JR’s Lightbulb Club Celebrates 25 Years

JR’s Lightbulb Club Celebrates 25 Years

Staff Photo Nick Brothers JR’s Lightbulb Club as it is today. The venue will celebrate its 25th anniversary this weekend with a free show featuring several of the local music scene’s finest.

There’s a lot to be said about JR’s Lightbulb Club, the no-frills locals-driven bar and live music venue on Block Street that just turned 25.

Without question, the bar is known for its alternative, underground music scene that the bar promotes and the culturally minded young people that frequent it. To a lot of local bands, it’s a place where they’ve been able to recruit some of their favorite under-the-radar touring bands to come to town and play a show with them. In many ways, it has grown its own community of regulars consisting of artists, musicians and local music supporters.

For local bands just getting their legs in the area, JR’s has been the go-to bar to build their local followings. Roger Barrett, a long-time JR’s regular and booking agent for the venue said JR’s made it possible for his first band, Kings of New England, to establish itself by playing shows there.

“It was the only place that hosted shows that I actually wanted to see,” Barrett said. “Seeing shows there made me want to play shows there, and playing shows there made me want to bring other bands here that I liked.”


The “JR” of the Lightbulb Club refers to Jimmy Rapert, the original owner of the bar who opened the venue on his own in 1989 at 21 N. Block Street, where Club Push is now. The place operated as a pizzeria and bar. At night, the upstairs was treated as a lounge where people could hang out, have a drink and talk, and beneath the bar was the live music basement.

Fayetteville’s long time musician Jed Clampit played at JR’s regularly back in these days. The downstairs bar shared a dumbwaiter — a food and drink elevator — with the upstairs bar allowing for pizza and alcohol to be sent downstairs whenever needed. The pizza was stuff of legend, according to interviews.

Jr's Crew

Courtesy Photo: A photo of some of JR’s Lightbulb Club original staff members. Pictured from top left to bottom are: Seamus Hines, Chris King, Dougie Fresh, Chris Coney, Wayne Ramsey, Kirby Cockrum, Erin McCamey, Brooke Vines and Suzon Aubrey.

It wasn’t until 1991 when current co-owner Wade Ogle came to the Lightbulb Club for the first time when he played a show with his band at the time, The Faith Healers. Not long after Ogle started playing at the venue, Rapert brought in a friend of his, Chris King, to do the booking for Lightbulb Club. This was just the beginning of the original, alternative type of music that would develop into a scene at the venue.

“When Chris started booking the shows, it definitely changed to more like that sort of thing that JR’s is known for,” Ogle said. “That alternative, underground sort of thing. He was a little more in the know as far as what was new and what could work.”

Once King was booking the shows, he was able to bring in a lot of great shows with bands like Punkinhead, Better Than Ezra and Zoso consistently, Ogle said. In ‘93, Ogle got a job as a doorman, and eventually worked his way up to bartending, and while working there, Rapert, King and Benton Bandy —who co-owns Lightbulb Club with Ogle now —became business partners.

After King left and moved to Little Rock in 1999, where he went on to become the owner of Stickyz Rock & Roll Chicken Shack and The Rev Room, Ogle took over booking duties for the venue and has been booking for the place ever since. He became an owner in 2000, and not long after that, Rapert left the business altogether to go on to do new and different things in real estate.

One of Ogle’s favorite shows at the old JR’s was The White Stripes when they were supporting their new album, “White Blood Cells.” Their show was on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, there was hesitation to have the show happen. However, the show must go on, and it ended up being one of the best ones yet with Lucero as the opening act. From the way they played that night, it was easy to tell they were going to be big, Ogle said.


For 18 years JR’s Lightbulb Club operated as the pizzeria music venue until about the mid 2000s when interest in live music started to dwindle, Ogle said.

“It kinda seemed like trendier bars with no cover was the popular thing at the time,” he said. “The roster of local bands seemed to really thin out and there wasn’t a lot of support for it. We kind of suffered through that for a couple years. It seemed like the upstairs was always busy, and the downstairs seemed to be slower in comparison to what it had been.”

When the space next door opened up in 2007, Bandy and Ogle saw the opportunity to go with what was working and turn the space next door into a lounge without live music.

JR's Live Music

Courtesy of Rival Colors: Catholic Spray from Paris, France live at JR’s.

“It was a hard decision to move it. I didn’t want to do it,” Ogle said. “Y’know we both looked at ourselves. We were in our 40s, married with children…We just felt like the space could have been more smartly used and still keep what they currently had with the lounge area instead of every weekend getting semi-depressed because no one is going to see live music.”

For four years, Lightbulb Club next door didn’t host shows while the old space became Tangerine, a gay-friendly dance club.

Then one night in 2010, Ogle got a phone call.

The bar manager at the time called him up and told him that a group of local bands — Perpetual Werewolf, Fauxns and a couple others — wanted to come to JR’s and play a show there because the venue they were going to play at didn’t have power that night.

There wasn’t a stage, or even a PA system for the bands to use, so they had to play on the floor. None of that mattered though, as the band assured them they had it covered. The turnout was great. The fact that these guys were so willing to come in, set up their own stuff and play really inspired Ogle into bringing back live music.

Sure enough, the live, local music energy that had been missing from the Lightbulb Club had returned and it’s stayed that way ever since.

Celebrating 25 Years

While there are still many who might say the “glory days” of JR’s was when it had its basement and pizza, both Barrett and Ogle said JR’s is still that same JR’s just in its own new way.

“I’d hate to feel like this room and what’s happening now to get shortchanged as if its an afterthought to the glory days, because it’s not,” Ogle said. “There’s been so much awesome stuff happening right in this room.”

Some of Barrett’s favorite shows he’s been to in Fayetteville have happened in the past six months, and live music here seems to be on an uptick, he said.

“To me, I don’t think about JR’s in a nostalgic way,” Barrett said. “It had to adapt to a smaller, more obscure crowd. It’s not like underground rock is in a revival or anything, and the bands that play there aren’t going to get booked anywhere else in town. To me, that’s the kind of bands I want to see anyway, the more experimental, unexpected stuff.”

JR’s Lightbulb Club 25 Anniversary Weekend

Where: 19 N Block Ave., Fayetteville

When: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27. 9 p.m. Doors, 10 p.m. Music

Who: Good Fear, Airplanes, High Magic, May The Peace of the Sea Be With You, Doctor Nod, Pagiins, monsterheart, Family History (All local bands)

How Much?: FREE

Categories: Cover Story