Side note: Parallax is playing at The Elbow Room next month opening for Hed PE 09/22, so do yourself a favor and go see these guys while they’re still playing local shows—it may be only a matter of time before they’re touring nonstop and hardly ever home.
Betraying the Martyrs was up next, from Paris, France as a last minute replacement for Russian act Slaughter to Prevail. Their ultra heavy beats and growling vocals warmed everyone up, but the crowd was perhaps not ready for the occasional clean vocals and prominent keyboard parts that permeated the set.
At one point vocalist Aaron Matts urged the crowd to get moving and jump with the music, which the crowd did eagerly until the heavy riff they were jumping to gave way to keyboards and clean vocals, and the crowd lost their momentum. They’re a good band and they gave a tight performance, though by the end it I was thinking of them as “The THX band” due to the number of times their songs had beats drop like the THX surround sound intro that plays before a movie.
New Jersey’s Lorna Shore was up next, playing a short, tight set that was the first of the night to succeed in sustaining a circle pit for more than twenty seconds and consisting of more than two people. Closing with the title track off their newest LP Flesh Coffin, the band succeeded in loosening the crowd up for the remaining chaos yet to come.
Side note: Lorna Shore is returning to Wichita next month, opening for Miss May I at Rock Island Live 09/21. Don’t miss another chance to see this excellent band.
The final opening slot (in the disappointing absence of Dying Fetus from this stop of the Summer Slaughter tour) belonged to the crushing Oceano. Led by one of metal’s most guttural vocalists in Adam Warren, Oceano brought an intensity the previous bands lacked. In fact, Warren even issued a warning to a member of the crowd to properly channel his enthusiasm, after he sprayed Warren with water during the opening number. After a reminder from Warren that people at the front of the stage were vulnerable to face-level kicks from Warren if he were splashed any more, the crowd put an end to the shenanigans and put their energy into proper displays of enthusiasm like a frenetic circle pit and the evening’s first instances of crowd surfing. Oceano was the band I was most excited to see and they did not disappoint. They were brutally heavy, buzzing with electric energy, and had the crowd worked into a frenzy for the night’s headliners.
The Black Dahlia Murder capitalized on the crowd’s energy level and never let it drop throughout their hour-plus set. Running like a precision machine, TBDM cranked through song after song without sounding like they were rushing to get through their time on stage. Vocalist Trevor Strnad had a good rapport with fans, simultaneously joking around and keeping them buzzing between songs by encouraging them to keep the crowd surfing and stage diving going throughout the set, particularly among the females in attendance, who were up to the challenge.
TBDM closed with a brand new song, the title track from their upcoming LP Nightbringers, which was reminiscent of some of their most popular material. If that song is any indication, fans won’t be disappointed when the album drops in October.
Side note: Brian Eschbach had an absolutely insane guitar tone that made this guitarist and former member of metal and hardcore bands incredibly jealous.
It was a satisfying night of deathcore and extreme metal, with every band delivering in a big way. One can only hope that attendance was good enough to keep bringing metal acts to town and for a scene to develop. Time (and perhaps turnout at the upcoming D.R.I., Miss May I, and DevilDriver shows) will tell, but when crowds are as enthusiastic as this it’s only a matter of time before word spreads among fans and before you know it you have a thriving scene. May Wichita be so fortunate.
I never talked about my job much here on the blog, and that was generally for good reason: I didn’t like it. I had a steady, good-paying job, but I was absolutely miserable. I won’t go into it much, mostly because I still have friends there, but also because I worked for a large company that probably has an excellent legal team, and I don’t want any accusations of slander coming my way (half-joking). Suffice to say, it was time to find something else. So I did.
I recently started a job with my county’s Emergency Communications team. What’s that mean? For now, it means I take 911 calls. Eventually (as in, in the next few months), it’ll also mean dispatching Fire, EMS, and Police. That’s right—I’ll be sending first responders to active emergencies: building and house fires, car accidents, medical calls and crimes in progress. Me.
It’s a little surreal. There are connections to law enforcement through my family and one of my friends, but I never thought I’d be involved with anything like this. I just finished training and start the job in earnest this week. So far, I love it. It’s unpredictable, crazy, and—believe it or not—fun. Then there’s the people I work with: with a few exceptions, they’re a little bit mental, loud, obnoxious, funny, and incredibly vulgar. Even though I’m a little quieter than they are (for now, anyway), believe me when I say I’m among my people.
The final step in training before being thrown to the wolves was something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time: a 10-hour ride along with a police officer. I was going to go on a ride along with my deputy friend in California several years ago and it never happened before I moved to the Midwest. Then I inquired about doing it about a year ago, but I couldn’t make it work with my schedule. Now it’s finally happened. So how did my day with Wichita’s Finest go? Here’s how.
