The Commons is one of few all-ages venues in Lincoln
The intersection of 14th and B streets would seem an unassuming location for so much activity on a Monday night.
Outside a small strip of shops, a spattering of people sit out on the curb, talking in groups and bumming cigarettes under the flashing neon sign of Cloud 9 Smoke Shop. Next door is the neighborhood laundromat, and sandwiched somewhere between is a place with the words “SP CE Commons” painted on the window.
It’s a calm atmosphere outside, but the dark, unfinished basement underneath is a different story.
Tonight, SP CE Commons is hosting a gathering of the small but mighty underground hardcore music scene in Lincoln — a genre characterized by loud guitars, fast drum beats and screaming vocals.
The bands — A Different Breed, Swing Low and Lost Boys — take turns hauling heavy guitar amplifiers and drum kits down a small set of stairs to play for the crowd of 30 or so who showed up.
While SP CE Commons began as simply an open community space for everything from meditation hours to printmaking classes to slam poetry, as of late it’s become one of the most notable, all-ages DIY venues in Lincoln. The name of the venue recently was changed to The Commons.
DIY stands for “Do-it-yourself.” Completely organized and staffed by volunteers, the space runs on donations and the honor code.
“We were all super bummed when Knickerbockers closed down,” said Jarett Eaton, one of the guitarists for the Lost Boys and a long-time supporter of local and DIY music. “Back when I was underage and in a band, that was where you went. It was one of the only all-ages venues in Lincoln where a hardcore band could play.”
Knickerbockers, once located at Ninth and O streets, was a staple venue in the Nebraska local music community for nearly 23 years.
After years of refusing to close in order to make way for developers wanting to repurpose the block, owners Chris Kelley and Shawn Tyrrell finally gave in last year.
The local band JV Allstars played Knickerbocker’s last show to a sold-out crowd on Dec. 26.
While Knickerbockers will soon be the location of a 250-room hotel, The Commons has become the next viable option for the local all-ages music scene.
Jacob Darling began booking shows at The Commons after moving to Lincoln from Kearney, Nebraska.
After booking DIY shows for years in Kearney, Darling came to Lincoln hoping to find similar spaces for all-ages shows.
“A lot of the downtown bar scenes I didn’t really want to be involved in because I think that all-ages venues are really important to a community,” Darling said, who has recently been booking many of the shows at The Commons. “I was looking for something that could be for all ages and not really affiliated with booze and drinking, because I don’t think that should be the only reason people come to shows.”
After realizing it was easy to reserve the basement for DIY shows, Darling began bringing in touring bands looking for places to play and local bands to share the stage with.
“I think DIY venues are important because they offer a lot to the community,” Darling said. “It’s a really rad thing that we have a community center like The Commons, where people can do shows and art stuff and slam poetry stuff. It adds to the community, and a lot of small towns don’t really have that, especially in Nebraska and Midwest places. We’re really lucky.”
The Commons really is a do-it-yourself venue. The community surrounding the music comes together to help clean the basement space before the shows, promote touring and local bands and works to provide a positive atmosphere for all.
“DIY venues put the focus on the art,” said Jimmy Weber, also a member of the Lost Boys. “It’s a healthy environment for minds to grow, and it’s not a commercial establishment. That’s how it should be. No one’s trying to make money; it’s just totally pure.”
Weber said that although he’s seeing more people come together to create spaces like The Commons, he’s disappointed that there aren’t more all-ages venues in Lincoln.
“We have a huge music scene here,” Weber said. “But how are young people supposed to get involved, or even inspired, if all the local music exists in bars for people 21 and up?”
Eaton said venues like The Commons are vital to communities and changed his life for the better.
“It’s because of DIY venues like these that I ever had a chance to get involved in the scene when I was 15,” Eaton said. “Without all-ages venues, I don’t know how are kids supposed to start their own bands. And that’s how the next generation of music will happen in Lincoln and other places. Hopefully places like these will continue to pop up around here.”