Editor’s note: This article is the first in an ongoing series revisiting Sioux City’s punk rock scene, a subculture that embraced live music, distinct fashion and specific sets of ideologies. These stories are told from the perspective of those who lived and breathed the long-lost punk scene, and are forever molded by its existence.
For the past three years, I’ve written countless stories about local bands and musicians in Sioux City, and every so often someone would bring up the punk rock scene.
Those who were a part of it so many years ago, hold its legacy in high regard. They describe it like some sort of fantasy world, a place in time where bands played to sold out crowds of teenagers and 20-somethings in over-capacity venues every night.
The history of the scene first piqued my interest in 2016 when I spoke to a musician by the name Art Mitchell, who plays bass for the California-based punk rock band Supernova. The group was to play The Abe Stage at Sioux City’s annual outdoor music festival, Saturday in the Park. I spoke to Mitchell over the phone about the group’s return to Sioux City; he had only pleasant things to say about the town’s punk rock scene.
“We’d go there, play a show and then go to some kid's house and hang out, or they say we could spend the night over at their house or whatever,” Mitchell told The Weekender in June 2016. “And they’d have fliers of shows that I had been to on their wall. How does some small town, to me, in the Midwest know about Southern California punk rock?”
When Supernova finally arrived in Sioux City, the band was scheduled to play a day earlier at a Saturday in the Park kick-off party in the parking lot of Marty’s Tap. Photos from that night depict a massive block party-esque concert with hundreds in attendance. I can only surmise that for many who were there, Supernova was a fond remnant from their past.
In my pursuit to discover more about this lost scene, I stumbled upon a Facebook page called Sioux City Punk Rock. With only a few hundred likes to its name, Sioux City Punk Rock described itself as “a place to shamelessly promote your band and shows” or “just network.” The page also encourages others to share past (and present) stories relating to punk rock.
Perhaps the best content is the photos, which depict various bands playing in smoke-filled rooms to young adult audiences. These candid images offer a bit of insight into what it may have been like to live the Sioux City punk rock scene during the ’90s.
The moderator and creator of the Sioux City Punk Rock Facebook page is Richie Vomit, an award-winning artist who owns and operates Siouxicide City Tattoo on Morningside Avenue. He created the page in hopes of rekindling an interest in live music – not just punk rock – and getting people to frequent shows again.
“It isn’t what it used to be, you know,” Richie said. “Feels like people have lost interest. They just don’t care anymore. I thought if we could post some old photos and some old show fliers, people might miss doing that.”
The page, he added, saw a slight increase in attention after the Southern California punk rock band The Humpers played a show at Marty’s Tap.
“It was like a high school reunion,” said Richie. “Everybody from back in the day was there. They used to play here back in the ’90s. It was a big deal. So when they come back, everyone from the old days comes out. But now there really aren’t a whole lot of punk shows going on around here.”
Back then, Richie assured me, that wasn’t the case. Hundreds of people would attend one show. Out-of-town bands like Supernova, The Humpers and The Joykiller attracted large crowds in Sioux City. Richie estimated about 400 people saw Babes in Toyland – albeit in a cramped venue space.
“It was all kinds of different stuff,” he said. “It wasn’t even necessarily ‘punk rock.’ There would be other bands in that genre that didn’t really sound like Supernova or The Humpers. But that go really big in ’90s – that rock ‘n’ roll punk where everything sounded kind of like the ’50s with Chuck Berry-style guitar.”
Unlike flattops, starter jackets and fanny packs, punk wasn’t “just a phase” for Richie. Underneath his newsboy cap is a scalp of greaser-style, slicked back hair; the legs of his jeans are always cuffed – he hasn’t left the house without doing so for the past two decades; he currently serves as a guitarist and vocalist for the greaser punk band The Siouxer Rats; his “last name” is Vomit; and if that wasn’t enough, Richie recently brought his daughter along to a Social Distortion concert.