10:45am: Show up fifteen minutes early as instructed, only to be made to wait until after the squad meeting at 11:00 was done (I had been told I may get to attend the squad meeting—bummer). Around 11:10 my officer—who for the purposes of this post I’m calling ‘Jones’—grabs me so we can head out. Jones is a young guy; I would come to find out he’s around 23-24 years old, married with two small kids, was in the military (and is still technically enlisted), and says he basically just woke up one day and decided to check out going into law enforcement. He’s been an officer around three years, all of it on Wichita’s West side.
We proceed to get in the car and sit for several minutes while he checks to make sure he has all his equipment, then gets signed into the onboard computer. It takes forever, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Finally, somewhere around 11:20-11:30 we leave the station and begin heading southward. I’m listening to the police radio and looking at his computer to see what calls are holding, and I can’t figure out where we’re going. Finally he tells me we’re going back to his house because he forgot something he needed.
12:00pm: Respond to a domestic violence (DV) call. Jones knows the address, has been out there before. Another unit beats us there and already has the situation under control because, in the words of the other officer, she is a “crime ninja.” Jones spends a few minutes or so chitchatting with her, both officers in their cars, with me uncomfortably between them in the passenger seat of Jones’s car. Awkward.
Despite not having anything to drink since 8:30, I’m already starting to have to pee.
12:10pm: Leaving the DV call, Jones spots a flatbed truck that’s been parked in the same spot for several days. He checks it out and sees a tag has been taken off of it, and begins trying to get info on the truck to see if it’s stolen. A string of phone calls follow, until we are finally told the Highway Patrol will come out to take a look at it, and tow it if necessary. We are instructed to sit tight. It takes almost an hour for them to show up, then we find out a neighbor just bought the truck for his business but hasn’t registered yet.
My notes from 1:06pm: ‘Bored. Gotta pee.’
1:15pm: We’re on our way to assist on another DV when we get the call that the officer is in trouble. Jones hits the lights and sirens and punches it. For about 7 seconds we’re in TV-cop mode, sliding around a corner and tearing down a residential street, until the officer we were rushing to assist cancels the trouble call. He was busy with the people onscene and couldn’t hear his radio (if an officer doesn’t respond to dispatch after a certain length of time, it’s automatically a trouble call). Jones laughs and tells me that’s probably the only time we’ll ‘run hot’ all day. He’s right.
On scene at the DV: A young couple fighting. It’s just like an episode of COPS: On one side is a girl crying, holding a baby; on the other side is a guy with no shirt or shoes yelling at the woman for calling the cops. I go with Jones to the guy. Sounds to me like they’ve had lots of problems in the past but this particular incident might just be a big overreaction.
The guy has scratches on him, which I thought would mean the girl was going to jail, but they don’t take anyone—the girl says she and the baby will go to a shelter for the night, so one officer takes her home to get her stuff while Jones puts the guy in the back of our car (the girl took the baby and left their house while they were arguing, with the guy following after her—we were a couple blocks from where they actually lived when we showed up) for a ride back. The guy is very concerned that she’s going to take his video game console and his new pack of cigarettes. After a long wait, she emerges from the house and leaves for the shelter. Our guy hops out and runs in the house to make sure his PS3 and cigarettes are safe.
To be fair, he was almost in tears at one point out of concern for his baby; I’m not trying to paint him as a complete ass, but the video game/cigarette thing had me and Jones chuckling.
I still really have to pee.
2:00pm: Finally pee at a convenience store. We’re on our way to a call when the officer from the previous DV calls for assistance. We meet back up with him, and he informs us that the girl decided she doesn’t want to stay in a shelter after all, and wants to go back home. We follow to make sure there is no drama when she is dropped off. Both officers are fed up with the whole scenario.
2:15pm: Sears calls to advise they’ve detained a juvenile shoplifter. Jones sighs and says he gets tired of these calls, but since his beat includes the mall, they always fall to him. I see why he doesn’t like them. They’re fairly boring; just a lot of paperwork to do, plus transport to jail/juvenile hall. For me, though, it was pretty interesting.
***NOTE TO ANYONE CONSIDERING SHOPLIFTING FROM SEARS: THEY ARE WIRED UP LIKE A GODDAMN CASINO. YOU WILL BE CAUGHT.***
We walk through this little door by the back of the store that 99% of people probably don’t know is there and enter this small, dimly lit office where I see this:
These pictures don’t really do it justice; it really is like the command center for a casino or something. I watch the lady who works there as she sees someone she thinks looks suspicious, then in the blink of an eye has four different camera angles of them and can zoom in close enough to tell if they have dandruff. It’s incredible.
