The Cave

August 19, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Call it an alternative path to salvation.

Pass the pierced patrons lining the sidewalk, brace yourself for a surge of loud music, and enter 239 E. Franklin St. in Hagerstown through a pair of poster-plastered doors.

Welcome to The Cave.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Onstage, Poetic Journalist raps to the high-energy keyboard-drum mix of Techno E-Naive, while "skanking" teens contort their bodies under strobe lights on the dance floor. Young couples bathed in black light cuddle on couches. Small groups at nearby tables play games by candlelight.

This is a Christian coffeehouse?

One spike-haired patron sums it up best:

"I guess it's all on the inside," says A.J. Horst, 19, of Hagerstown.

The Cave's goal is to present Christianity in a nonthreatening atmosphere, says Linda Barnhart, who runs the Faith Chapel-sponsored club with her husband, Don.


"We find most youth are offended by a religious attitude," Barnhart says.

That's why the club's organizers "give hope" to young people on their terms on their turf - through alternative Christian music in a hip environment.

"We try to meet them where they are without any judgment," Barnhart says. "We have to break through their prejudices and earn the right to be heard."

Yet visitors to The Cave won't hear any sermons at the club, which was once housed on West Antietam Street and reopened at its new location in November 1998.

In fact, patrons will have a hard time hearing anything except the club's signature hard-driving "Underground" music. It's a contemporary alternative genre that promotes a positive lifestyle and Christian ethics, Barnhart says.

"It's not like Marilyn Manson," she says.

But the sound could fool you.

The hardcore, rapcore, ska, hip-hop and punk performances that draw up to 200 people to The Cave and several other local venues where organizers host shows reflect the sounds of popular groups like Korn, Limp Bizkit and The Ramones, Barnhart says.

(The earplugs on the corner of the counter are free.)

You'll often find pierced eyebrows and dreadlocks onstage and a jumble of bodies in the mosh pit.

"They're up there banging into each other and having a great time, but they're also picking each other up," Barnhart says.

It's the music's positive message and the listeners' attitudes that lend the Christian label to the nonsmoking, no-alcohol establishment, she says.

Horst and Kelly Swisher, 17, say the "cool" venue is a safe alternative to other local teen hangouts.

"It's different. It's someplace I can invite my friends that's not going to freak them out like church," says Swisher, of Hagerstown.

"All my friends come here," added Cave regular Kit Anderson, 21. "It's a good place to hang out and not have to deal with drunk kids and people popping pills and whatnot."

The Christian coffeehouse caters to the 18- to 30-year-old crowd, but everyone is welcome, Barnhart says.

Staffed by volunteers and supported mainly through donations - new sound equipment is desperately needed - The Cave features hot and cold coffee concoctions, fruit thirst quenchers, sodas and assorted snacks, and music that "really grows on you," she says.

The Barnharts' youngest son, 24-year-old Drew, books all the bands, of which about 85 percent are signed on small record labels, he says.

"We look for something unique, something you can't click on MTV and watch."

"The bigger the band, the bigger the crowd," Linda Barnhart says.

A photo collage on one wall depicts the wall-to-wall crowds drawn to shows by such bands as Spoken, Big Dog Small Fence and The Huntingtons. One of The Cave's biggest acts, No Innocent Victim, is sure to pack the house, Linda Barnhart says.

The quietest time to visit The Cave is 7 to 9:15 p.m. on Tuesdays, when the Barnharts host "The Gathering," an opportunity for visitors to ask spiritually related questions.

Those questions range from "Is there really a God?" to "Why is the Bible so strict in terms of sexuality?" Linda Barnhart says.

Using the Bible and their own life experiences as guides, she and her husband do their best to answer such inquiries.

"We want the group to talk, to find the answers prompted by us to stir their thinking. We want them to discover truth through the process of examining what they believe, why and how they got there," Linda Barnhart says.

"We believe real truth can withstand scrutiny without being defensive or offensive."

The couple can relate to the uncertainties young people have today, Barnhart says.

She and Don lived the "wild life" among a small group of hippies in the late 1960s, and "were saved in the '70s," she says.

"It was His love for me that changed my life," Linda Barnhart says. "That's what I want to give to these young people."

What's going on

Most shows at The Cave start at 8 p.m. Saturdays but can vary each week. For information, call The Cave's concert line at 301-393-0984.

Aug. 22: The Huntingtons, Flame Kissed and The Sweeteners; punk; 4 p.m.; $5.

Aug. 26: Slick Shoes, Cooter, Gransane and Octane Blue, $7.

Aug. 28: Battle of the Bands featuring Element, punk; San Culot, emo rock; Employees Only, alternative; and Big Slam, Rap/R&B. Show will be at National Guard Armory gymnasium on Roxbury Road near Hagerstown, 5 to 8 p.m., $10 advance, $12 door. Proceeds benefit Speed the Light Ministries, a missions program of the Assemblies of God.

Sept. 4: Juliana Theory and Kavannah Star, pop-influenced emo rock, post punk, $5.

Sept. 9: Headbangers Ball with Spoken, Rod Laver and Gryp; rapcore and hip-hop, $6.

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