Photo: Aaron Kafton

circa. 2008

I’ve always said I cut my teeth on the world in Joplin, Missouri. Growing up near Cassville (Population: 2,500) served me well, but I knew I wouldn’t stay. A childhood friend of mine and I attempted higher education right out of high school. I reference this time as the “first fifteen minutes that I went to college.” Shortly after that stint, our idealistic minds decided that music was the way to go. We went from sleeping in a ’92 Chevy Lumina to a nearly condemned rental house. We started our roots in our new town.


The more I reflect on the big memories, the more the smaller ones begin to glow again. Those moments shaped who I am today, from pitchers of Rolling Rock at the Keystone to exploring the train depot. The miles we put on our second hand boots combined conversations about our understanding of the world around us made us feel at home. For as much I enjoyed pounding the concrete of the Joplin city streets, my imagination was most captured above and below.


Joplin was once a booming mining town with infrastructure designed for massive growth. Unfortunately, the expected boom never came. Now along sections of Main Street, there are 100-year-old buildings that have not heard footsteps inside for decades. Those were my favorite. In most things, the unloved and abandoned are my preferred choice of company.


I even took a date on one of my unofficial tours of town. We walked a mile of lesser-known underground tunnels. Then we climbed eight stories of fire escape to let our legs hang above the street below. Joplin also has a few fantastic options for fountains that one could take a late night swim in, or so I’ve heard. Perhaps urban exploration isn’t for everyone. She never returned my calls.


I can still feel the chain link fences on my hands that I jumped in Joplin. My first real attempt at making music came from there. Folks I became friends with there are still part of my life. Some remained, bought our old bars, and continue to grow the music community. Some moved to other locations, like myself. They’ve become a big part of the regional network I travel and they have supported me for more than a decade.

I began getting tattooed in earnest at the age of 19. The stories behind the pieces I chose while in Joplin play back like movies. I’ve kept those memories close and the tattoos are just reminders of my journey. Hard lessons and happy lessons, all important in their own way and worth remembering. Looking at these maps under my skin I feel blessed to be where I am and excited to see where the map leads.  

- Jake Rat