The Goat House: DIY punk in an Odessa strip mall

Jack Jallo is preparing for the biggest show yet at his small music venue the Goat House.

He follows bands as they gather in gear through the back hallway, and sets up a plastic orange bucket full of candy in the front. In a corner, Chicago pop-punk band Real Friends plays acoustic for four teenage girls in a VIP set — a first for the venue.

Jallo, 19, sports a slim beard, several tattoos and a septum ring. He takes online classes at St. Petersburg College with the eventual goal of a bachelor's degree in psychology, but his passion is his music and this Odessa venue that hosts largely local punk acts. He says he might like to book bigger concerts one day, and this kind of a show offers an easy transition.

"I'm not booking big metal shows where I have to worry about kids punching each other," Jallo said. "It's just pop-punk, singing along."

The show space is about the size of a studio apartment. Its seating is two long blue pews, its furnishings a two-thirds-finished painting of the American flag. The concrete floor is scuffed and splattered. A piece of cardboard is posted on the wall like a makeshift Ten Commandments: "Don't hit anyone on purpose!!! Who the F are you???" and "If you're smoking in here, you better be on fire!"

The exterior doesn't distinguish itself from a vacant unit, which it once was. Its name isn't displayed anywhere and its windows are covered. Located in a plaza, the venue is sandwiched between a Circle K gas station and a Cuts and Color Express hair salon.

Still, the parking lot starts to fill up with cars containing costumed concertgoers. Kids dressed up as Spider-Man and Snow White. Cinderella and a Droog from A Clockwork Orange. The devil and Richard Simmons.

Jallo says he's gotten calls from the greater Tampa and Central Florida area asking how to get here for the show. And they're here because this venue in an outlet off State Road 54 is developing a reputation with bands local, national and even out-of-country.

"This is the biggest one we've had to date," Jallo says about this show.

"It's a little weird."

• • •

The Goat House started around two years ago as a place for Jallo's bands to practice. His parents' house in Tarpon Springs kept receiving noise complaints, he said. So his father, who owns the plaza, let him use one of its open spaces.

Friends would come to hang out. Then, Jallo figured, what's the difference between bands practicing while friends watched and those same bands playing a show?

That space was rented out by the salon about a year ago. So Jallo moved to the vacant unit next door — its current location. For the first few months, all shows were free. Sometimes attendees would sign waivers as admission.

"In the case that Kid A and Kid B are moshing and Kid B accidentally punches Kid A, and Kid A gets mad and wants to do something about it like suing, the waiver says you can't sue me for it," Jallo said.

One of the Goat House's earliest successes was a free all-day event called BBQ Fest. Bands from New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas played, as did local band Reveal Renew on the final date of its tour. Jallo said the show brought out more than 150 kids.

The venue also opened a recording studio and print shop in its back hallway (Jallo calls it a "one-stop DIY shop."). Kenneth Gil, 20, runs the studio and plays bass in Reveal Renew. He and his bandmate Charlie Caruso, who operates the print shop, had the idea for a performing/recording/art space and found a willing participant in Jallo.

"We met up with him and his dad and had lunch over it, and everything from there started falling into place," Gil said.

Like several DIY venues early in their existence, the Goat House suffered a slight setback. Cops closed it down for three weeks after an anonymous complaint they were selling alcohol to minors. Jallo said he's gotten all the necessary building permits since and no drinking is allowed at the venue anyway — and anyone who tries to gets kicked out.

"I don't want to ever do that, but I can't have my place and everything we worked for together brought down," Jallo said.

• • •

After doors open, attendees sit in the pews on opposite ends of the room like shy kids at a school dance. But once the bands start, they start to fill in the middle of the floor. The room gets warmer as concertgoers cluster together, louder from amplifiers and shouted-back choruses.

While Daytona Beach group Bad Luck plays clad in black nWo wrestling outfits, Jallo stage-dives into the crowd — as much as one can dive in a venue without a stage. Hands push him upward and forward until he's hovering above the singer's face, shouting along with him.

But during the set of the next band, Buffalo, N.Y.'s Pentimento, singer Jeremiah Pauly suddenly staggers across the room. He had been shocked, though he rallies to finish the performance. The remaining bands perform stripped-down or acoustic sets and the show ends as it started, with Real Friends playing acoustic to the crowd.

Jallo later said the shock seemingly came from a combination of the singer's non-insulated microphone and an electrical outlet that wasn't fully insulated. It was fixed right away, he said, and he was hosting a cancer benefit show a week later.

And the venue has continued to score big shows since then. In December, it hosted its first European band — the hardcore group Ultimhate, hailing from Rennes, France. On Jan. 8, JT Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights performed there.

But the initial reason Jallo decided to open the Goat House, he said, was just to give people in the area a place to go.

"I felt like the way the music scene was going was something I want to step up and do something about," he said. "So I did. I opened up a venue."

Rock below the radar

The Goat House is located at 2136 Corporate Center, Odessa. Upcoming shows include melodic hardcore Massachusetts act Aviator and Pennsylvania's Black Mask on Feb. 7, and New York pop-punk group Firestarter and Orlando's Old Again on Feb. 12.

Far from a comprehensive list, here are a few more of Tampa Bay's unconventional punk and rock venues:

Epic Problem This all-ages, DIY venue is adjacent to the Skatepark of Tampa. Formerly known as Transitions Art Gallery, the space got a new name, owner and coat of purple paint in 2013. Plenty of big names came through Transitions, but Epic Problem held its own in its first year with bills like The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die with Dads and Pity Sex; and Power Trip with Mammoth Grinder and Iron Reagan. And it already has some big names booked for 2014, like Touché Amoré on March 7. 4215 E Columbus Drive, Tampa; facebook.com/epicproblemtampa

Mojo Books and Music/Planet Retro Gallery Record stores holding shows are far from unheard of, but these two shops provide something closer to a typical DIY venue than the usual acoustic in-store performance. Mojo Books and Music (2540 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; mojotampa.com) has given its floor to bands like Will Oldham, Speedy Ortiz and Angel Olsen. Meanwhile, the recently relocated Planet Retro Gallery (2414 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; planetretrorecords.com) has hosted acts including Washington, D.C.'s Priests and Indiana's Flamingo Nosebleed.

Unit 19 While discussing Tampa's storage-space scene in an interview with Pitchfork, Merchandise singled out Unit 19 as the city's "punk's stronghold." A literal storage unit, it's hosted numerous local hardcore and punk shows. But it's also put on shows for various bands and projects featuring Merchandise members, hardcore group Hoax and the much-buzzed-about Perfect Pussy. There's no website or Facebook for the venue — word just spreads.

The Venture Compound Located in St. Pete's Warehouse Arts District, this venue caters to experimental, electronic and noise artists. Founder Jesse Vance said that among the hundreds of shows the Venture Compound has hosted, some of his favorites include Osaka, Japan's Tree and Water, and Christian noise artist Clang Quartet. It has also provided a space for numerous events and festivals, such as St. Pete Zine Fest, St. Pete Noise Fest and Florida Free Film Fest. 2621 Fairfield Ave. S, St. Petersburg; facebook.com/theventurecompound.

The Goat House: DIY punk in an Odessa strip mall 01/31/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 3:35pm]

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