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It was a band's dream: to play a small town in the middle of nowhere and give hundreds of local kids music they never get to hear live.
Phoenix industrial-metal rock groups N-17 and Ultrapure thought they had that fantasy all lined up in Kingman for New Year's Eve. On top of that, the all-ages, no-alcohol show was going to benefit a homeless shelter planned for the town of 12,700.
So N-17 (short for November 17, a reference to a Greek hit squad) and its manager, Kim LaRowe, loaded into a van and drove 180 miles to Kingman, where a local tattoo-shop owner had arranged for the well-publicized concert to take place in a Kingman Airport hangar.
All the way there, LaRowe was thinking, what could go wrong, maybe the sound system will flip out or something, but then the rush of realizing a professional dream took over, and she settled in for the ride. Being labeled devil-worshiping acid rockers was never a concern.
When they got there, Hangar C was waiting. So was a nine-person security crew charged with monitoring things. The local director of the Salvation Army had hauled over a stage donated by the Elks Lodge, and everything seemed ready to go. N-17, Ultrapure and Kingman band Golgotha started setting out the equipment.
But The Man there said the music wouldn't play.
New Year's Eve was just another in a series of bad days for Jeff Martin, owner of Chaos Ltd. ("That's not a corporation," he says. "Just a limited amount of chaos"), where Kingman's alternative crowd can have various body parts pierced without having to drive all the way to Phoenix.
He and others say Mohave County Sheriff Joe Cook canceled the benefit concert for no real reason other than that a few town heavies got freaked out about the appearance of those getting ready for the show. They claim local automotive-repair-shop owner Gary Rucker, whom they say is a former hell-raiser turned devout Baptist, witnessed the scene at the airport, where he has a plane, and was convinced the devil had come down to Kingman. And Jim Straube, who, along with his brother, runs an airplane-painting business out of the hangar, says airport authorities threatened to revoke his lease if the show went on as scheduled.
"We had set everything up," LaRowe says. "We started doing sound check. And then this old man came in and said, 'We are not going to have any of this rock 'n' roll.'"
Paul Chamberlain, who was in charge of security for the concert, attends the same church as Rucker. "Gary Rucker directly said to me, 'That guy looks like a devil worshiper. These people look like drug users.' He said, 'Is law enforcement, is security gonna be here?', and I said yes. He said okay. You could just see the disdain on his face, like he was sucking on a lemon. . . . I don't think he would have said anything if I didn't go to his church--it was like, why do you associate with them?"
Rucker confirms that he does have a plane at the airport, but has little to say otherwise. "Why are you calling me?" he inquires, even when told it was because people were claiming that he had been at the airport and expressed disapproval of the situation. "But why are you calling me?"
LaRowe says N-17 is pretty strait-laced, even though the band's members dress in black and might be a little scary to some outside the rock 'n' roll world. The band's played clubs like the Mason Jar, Nile Theater and Atomic Cafe. "They drink," she says, "but it's not like they're drug addicts or worship Satan. To look at us and stereotype us all as acid rockers is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
The "devil worshiper" referred to by Rucker was Martin, who does happen to be the sort to insert small pieces of metal through perforations in his body.
"Jeff is one of these kids that puts a ring in his nose and all that, but it doesn't make him any less of a good person," says Elmer Graves, Kingman's Salvation Army representative, who runs a trucking business and helped transport the stage that had been donated by the Elks Lodge. "He's trying to do something for the kids."
In addition to the homeless shelter planned by local social service agency Prodigal House, the Salvation Army was to have received some of the show's proceeds. Martin had distributed 3,000 fliers throughout the town as well as in Las Vegas and Lake Havasu City.
"I was trying to give them an alternative, so they have something else to do besides go out into the desert and drink," says Martin, noting that 12 students were killed in drinking-and-driving accidents in his senior year of high school alone. In Kingman, he says, there aren't many choices for young people looking for fun.
Martin had had his troubles finding a location, even though he'd been soliciting support from everyone he could get hold of. The local fire marshal nixed plans to hold the event in Martin's store basement because the number of exits was inadequate, and the only thing keeping the show from happening at the local Boys & Girls Club was a missing vote from an out-of-town board member.