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Youth Brigade 

For the last two years, an ex-Navy guy has done for the all-ages scene what many couldn’t.

click to enlarge Tom Chavez - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak photo
  • Tom Chavez

“I like myself.” Tom “TC” Chavez shakes his head and laughs at the painted proclamation — an out-of-place line of black graffiti sprayed on the outside of the Cretin Hop, the all-ages music venue he owns just north of downtown Spokane.

The front of the venue is painted blood red, covered in band stickers and show posters — and graffiti like this. It makes the Cretin Hop a bold exclamation point in the otherwise monotonous neighborhood sandwiched between North Central High School and the Spokane Arena.

The red paint and the posters are TC’s doing. The graffiti’s not. But he’s come to laugh at stuff like this. In the two years since he opened the doors of the music venue, he’s says he’s learned to shrug things off.

TC talks about the music venue and the people who come to shows there much like he talks about his own kids. When they’re good, they’re “kids.” And when they’re bad — like the person who kicked in the glass of the front door — TC calls them “knuckleheads.”

A 49-year-old retired Navy recruiter who briefly booked punk shows in Spokane as Nemesis Booking, TC admits the reason he and Tyler Arnold (of the band Deadones USA) opened the Cretin Hop two years ago was to give his sons — now 18 and 20 years old — a place for their band to play.

But in the time since, his randomly placed, spontaneously opened venue has become a crucial player in the forever-faltering Spokane all-ages music scene. The Cretin Hop is the place where bands play their first show. It’s the place where kids who are down on their luck can come to make friends. And it’s a place where TC tries to make everyone — punk, jock, goth — feel accepted.

He even says so, in bold capital letters spray-painted above the front door: “WE ACCEPT YOU ONE OF US.”

TC sprayed that graffiti himself. With the Cretin Hop now growing out of diapers and into Pull-Ups, we sat down with Chavez to chat about what obstacles he’s overcome to keep the Cretin Hop alive, what he thinks about Spokane’s music scene and why they don’t really have a sign out front.

INLANDER: What made you want to open a music venue?

TC: It was all because of my boys, doing something for them, opening up this place solved the dilemma of booking them at other places. … I didn’t know what I was getting into, I didn’t understand any of it. I know how to get a hold of some bands, I guess. But I didn’t know what I was stepping into.

Why do you think it’s difficult for all-ages venues to stay open in Spokane?

The reason you don’t see all-ages venues survive is because you don’t prosper financially from them. You can do like the Seaside does — you can do what they’re doing, but you’re a bar. You have to split your crowds. To divide the crowd here would be lame. Logistically, we can’t do it.

Every month since we’ve been selling beer — the last 18 months — we’ve been in the black. This month was tough — we might be only a couple hundred dollars [in], but I take pride that we’re in the black. … The reason I can do what we do is because I have an income [from retirement]. I don’t have to work. I don’t have to pay myself, and I haven’t. … If I had to pay myself, even a couple grand a month, which is far below what I would be worth … it would be a whole different ballgame.

What makes the Cretin Hop different from other local music venues?

Kids aren’t afraid to ask, “Hey, TC I don’t have any money. I only have $2.” They’re not afraid to do that. There’s no other place around where they’re going to do that. I walk outside the door and I see people standing there. I know why they’re standing outside. I ask them, “Why you out here? Why are you just standing here? What are you waiting for?” And I tell them to go in. And that’s a major difference.

Some people talk about the Cretin Hop more like a community center than a music venue.

We accept you one of us – it’s [in] a Ramones song. That is always what we’re all about. If you’re going to come in and act like an idiot? Even your mother is going to kick you out if you break her good china. You come in and break my good china, what do you expect?

Aside from the spray-painted window, do you think you’ll get a sign in Year Three?

We’re low-budget. It goes back to me feeling good about what I’m doing to be good in the black. I’m not going to spend $400 on a sign. We’ve gone two years without it. Has it hurt business? Probably not.

Reason for Existence, Against the Swarm and Vultra play the second anniversary of the Cretin Hop on Saturday, Sept. 11, at 8 pm. Free. All-ages. Call 327-7195.

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