Not much has changed for the 42-year-old Sioux Cityan. Only now Richie is older and “stuck in his ways.” But he’s hopeful that more young people will go to live shows and have the same experiences he had at their age.
“There are a lot of kids that are still into punk rock,” he said. “I see them come in [to the tattoo parlor] with Misfits shirts on, but I don’t ever see them at any shows that I go to. How do you get people to want to go to a show anymore? It used to be in the ’90s we were just bored. And we loved music.”
The Cattle Club was one of the places where the punk kids would flock to hang out and watch shows.
The original Cattle Club was located on Seventh Street and held a 49-person capacity. The last band to play a show in that building before moving to Pearl Street was The Humpers. Richie said there were about 200 people in attendance before it was raided by police – minors tucked their cigarettes in the ceiling in a desperate fit of panic.
“Nobody messed with us, really… until that night,” he said. “We weren’t harming nobody. We just wanted to play music and hang out. Back in the ‘90s, if you looked like we did you didn’t really fit in anywhere. “
The Cattle Club then relocated to Pearl Street. Richie described the place as a closet, even smaller than the previous venue.
“We kinda stopped having shows at the Cattle Club,” said Richie. “That was just a place to hang out and drink coffee and get together. We had booths set up and we had a record player and listened to music. There were some video games, but that was it. It was just a place to meet up and hang out.”
There was a back room for shows, but that could barely fit 10 people. Eventually promoters would rent out space at the Legion Hall on Geneva Street to schedule shows. Teenagers and young adults were the target audience for these concerts, but Richie’s interest in punk can be traced back to age 11.
“I was a little punk skater,” he said. “Then I started playing guitar when I was 13. I started playing shows when I was 18. It was my life. Twenty-four hours a day I lived that club and those bands. But, you know, things change.”
Richie’s punk lifestyle persisted long after the Cattle Club closed its doors for good.
“We were punk rockers,” he said. “I was a greaser. Still am when I feel like showing my thin hair in the back. I wore a leather jacket and the whole thing would be painted with band logos and spikes. People would have Mohawks and colored hair. I look back and people really didn’t look that bad. We were outcasts back then.”
Richie didn’t pay attention to what his peers outside of the punk circle were doing or wearing at the time. He stayed true to himself and did what made him happy.
When it came to music, Richie was drawn to an aggressive sound with plenty of attitude. Punk rock and metal just fit. He’d attend shows and talk to the band members and found out many of them were just regular ol’ guys.
“These guys that I looked up to were no different than me,” he said. “They’re just trying to play and make a living. We realized we could play shows, make T-shirts, record and do something with our music. Obviously we’re not going to be famous, but at least we can play more than in our basement.”
The DIY (do it yourself) approach from out-of-town punk rockers was an attractive perspective to the working class of Sioux City.
“We were poor,” said Richie. “We didn’t drive across town. Most of us didn’t even have cars. We were poor West side kids.”
But that DIY attitude was inspiring. Those punk rockers Richie watched and shared the same stage with grounded his worldview. Punk rock was a wakeup call.
“I’m not a dreamer,” Richie said. “If I want to do something, I naturally just do it.”
He made a band. He learned how to be a tattoo artist and earned numerous awards that are on display at his shop. He even created two, low-budget horror movies called “Farmland” and “Machette Mamas.”
Punk, in a sense, helped shape Richie into the person he is today.
“I wouldn’t know how to live life not being a punk rocker. I wouldn’t know how to live a life where I wasn’t into rock music. It’s been 31 years. I wouldn’t know how to survive or how to dress. I am who I am. I’m into what I’m into.”
But there are still questions about Sioux City’s punk scene that still need answered. How did it actually start? How much impact did a venue like King’s Court have on the scene? What was a live show like in-town? Who helped in its growth and why did it inevitably disappear? In the coming weeks, I hope to find answers to these questions and more as we continue to uncover more of Sioux City’s punk rock era.