In civilized Pittsburgh, we tend to regard Fayette County as akin to rural West Virginia. Yet in the void that spawned Povertyneck Hillbillies shine cultural bright spots such as Uniontown's refurbished State Theater, and the Brownsville-based Concert Chaos production team, which draws the MySpace generation to see national acts at Club Octane, Gravity and Mr. Small's.
It took an outsider, however, to realize the region's dormant potential. Jeremy Barnhart, a glam-punker who looks like he stepped off a New York Dolls album cover, moved back to Uniontown with his wife, Faith, to be near their parents. The couple was previously involved in a vibrant music scene in Nanaimo, near Vancouver.
Soon they'd started the county's first Internet café, the Tech Room. "Technology was a black hole here," he says. "We noticed that there were quite a few niches we could become a part of, or even the leaders in." With artist Carolyn Quinn, Faith Barnhart was hired to paint a huge mural on the side of the State Theater. And local punk and hardcore bands, who haunted VFW halls or the Divito Park skating rink, showed up at the café to surf the Web, post flyers and network.
"We've had acoustic performances in the shop for artists that may not feel comfortable playing a punk show, or even metal bands playing acoustic," says Jeremy Barnhart. "There's no record store in town, so we've become the surrogate parents for musicians putting up ads and selling CDs."
Continuing Goldirock Entertainment, a label he founded in Canada, Barnhart has pressed a couple CDs himself, including for local postpunkers Etiera, who sound progressive compared to other area bands. He also mentions Payl, which sounds like "Korn with tribal drumming." Etiera has played Pittsburgh, but Barnhart says it's difficult to get Fayette kids here. "We have to bus them up in our minivan. There are people around here who haven't been to Pittsburgh in a long time, [and] they look at playing in the city as an unattainable goal."
In an area where underground shows happen on a regular basis but often go unpublicized, Barnhart hopes to add marketing savvy and technical expertise, and plans to purchase a building that will serve as a recording studio, music-instruction center and eventually an all-ages venue. But so far, the café has succeeded as a nexus. "Our number-one thing is to encourage people to move out of their comfort zones, to get their hands wet and start creating a scene. Hopefully we can be a part of that change."