Kids are all right at the Charleston

Christopher Carter/staff photo Brianna Holloway, 5, sits on her father’s shoulders during a performance by Bremerton group Neutralboy at the Charleston in Bremerton. The all-ages venue turns 2 years old, a milestone for a rock club across Puget Sound from Seattle. - Christopher Carter/staff photo
Christopher Carter/staff photo Brianna Holloway, 5, sits on her father’s shoulders during a performance by Bremerton group Neutralboy at the Charleston in Bremerton. The all-ages venue turns 2 years old, a milestone for a rock club across Puget Sound from Seattle.
— image credit: Christopher Carter/staff photo

Sitting on her dad’s shoulders, 5-year-old Brianna Holloway got her first indoctrination into the local hard rock scene last weekend.

To say she’s been a fan of local punk rockers Neutralboy and all-female AC/DC cover band Hell’s Belles isn’t saying much. At 5, she hasn’t been a fan of much for long.

But they start them early in Bremerton.

“It rocks!” Holloway said, later showing her appreciation by throwing up devil horns with the rest of the raucous crowd.

So went another night at the Charleston, a Bremerton punk club that prides itself on welcoming people of every age, in a town that has produced more than its share of notable rock acts. The Charleston, celebrating its two-year anniversary this month in the old movie theater on Callow Avenue, aims for staying power in a town where all-ages music venues have typically come and gone.

Two years ago, co-owners and couple Andy More and Angel Perry wanted to bring a music venue with a “by the people, for the people” philosophy where young people could come and enjoy music and stay out of trouble. Growing up in Bremerton, Perry frequented the several short-lived music venues open to kids, including The Robbins Nest, Psycho Betty’s and The Westside Burrito Connection, but none had stuck around.

“We never really had a solid place for the all-ages crowd,” said More, who has lived in Bremerton for about 10 years. “We wanted to make sure to have a place where the kids could see a show and get inspired.”

So More and Perry bought the old movie theater where Perry used to watch free movies as a child and opened “The Chuck” with the help of other friends in the Bremerton music scene.

The 400-capacity venue retains its movie theater ambiance, from the dark red curtains along the walls to the silver screen behind the stage. At the April 10 show, adults sipped on brews at the bar in the back, while kids, some with parents and grandparents in tow, bobbed their heads in front of the stage.

“Happy two-year anniversary, Charleston!” said Neutralboy frontman Mike Moen, who last fall staged a write-in campaign for mayor.

The teens who frequent the Charleston make the place their own, Perry said. They keep an eye out for troublemakers and help around the building on show nights. Some even sweep up after a concert in exchange for admission.

“I don’t want to keep kids from seeing a show because they don’t have five dollars,” Perry said. “It’s nice to have help from these kids every once in awhile. They appreciate it more.”

For Kenny Recknagle, 20, the Charleston is the only underage music option around. He comes once or twice a month with friends to enjoy the “crazy music.”

“It’s kind of fun to hang out here,” he said.

The Charleston’s sense of community and openness is part of what appeals to the bands that play there.

“The atmosphere is very warm and homelike,” said Matt Fields, guitarist in the Bremerton band Irony, a frequent act at the Charleston. “It has a really nice balance of being very professional but still very inviting.”

John Schuster, a regular patron, said The Charleston and its fans are like a family, which keeps him coming back.

“It’s definitely the dedication to community,” he said. “It gives everyone a place to go that doesn’t really jump into the norm.”

Bill Mickelson, publisher of the new Bremerton-based alternative arts magazine and blog The Kitsap Smokestack, said The Charleston is a positive and safe place for kids to go.

“The bands at The Charleston range from the legendary uber-famous to the kid that just started a band,” said Mickelson, who has played there several times with his band Triple Forte. “They have a place for anyone who wants to play and give them a chance. They don’t discriminate.”

As a result, younger bands have been cropping up, More said, trying their hand at becoming a future Charleston headliner.

The owners and bands agree that the music has more influence on the younger crowd than the older ones who typically go to music clubs for background music.

“I thinks the kids get more out of it than the adults do,” said John Ronkar, guitarist and vocalist for Bremerton band Steelscape, who said he prefers all-ages audiences.

It’s the younger ones who listen to the lyrics and buy the CDs, More said.

And that’s why The Charleston, in a way, will always belong to them.

“The kids realize that this is their place, this is their stomping grounds,” More said. “Kids realize this is the place to be.”

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