Weekend(s) at Benderz

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In the wake of the What’s Up’s closing, February’s events have been viewed as crucial for the Mankato music scene’s short-term survival. The month’s most vital shows, Hardcore Crayons / Fury Things / Crash Cuddle and PHE 8, have found new homes at Busters and the Mankato Event Center, respectively. With these events in safe standing–and, arguably, in situations more conducive to robust attendance than they were originally–the RJKT scope settled upon Lower North, where a pair of all-ages shows at Benderz commanded unusual attention.

Two weekends. Two shows. Two stories.

The first show was previewed on these pages, and by most accounts, it was a rousing success. Even when presented with a vibrant, enthusiastic crowd, Benderz seemed to have a decent system worked out, with the bar’s architecture making it much easier for the staff to work the door. Essentially, the building is a wide-angled “v”, with the entry at the vertex. Show-goers were diverted to the back room on the right, which was solely dedicated to music, while bar patrons could avoid a punk rock assault by taking a sharp left upon entry.

The place was near capacity that evening, for a few reasons: On one side, Old Towne Ghosts are one of the town’s biggest draws. On the other, the bar was airing UFC 183. (Following the death of the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, Benderz is the only establishment in Mankato tuning into UFC events. And with the diluted, top-heavy cards Zuffa has been cranking out, even hardcores are opting to watch PPVs for the price of a few PBRs.)

But the biggest reason? The all-ages crowd came out in force. By the time Minneapolis’ Remo Drive triggered one of the most kinetic, spontaneous kid-pits I’d ever witnessed, it was clear that reports of the Mankato music scene’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

All told, it was a great night, one that was enabled by a largely hospitable and accessible venue. Even if one didn’t feel like watching an entire band’s set, drifting over to the bar side was smooth, and the waitstaff seemed to genuinely appreciate our business. It was a welcoming atmosphere.

At the following week’s show, however, blemishes began to surface. And we’re not talking zits. Straight-up leprosy.

Comparatively, attendance was sparse, possibly due to the illness-related cancellation of headliners Arms for Elephants. As we walked in, a group of kids were pounding out a scraggly brand of post-grunge, so I dragged my lawyer, Adam, to the bar side to throw back some Jagermeister like distinguished adults.

We quickly realized that our presence was less than welcome.

Our status as interlopers wasn’t immediately apparent. But, scanning the scene, we stuck out from the crowd, and not by virtue of our own weirdness. In a contrast to the previous week, the bar’s population had been reduced to regulars: Shitfaced-at-eight-o-clock, physical-activity-averse, camo-and-fossil-fuel-worshiping rednecks.

We took a pair of open seats at the bar. A few minutes into our conversation about the potential Legend of Zelda Netflix series, a grumble emerged from the woman seated to my right. The first part of her sentence was unintelligible, but it finished with “…stay the fuck on the other side.” As the phrase snagged my ear, I looked over to see her furiously scraping away at a stack of lottery tickets with a three-inch folding knife.

(Call me “liberal” like it’s actually a pejorative if you must, but even if someone spent their very last scratching quarters at the Kwik Trip Casino, I’m not sure that flinging around an open blade is acceptable behavior in an establishment that specializes in serving alcohol, regardless of said establishment’s affinity for blaze orange and motorsports.)

Soon after, we stepped outside for a smoke. Almost immediately, she threw her purse on my seat. We took the hint. So we hit the sidewalk.

Clearly, our semi-sober presence wasn’t welcome; in stark contrast, of course, to the sweaty, walking heart attack the bartender managed to overserve before 9 o’clock. We later saw this same mouthbreather behind the wheel of a vehicle in the parking lot of PJ’s Liquor. (And we’re 100% sure it was the same dude, too, because he actually got out of his car to greet us with some kind of primal, jubilant grunt of familiarity, even though we hadn’t even spoken a goddamn word to each other previously.)

Needless to say, this experience didn’t get generate a whole lot of excitement for a return visit.

Admittedly, this two-weekend sample size is small. But it’s pretty safe to conclude that, failing a special draw such as a notable punk rock show and/or Anderson Silva’s (steroid-aided) return from a horrific leg injury, Benderz has a problem: Their clientele. If their obvious indifference to regulation continues, their long-term viability as a venue is in significant jeopardy.

Music isn’t the issue. People are.

Sound familiar?