It's rare for a punk rock band to tear through a set, then demand its listeners go eat some ice cream.
Carnival Barker's is a special kind of place.
It's first and foremost an ice cream shop, where tattooed owner Aaron Barker serves up scoops among his collection of action figures. But it has an anti-mainstream aesthetic, thanks to Barker's penchant for punk.
Given the punk rock playlist coming out of the speakers, it's not unusual for passersby to walk up and try to order a beer or even get a tattoo. But here, it's just ice cream and occasional punk rock. The Oak Cliff shop has been especially useful for young punk rock bands struggling to find gigs.
Barker has a special love for the Dallas music scene. For years, he was a one-man band; he later was a member of Street Arabs and is now in a garage rock punk group called the Eggshells.
The ice cream shop's first gig was for Barker's cousin, 19-year-old Nick Papaioannou and his band the Blands. Sometimes the crowds get rowdy out on the sidewalk, where shows take place, and Barker says that's OK.
"We're the first punk rock ice cream shop in the world. We should have punk rock shows here," the owner says.
"Even on Happy Days there was music at Al's place to go with the milkshakes."
Papaioannou now books most of the bands and often performs at the shows. Many of the bands had never heard of each other and Papaioannou quickly noticed how they benefited from interacting.
"Bars either won't let young kids play or they get kicked out as soon as they're done playing," Papaionnou says. "That's no fun when you don't get to see the rest of the bands. Plus, parents probably don't want their kids to go to a dingy bar."
In front of traffic on Jefferson Boulevard and wide-eyed pedestrians, the bands perform out in the open. Sometimes the music attracts customers; sometimes it seems to scare them away. During one show, Papaioannou took a picture of an elderly man ordering ice cream while covering his ears with his hands.
The shows have also knitted together an impressive range of young, local talent in the broad spectrum of punk. At a show on Sept. 25, dance-punk band Sub-Sahara and Vegan Shark made strong showings. Same Brain, a group that could be described as psychedelic surf rock, blew Barker away.
"A lot of these bands are going to be knocking us old guys out of our slots," Barker says. "They will retire some of us. They are coming up and they are monsters.
"They're hungry, and not just for ice cream."
Barker is so devoted to his cause that he allowed the last show to happen inside rather than risk it being canceled by rain. This was all the more shocking considering that Carnival Barker's is a 500-square-foot space that only offers window service. Bands set up and performed surrounded by pricey ice cream equipment. The crowd bounced off freezers and ice cream machines.
"Honestly, the acoustics were really great in here," Barker shrugs. "I have no regrets. Nothing got broken."
Barker feels he's making a difference in the music community - and sure, he's building his ice cream business, too. "I just want these kids to have a place that they wouldn't necessarily have," says Barker, who dropped out of high school as a teen but later got his GED and a college degree. And now he owns his own business.
Today, Barker is like an uncle to the younger punk crowd in Dallas.
"I'm in the best punk rock ice cream shape of my life," he says.
The next concert is at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Carnival Barker's, 345 W. Jefferson Blvd., Dallas.
By JEREMY HALLOCK/SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR