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Some loud debauchery

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

The heavily bearded Chris Wiersema stands behind the downstairs bar of the Picador as he fills up a pitcher with Pabst Blue Ribbon. It is after 5 p.m. on a Thursday. Only a few people straddle the barstools, among them Kyle Drea, a doorman for the Picador. Playing in the background on the lone television set is an ’80s B-movie horror flick, which Drea simply dubs “The Naked Vampire Movie,” although the film seems to focus more on the naked and less on the vampire.

“If there are tits on the TV, people will stop bitching about how long it takes to get a beer,” Wiersema said.

In a few hours, the dimly lit bar will be filled with patrons looking to get drunk, meet people, and show off an array of moves during the weekly Thursday night Dance Party. Wiersema said the event has been successful for the Picador but emphasized that the venue is most known for its loud music shows.

“It’s just a regular dive bar with rock music,” he said. “It’s all about the music.”

This week, the Picador, 330 E. Washington St., will celebrate its third anniversary in Iowa City by putting on Camp Dirtbag, an event filled with art, DJs, and live music. The pre-party began Wednesday with an art show and raffle with proceeds going to United Action for Youth, but the main portion of the festival will take place today through Saturday evening. Tonight is the Camp Dirtbag Dance Party, featuring an East Coast versus West Coast turntable battle between DJ Coolzey and Mr. Boogie Man upstairs and other DJs downstairs. The dance party’s doors will open at 10 p.m., and admission is free (as it is for all days of the festival).

On Friday night, the live bands kick in upstairs, with a headlining performance from the Tanks. Other bands performing will include Snow Demon, Petit Mal, Datagun, Bongrider, and Viking Fuck. Saturday will feature music by Shores of the Tundra, Aseethe, Showering Ashes, Grism, Supersonic Piss, Star City, and the Manimal Orchestra. Doors will open for the concerts at 9 p.m. on both days.

“The idea for Camp Dirtbag kind of spawned one day while I was working the door,” Drea said. “My friend went to rock ’n’ roll fantasy camp. I wondered what bands I would want to see at a camp, and I thought we should do something with all the bands that come here and get them exposure. Camp Dirtbag seemed like a fitting title for it, and the festival was born.”

Camp Dirtbag exclusively features bands from the Iowa City area, with the exception of a few bands that relocated from the area. All of the bands represent various genres that can be found at the Picador on any given night, such as noise rock, metal, electronica, and more.

“I think it will be a blast,” said Matt Cooper, the Snow Demon guitarist and Nemesis Studios owner, while crouched over a woman at his tattoo shop, putting finishing touches on a rosebud design. “The Picador is definitely what we call our home stomping ground, and there should be a really good turnout.”

Snow Demon has been together for two years, but all of the members have been in bands for 15 or 20 years. The group plays straightforward rock that features a punk/metal edge and is full of dirty ’70s era guitar licks and vocals. The band hopes to enter the studio soon to record some new tracks and put finishing touches on the older ones in order to eventually release an album.

Cooper said he most enjoys getting out and playing live shows — which he describes as being “disgustingly loud” — and the band plays the Picador about once a month. He also enjoys going to the downtown bar in his spare time, when he is not branding tattoos or performing.

The relaxed vibe is what makes the Picador a favorite among the locals. It is set up into two sections divided by the front door where money is taken and hands are stamped. To the left is a bar and outdoor beer garden. To the right are stairs that lead up to another bar, merchandise area, and the stage on which bands play. A series of pipes lines the ceiling of the stage area. Some of the more energetic bands and fans swing and hang from the bars during shows, although these acrobatics aren’t necessarily encouraged.

“It’s a raw venue,” 24-year-old UI graduate Erica Barnes said. “I think there is a general openness and adventurousness to the people who go to shows there, who just want their world to be rocked.”

Barnes has attended shows at the Picador for the past eight years, including the time when the bar was under different management and known as Gabe’s. The Gabe’s name is legendary among those who frequented the club, which in its heyday hosted the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana.

“I like the history of the place and how many legendary artists have been on the stage,” Barnes said. “I feel a part of that history.”

Wiersema said that although fans of Gabe’s continue to frequent the Picador, the club has managed to gain a new following all its own. A vast number of improvements have been made to the venue, he said, including a renovated stage and cleaner facilities.

“People appreciate the Picador in the same way they appreciated Gabe’s,” Tanks vocalist Kevin Koppes said. “The only people who say it’s not the same thing are people who have been coming here for 15 years. It’s like if their bus route changes and they’re like, ‘On Van Buren, there’s this tree and I loved it.’ ”

The Tanks is a high-energy rock band that has played shows at both Gabe’s and the Picador. Koppes is friends with the staff at the Picador and works there himself in booking and promotions. The band will play Camp Dirtbag on Friday night; it is known for its wild stage antics, which include fake blood and costumes.

“The live show is awesome,” Koppes said. “It’s usually me dressed up as something, the songs being played faster than they were written, sometimes there’s fake blood, sometimes there’s real blood. It’s usually sweaty and kind of confrontational. We’re standing at the front of the stage the whole time. There is a lot of crowd interaction, and people respond to it.”

Koppes said his costumes vary; they have ranged from a full-blown Leatherface ensemble to a jumpsuit with a machete. He thinks that the Picador is the best place to see a show in Iowa City.

“We try our best to bring in a lot of artists that you would otherwise have to travel to go see in bigger cities,” he said.

He is excited to take part in Camp Dirtbag, he said, and he enjoys playing in front of new audiences, which he is hoping the event will bring.

Wiersema and Drea also expect a big turnout, and they’re looking forward to numerous nights of free music and friends.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of debauchery,” Wiersema said. “It will be a blast.”


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