An Ode to Jim Dandy

I couldn’t find a photo of Jim Dandy’s so this Wikipedia photo of the Prunedale sign will have to suffice.

I’ll never forget the time my friend kicked me in the stomach so hard I spewed. It was humiliating at the time but hilarious in retrospect. Despite sounding like a scene from Bloodsport, there was zero malice in that roundhouse. So with a spit and a chortle, I shrugged it off as my friends whopped me on the back in convulsions of laughter. We were teenagers, after all. And that’s just an occupational hazard when you spend your Wednesday nights haunting a hardcore mosh pit.

Instead of darting to the nearest napkin dispenser like a decent human, I slid right into the pit on my own vomit and slapped shins with the gut-punter, both of us masked with psychotic grins that were simultaneously stoked and pissed. Because I wasn’t a decent human — I was a 17-year-old idiot at a hardcore show.

This hallowed ground, slippery with puke and sweat and sticky with spilled energy drinks, was Jim Dandy’s in Prunedale, California — or as the locals called it, Prunetucky. I can still remember the potent smell of the wood-chips that covered the parking lot and how it followed you all the way to the dancefloor. It was located on a deadly 13-mile stretch of Highway 101 known as “Blood Alley” which has since been reconstructed thus dropping its ominous nickname. Six days out of the week, Jim Dandy’s was a tiny truck stop for weary travelers who needed a nosh break. But on Wednesday nights, it was a rage-fueled, all-ages concert venue that looked and sounded like a hellish party hosted by Beelzebub and all of his little demon friends. In other words, it was our parents’ worst nightmare and our dream come true.

What began as a Wednesday night thing soon turned into a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday night thing. Each week, Jim Dandy’s served up doses of punk, metal, emo, screamo and hardcore music — a righteous cocktail spiked with angst, windmills and brass knuckles. Local bands like Moria and Fate Thirteen would grace its stage, but as the venue’s lore grew, bigger acts like Bleeding Through and My Chemical Romance would play.

Growing up in the agrarian town of Salinas in the late ’90s and early 2000s, there wasn’t much else to do other than watch our friends shoot CKY2K knock-off videos (shout out to the HOBO CREW) or fuck around in the dried up riverbed which consisted of burning mattresses, shooting paintball guns and getting trashed on stolen bottles of Southern Comfort. Sometimes the occasional blunt, pilfered from a parent, would appear if we were lucky. That was the river party era. But when Jim Dandy’s came into our lives, a new era dawned. We had finally found a scene, a spot, a hub, a haunt. That dark little roadside hut became our home.

Parents did have one thing on their sides with Jim Dandy’s though (despite its deadly location, violent mosh pits and the lies we fed them to go there). Proprietor Larry Hemphill (aka Jim Dandy), a Vietnam vet and ex-musician with long, stringy gray hair who dressed like a white trash pimp, had a strict no-alcohol policy which was demarcated by big black Xs on our hands. The only thing served at the bar was soda, energy drinks and snacks because he wanted to prove to us that we didn’t need to get loaded to have a good time.

Larry Hemphill / provided by Farrell Dillon

And he was right, because our priority was to listen to aggressive dudes screaming so hard into the microphone that you were liable to get misted if you stood too close. You see, Hemphill had a vision, and that was to create the most outstanding and outlandish venue in the country. What he established was the only all-ages punk and hardcore venue in Monterey County. Not sure if it received the nationwide acclaim he had hoped for, but he definitely succeeded in rocking the worlds of the bored kids of Salinas.

It was a badass place to come of age. I was never judged or creeped on. I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable or uncool. I could kick my legs and windmill my arms in the middle of the dancefloor as hard as I wanted (if you don’t know the difference between moshing and hardcore dancing, look it up), and if I happened to punch someone, even better. Hemphill even offered a cash reward to the hardcore dancer with the most style. I never won, or knew anyone who did, but I always tried my darnedest.

I saw my first brass knuckles fight in the parking lot and also got my first black eye in that parking lot (that was an interesting lie I told my parents). Most of the actual fighting happened in the parking lot, because the only fists that flew on the dancefloor were those possessed by the fury of the music.

At home, I was the good girl, the homework doer, the piano and guitar player, the singer, the ballet dancer. At school I was the nerd who spent many lunches at Chemistry, Physics and Math club meetings. But at Jim Dandy’s, I was a mischievous demon hanging out with my demon friends listening to terrifying demon music.

As all stories go, Jim Dandy’s eventually shut down. In fact, the building was torn down altogether, all of our crazy memories just leveled into a plane of dirt, like they never happened. But they did happen. Though only for a blip of our existence, they happened with such a furious impact that I’m sitting here writing about it 16 years later.

You won’t see me at these kinds of places anymore, as my musical taste has evolved. But no matter how much I’ve mellowed out and changed, it’s become part of my folklore, part of my DNA, and every time my party demon emerges (perhaps tonight?), I’ll pour one out for Jim Dandy.