Through that office is a tiny little interrogation room, and there sits a very scared 16 year old girl, her oblivious three year old sister, and two extremely pissed off parents. Jones tells them where they can pick up their daughter and approximately how long it will take for booking, mug shot, fingerprinting, and processing. Dad debates on whether or not he wants to pick her up that day or leave her in Juvie overnight.
The parents leave and Jones begins filling out his report. At one point Jones reassures the girl that although she will be leaving in handcuffs, Jones will not “parade her up and down the mall first,” despite her father’s urging. It takes a while before we finally finish up there and get her transported her to Juvie.
4:00pm: Call of a “rolling disturbance.” In this case, a carload of teenagers driving down the street shooting fireworks out of their car at passing motorists. Despite hearing the make and model get broadcast over the radio, I don’t see the car. Jones does, though, and swings around to try and catch up to them. Alas, traffic is heavy and they duck into one of the neighborhoods off the main street we’re on. We drive around for about 10 minutes but never see them again.
4:37pm: Called to the scene of a non-injury accident. Boring, boring, boring. Both drivers are pretty cool, no arguments, info exchanged and everybody goes on their way. Jones said accidents are his least favorite part of the job, because they are boring (most of the time), usually avoidable (if people would just get off their phones and pay attention to the road), and very time-consuming. He’s right.
5:42pm: Back at the station for Jones to drop off evidence (a DVD of the security camera footage from Sears). It’s about time for the next shift to start, and Jones is anxious for them to get out there and take some of the waiting calls because he’s starving. The note I made while at the station: “hungry thirsty tired.”
6:00pm: Called to a neighborhood looking for a suspicious character: a man going door to door trying to sell people “cable upgrades,” who, according to the caller, didn’t look legit, even though he was wearing an AT&T shirt. Drove around a few minutes, didn’t find him.
6:36pm: Called to an accident on the main highway in town to help with traffic control. On the way Jones stops at his favorite Mexican place for some nachos, since the accident would provide a little downtime for him.
7:03pm: After getting through the maze of gridlocked cars on the highway, helping divert traffic, and getting vehicle info to start the impound process, Jones finally gets a few spare minutes while tow trucks are hooking up the wrecked cars and scarfs down his nachos like an animal—not that I blame him. He gets frustrated by things that take a long time, but he can’t help but laugh as we watch one of the most incompetent tow truck drivers I’ve ever seen hook up one of the cars. It takes a lot longer than it should.
7:49pm: Called to the mall again for two different crimes. One is disregarded after we cruise the parking lot and don’t see the vehicle we’re looking for. The other: three teenage shoplifters. Jones: “Aaaarrrrrggghhhhh!” He said sometimes when shoplifters are caught, they have merchandise from several stores on them. If all those stores want to prosecute, the paperwork goes up exponentially. Luckily, that’s not the case here.
We go in another little hidden door, this time at JC Penneys, and enter another little office/interrogation room. This time we find three 14 year old girls, not looking as scared as they really should, in my opinion. They giggle a little, ask questions, etc., and I have to hand it to Jones: he is actually quite cool to them. He makes sure they understand that they are indeed in trouble, under arrest, and going to juvie, but he doesn’t really preach to them (just a little). Since the paperwork will take until close to the end of shift, Jones calls for someone else to transport the girls to Juvie—enter Officer Hardass.
Officer Hardass apparently worked a long time on the drug task force and is quite a bit more serious than Jones, to put it mildly. He comes into the office and starts getting info from the girls to help speed things along.
Officer Hardass: “What’s your name?”
Shoplifter: “Veronica.” (not her real name)
OH: “Speak up.”
OH: “What’s your middle name?”
SL: “Um, I don’t know it.”
OH: “You’re fourteen years old and don’t know your own middle name?”
SL: “No.” (giggles, looks up at OH and smiles)
OH: “Don’t smile at me, you just committed a crime.”
This goes on for several minutes. It’s hard for me not to laugh, as I find this conversation hilarious.
We finish up and get back to the station around 8:45, where Jones has to gas up his vehicle before parking it. He has paperwork still to do from the shoplifters, but says it can wait until the next day. I thank him heartily, shake his hand and head home. It was a great day.
General Thoughts (based solely on my one day with this one officer):
Cop cars are driven hard.The constant hard braking (and I do mean hard braking), sudden accelerating, quick u-turns, etc. was hard to get used to. I can’t imagine how the cars hold up as well as they do.
Cops are people, too. I know that sounds corny, but despite Jones being a self-described “grouch” who “doesn’t really like people,” he was actually really nice to me (which he technically didn’t have to be), and really respectful to everyone he came in contact with. At our DV with the arguing couple he eventually calmed the guy down by talking about video games with him. There was a real transparency with him that impressed me; he was the same guy out of the car dealing with the public that he was in the car with me, for the most part.
