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.
Finally, Martin says, on December 29, he talked to airport authorities, who worried about people climbing on planes, but he assured them a security crew would be on hand. He says they directed him to Jim Straube at Hangar C and indicated that if it was okay with him, it was okay with them. "He had our permission," Straube says. "We were all for it, because it was a benefit for the homeless."
"Everyone's kid was going," LaRowe says. "That's how the fire marshal heard about it--his kid was going."
At about 4:30 p.m., a while after Gary Rucker left the airport in his truck, witnesses say Mohave County Sheriff Joe Cook turned up at the airport to check on his plane. They say he'd been on vacation that week and came to the airport in civilian clothes.
No one from the Mohave County Sheriff's Department would return repeated phone calls to Sheriff Cook, whose secretary said he was tied up in meetings all of last week. Calls to Jim Wilkinson, head of the Kingman Airport Authority, were similarly unproductive. "I can't tell you that Jim or anybody else at the airport has any comment on that," said a woman answering the phone. "We have nothing to say on the matter."
What Martin and the others setting up for the 8 p.m. show say happened was this: Not long after checking on his plane and surveying the scene, Sheriff Cook returned in uniform with a number of deputies in squad cars and told the ready-for-prime-time players that the event wasn't going to happen.
According to Martin, the sheriff said this was the first he'd heard of the show, even though Martin had notified the department a month and a half earlier. After consulting with another man at the scene, Sheriff Cook then told them the airport authority didn't know about the show, either. Various reasons for the cancellation were apparently given to different people: Martin hadn't obtained the proper permits; the airport feared vandalism.
Straube says Wilkinson of the airport authority told him that if he allowed the concert to take place, his lease at the hangar would be revoked. Even though he wasn't sure Wilkinson had the authority to issue such a proclamation, the threat was enough to sway him, since the businessman had already invested $50,000 in improvements to the hangar.
"This is someone who helped us out," LaRowe says of Straube. "And he's getting stomped on by The Man."
She says everyone was told to pack up and leave, "and they locked us in. There was no way anyone was leaving, and no way anyone was getting in. One of the bands had gone back to the hotel. They had five or six cop cars. We're a rinky-dink band from Phoenix, and they had flares all over the place. And they inquired about what motel we were staying at. I was waiting for some sadistic Andy Taylor to show up at the door and ask if we squealed like a pig."
Says Chamberlain, the security chief: "If it had been bluegrass, nobody's head would have turned. They thought we were all going to run out of the hangar with our heads on fire vandalizing the airstrip."
Jim Straube, too, was disappointed. "No one ever said no, you can't have anything like this here. I thought it was pretty shitty. They didn't give them a chance to prove themselves." Martin says: "We'd talked to the police department, the sheriff's department, the school board, everybody we could get hold of. They thought it needed to happen, since it's a night that everybody usually goes drinking. Jim from the airport authority said they were going to drink and do drugs, anyway, no matter how much we tried to help them."
While the bands cleared out of the place, squad cars closed off the airport and turned away dozens of cars showing up for the concert. Martin, based on his brother-in-law's estimates (he's a cab driver with a police scanner), says as many as 500 people were sent home. With a $6 admission charge and an average of three people per car, he says, that would have been $9,000, which, after expenses, would have meant about $7,000 for the charities.
Martin says he's out about $3,000 because of the mess, and he has plans to sue with the help of Phoenix lawyers, since, he says, those in Kingman won't take on the powers that be. "Nothing goes on without these people's approval," he says. "They don't want it to happen, it's not gonna happen."
A larger benefit concert with the original bands and more may be in the works, as well--in a different location, naturally.
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"I don't think they realized how many people were behind this thing," says Elmer Graves, the trucking service operator.
"Jeff is the one I feel sorry for," LaRowe says. "I mean, we traveled three hours and everything, but he lost big. He put up a lot of money. He didn't have to do it for a shelter, and the kids would have still showed up. He could have made a lot of money.
"It just totally baffled me. It would have been a totally cool thing. They've never had a concert there, and now I see why."
LaRowe concludes: "We were railroaded. It was the night the lights went out in Kingman.