HNMTF Tour Diary #10: Johnstown, PA | Music | Indy Week
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

HNMTF Tour Diary #10: Johnstown, PA

Posted by on Wed, Apr 1, 2009 at 11:45 AM

Sunday, March 22

Johnstown, Penn.

Tonight is our ninth show of the tour. So begins what we consider the "second leg" of our 15-date quest. We're leaving the east coast and heading to part of the country where none of us has spent much time, let alone played music.

We started our Sunday trying to get the hell out of Manhattan. It's always a task, isn't it? We finally hit the open road and began the long drive through the middle of Pennsylvania. Red Wire Black Wire decided not to join us for the trek. Can't say I blame them. Johnstown is pretty far into western Pennsylvania, but it's also the hometown of Beth and Jason Kutchma, who you might know from Red Collar.

The place we played tonight, 709 Railroad Street, is right in the heart of Johnstown. It's a DIY artspace/venue in the vein of Bull City Headquarters in Durham or the Spazzatorium in Greenville, N.C. The kids who run it all play in a band called Endless Mike & The Beagle Club. They were the nicest, most open-minded people that we could ever hope to meet on the road. They're a 16-plus-member folky, punky, politically minded band. They play in Durham every so often, and you should definitely check them out. Their live show is an experience.

Johnstown is unlike any place we have ever been. We've read about the "rust belt" region of America, but seeing it up close is a different story. We spent much of our time listening to stories about Johnstown's past. It was once a huge steel producing town. It's located in a deep valley, and as a result, it has been hit with three devastating floods in the past century. Between the floods, recessions, and the outsourcing of steel industry jobs, the city has been left to deteriorate. The downtown is absolutely empty. The only open stores are a Subway and an old wig shop, which seem to be the standard in depressed downtowns. The only people walking the streets are some of the saddest wanderers you'll ever see. Unlike many cities with derelict downtown areas, Johnstown never seems to get nicer on the outskirts.

709 Railroad is located across the street from an abandoned steel mill that is supposedly over 5 square miles in length and width. It's gargantuan. There's an inclined plane that was once used to transport workers from their homes on the hill to steel mills in the valley below. It's supposedly the steepest inclined plane in the world. It's still in use, but I'm not sure anyone rides it these days. We share a new perspective on Red Collar's songs after spending some time here.

The kids who run 709 Railroad are a beacon of light in a shitstorm, then. The show was so much fun. Our friend Jaren from The Lampshades played an awesome acoustic set in the living room of the apartment upstairs. We stayed up all night listening to their friends' bands and other touring bands who have come through town. We drank beer on the roof and talked about the craziness of DIY touring. It was a fun night, and one we will not soon forget. —HNMTF

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