Cops are extremely dehydrated. Jones started the day with a can of Mountain Dew, then filled up a fountain drink at the convenience store that lasted him the rest of his shift—not a drop of water all day. I didn’t drink any water (or any other beverages) either, because I didn’t want to have to pee all day (irony). I went home and drank about a gallon of water and still felt dehydrated. And I wasn’t even wearing a vest and all that other stuff, or, you know, doing anything.
Being able to pee whenever you want is a privilege I will never take for granted again.
Cops might be superhuman. I didn’t get any extra sleep the night before my ride along, but I wasn’t sleep deprived, either. By the time I got home from my ride along around 9 o’clock, I was exhausted. I drank a ton of water, ate something, and promptly started falling asleep in front of the TV by 10. And by cop standards, we had a slow day. I can’t fathom how they do it day in and day out, not to mention days when they get their adrenaline pumping like crazy.
All in all it was a great day, and if I get the chance to do it again I’ll certainly take it. And next time I’ll stop drinking fluids the night before.
When I was in Junior High/High School, the library was nothing more than the place that housed the encyclopedias and whatever else I might need to complete a research paper or other such project. I never appreciated the library for what it was—never saw its full potential. It didn’t help that the local branch, while a mere 2-3 minute drive from my house (also known as walking distance to the non-lazy), was old and run down, with a small selection of books. The library became less and less important as time went on, to the point that I thought they were all but obsolete.
After moving to the Midwest I never thought about the library once, until I started blogging. Among the blogs I started following was Eleventh Stack, run by the fine people at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (they don’t just blog about ‘library stuff’—it’s all things movies and music as well as books). Seeing one of their recent posts lit the light bulb over my head—Hey, yeah, libraries…remember those? I wonder if there are any still around. I looked up my local branch (which, while not walking distance is still very close) and decided to take a trip down to get my library card and have a look around.
I was less than impressed. It was much as I remembered the libraries I’d been to in the desert: small, old, and with a limited selection. After some thought, though, I decided to try again. My reasoning being that while my local branch was small, I do live in the largest city in my state, and surely the main branch would have more to offer. I located the central branch and went to check it out.
The building was impressively large from the outside and my hopes began to rise. I walked through the automatic doors into the atrium and my expectations were blown out of the water. The library is three stories in all, with a ground floor, upstairs, and basement level. I realize how silly this sounds, but I was kind of amazed by how vast the library was. Having only been in my small-town desert libraries years before and the local branch recently, this was incredible.
The bottom floor houses administrative offices and a Genealogy department, which I only poked my head in for a look around but did not actually enter. Another time. The top floor is dedicated to the arts and multimedia—CD’s, DVD’s, and books about art/artists, music/musicians, etc. I did a little more exploring here, and on my next trip I will definitely cover every square inch. This visit however, was dedicated (naturally) to fiction.
To be honest, for as large as the library is I expected there to be more fiction, but seeing as how this is the biggest library I’ve ever been to maybe my expectations were unrealistic. There was still a very large amount, split between general fiction, mystery, fantasy/sci-fi, and western. Now that I think about it, I didn’t see a section for romance—do most libraries have a romance section? It would seem like they should. Anyway, I perused the shelves and found books by just about every author I could think of except for Chuck Wendig and Jack Ketchum, who I suppose are a little more under the radar. Aside from Stephen King, every author I did find had books I wasn’t familiar with, so I look forward to reading more obscure work from some of my favorites.
After some walking back and forth and careful deliberation, I picked a book from an author I knew and another I’d been wanting to read for quite a while. And you know what? As silly as it sounds, I like having a due date—it gives me a deadline. I know I can renew them or simply pay the minuscule late fees, but if I finish these two books by May 16th I’m going to feel like a freakin’ winner.
I’m leaving out the rest of the ground floor, with its technology center (computers with internet access), plus its massive non-fiction area and the references and periodicals, which I stuck my nose in briefly, and what I believe may be the area where you can get the most bang for your buck, audiobooks (seriously, why are audiobooks so expensive?). They had a fair selection, but I didn’t spend much time looking as most of my audio listening is digital nowadays other than in the car, and I’m not currently planning any cross-country road trips. Again, another time.
So tell me, do you guys take advantage of your local libraries? Leave me a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing some reading—I’m on a deadline here.
EDIT: I’ve come to find out that I’m publishing this post two days after the end of National Library Week, so as usual my timing is impeccable. As a tribute to libraries in general, here’s a picture of the Kansas City Public Library, which has the coolest parking garage ever.