There's nothing to do here." "No one cool ever comes here." "There is never anywhere to go here." Time and time again, I've heard those whiny sentiments come out of the mouths of my adult friends. It's funny -- they don't know how good they've got it. Try being under 21 in this city. Try being a half-child, half-adult surviving those funky emotions and hormones, attempting to be what everyone expects you to be while at the same time trying to figure out who you are. On top of that, imagine being a kid who's into music, instead of more accepted and popular activities like track or cheerleading or computers. Instead of attending football games or mixers, you're interested in
attending live shows. But they never seem to come your way in this town, and when they do, well, sorry -- you're too young to go.
If there is a place for your teen self to hang out and listen to live music, it seems scary to your parents. In fact, it seems scary to your community leaders as well. Jeez. You're one of those unlucky kids in Spokane saddled with an artistic side, and what Mom and Dad don't understand is that, despite your unusual attire, you're probably going to grow up just fine -- and maybe even end up with a successful career as a music journalist!
Okay, so we all know that local politicians would be more than happy if all teenage kids stayed within the safe confines of their parents' homes, reading Walden and the Bible and never thinking for themselves. In fact, they've created the infamous Teen Club Ordinance that limits -- really limits -- the type of venue that teens can frequent.
Enter RAWK the Inland Northwest -- a Christian organization that, oddly, has an appreciation for the sort of music that appeals to that "other" type of underage kid. RAWK has been hosting all-age punk rock shows at the Big Dipper for more than a year now. These shows represent the only real, consistent and successful live rock happenings geared for teens in the city. But RAWK's founders aren't exactly Gen X-ers. They are two fifty-something men -- one, an employee of the City of Spokane and the other an attorney -- who are nevertheless very much into punk rock music. That is, Christian punk rock.
Christian punk rock? Isn't that an oxymoron? Did the Sex Pistols or Suicidal Tendencies or D.R.I. ever use the words "Christian" and "punk" in the same breath? Regardless of the original purpose for punk rock, Christians have nevertheless found that the music appeals to their target teenage audience. It seems that whatever the message, the kids just wanna rock.
And RAWK is doing well. Very well. Probably better than any all-ages club in recent memory. Why?
Dale Strom, RAWK cofounder, says that it's a huge team effort. The organization has literally dozens of "staff" members working to make certain each show gets attention.
"We work real hard to be organized before the shows," says Strom. "We know the underground scene really well, and we can identify bands that we think are gonna do a good job and we explore around for local bands to match up with the touring bands."
Additionally, the group has a good working relationship with the Big Dipper and sound company, BC West. So RAWK isn't just a couple of guys trying to bring shows to town; it's a full-fledged promotion company.
"Again, we are a Christian organization, so what we're trying to do is provide a positive scene that's open to everybody," Strom says. "We don't want this to be just entertainment for Christian kids -- that's not what we're trying to do at all. We want everybody to feel like they can come in there and have a good time."
RAWK's shows are no less wild and exhilarating than any other live punk concert. And, honestly, when I was a kid, I didn't care what "message" the music was trying to convey. I was there because it was a rebellious and exciting thing to do, because it was loud and I could stand within mere feet of the band, and because my friends were there.
RAWK brings that same excitement, the same wild music, the same intimacy with the band -- but without the ill repute and without the obscenity you might encounter at a purely secular punk rock event. RAWK organizers have created a place that has that frenzied punk feel, but which is completely safeguarded as well. Parents need not worry if their blue-haired kid is hanging out at the Big Dipper on weekends. The message here isn't about sex or drugs or killing cops -- it's about loving your brother.
"We're not gonna be preachy," says Strom. "I mean, we're doing this because we care for those kids. That's really what we're all about."
Does it really matter that it's "Christian" punk? Are the concert-goers even paying attention to the lyrics anyway? And if they are, what's the worst that could happen? RAWK organizers know what kids want and they give it to them -- safely, and yes, passing along their message at the same time. For some, it's a message that's challenging, even a tad unsettling. But isn't that what punk is all about?