If you’re not sure what exactly “Southtown” is – imagine you’re driving down South Grand Avenue in Springfield toward Rochester.
Once you hit where 11th street intersects with South Grand, you’ll notice a row of storefronts, pretty nondescript except for the graffiti you may notice the closer you get. In that block, there’s more than initially hits the eye. Brandon Carnes explains, there’s: "A community centered around arts and culture ... we have the world's second-oldest indoor skate park called Skank Skates, we have the Black Sheep cafe, an all ages venue ... It's a venue but it's also a community ... There's also Boof City Skate Shop ... We also have Dumb Records selling records and cassettes and CDs…”
A project initiated by George Sinclair who runs Skank Skates is underway to ensure the history of the area is preserved. Skanks has been around since 1988, and greats like Tony Hawk have skated there. Sinclair says there are countless recorded hours of skating and music shows on VHS tape that need to be preserved. (The project has already hit its funding goal – but you can still be part of it. Click here for more info.) Carnes says the other part of the project is, "Starting a non-profit organization so that we'll be able to apply for grants and do things that will drastically improve the way that we can reach out to the community to support our venture."
Carnes runs the South Town Studio on top of an old garage behind Black Sheep, where he is the engineer and producer. Close to the area is also Miles Tshirts, a locally run screen printing shop where many of the posters used for local shows are made. Carnes works there too, along with Brian Galecki, who designs many of the posters for shows. Galecki runs Dumb Records, and together with Brandon and Miles Fowler, will be taking over the duties of running the Black Sheep cafe. Galecki says that Carnes got him out to his first show in junior high. Since then, music, art and culture have been mainstays in their lives. They both also perform in bands. Galecki says the trio looks forward to expanding the influence of Black Sheep once Kevin Bradford, who has been running it for a decade, moves on to other things, like possibly opening up a new venue and actual café, with food and coffee, in Springfield.
“We all support each other with what we're doing. (Bradford) briefly mentioned that he's got new things coming up in Springfield, so he'll be staying in town and he'll still be active and helping out with big shows and festivals,” says Galecki. Carnes says one of the reasons Black Sheep has been successful is that it truly caters to a diverse crowd: “"We mean all ages ... we welcome everybody. My grandma always says, 'You'd freak out if I walked through those doors!' And I say, 'No, really, we'd love to see you out!'" Carnes says one contributor to the venue's longevity is keeping it alcohol-free: “A lot of times ... venues will be lax about enforcing kids bringing alcohol in, or anybody bringing alcohol in, and that sacrifices the whole space. That gets venues shut down."
Galecki says coming up on June 12th and 13th, Southtown will have its biggest event yet. Forty bands will participate in the third annual Dumb Fest. Galecki says the reception that Southtown and Black Sheep have had over the years is positive, and he’s especially enjoyed getting to host international bands. "It's been unreal getting to meet all these people ... Them getting to see everything we have going on here, it's even amazing to them. (One band) called Springfield the 'capital of punk.'"
Carnes is in a local band called Looming, darlings of the DIY scene. Looming was just signed to No Sleep Records, which is based out of California, and will be releasing a new, debut LP with the label.