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The sounds that have escaped the cracks and crevices of that century-old building have been as diverse as the city of Fayetteville itself. From the funky groove of Punkinhead, to underground rock by The Faith Healers, to metal from Vore, or the southern sounds of The Tares or The Paper Hearts. Rap and indie rock. Songwriters. Bluegrass. Plenty of ear splitting karaoke (you know who you are, Sunday night crowd).
Over the course of that time, countless local bands playing original music have cut their teeth on the club’s modest stage – first inside the basement at 21 N. Block Ave. and later in the space next door.
Those bands built their followings at JR’s, from their first shows to their record release parties, as their friends and fans have nodded, sung, and danced along on the front row. Some packed the place, while others played only for the bartenders.
JR’s has hosted countless touring acts, some who were in their prime, some who later became nationally known, and plenty that never emerged from obscurity.
So many guitar solos, drum fills, and bass walks have happened on that stage. It’s seen more than its fair share of spilled beers.
This month, the club that at one time sold more Jagermeister than any bar in the South will celebrate 25 years as a live music venue in Fayetteville.
JR’s Lightbulb Club was opened by 26-year-old Fayetteville resident, Jimmy Rapert (the “JR” behind the name). Rapert, who was a manager at the Old Post Office, had just finished college at the University of Arkansas and was looking for a career when the original JR’s building became available.
It had previously been home to a hole-in-the-wall called Buck’s Cellar Door, a business that Rapert had an affinity for from his nights in college.
“We had an lot of fun there when I was in school,” Rapert recalled. “I loved the live music aspect of it.”
Rapert said he did most of the work to renovate the space himself, and officially opened JR’s as a restaurant and bar in September 1989 on the weekend of the Arkansas-Texas football game.
The name, he said, came from one of Rapert’s managers who helped him open the place – an English major named Pat Barron, who later opened a popular Little Rock bike shop called Chain Wheel.
“When we first took over the place, we were downstairs and there weren’t any light fixtures,” Rapert said. “There were just bulbs hanging down there from the ceiling. I think that’s where the name is from. I think Pat actually came up with it.
“I never really liked it to be honest,” he said.
For a while in the late-1990s and early-2000s, JR’s also operated a second location off Dickson Street called JR’s Ballroom, in an area where The Dickson currently sits.
The Ballroom was a much larger venue, capable of holding several hundred music fans, and as a result, was able to cater to some much larger touring acts from around the country.
Better Than Ezra, The Nixons, Son Volt, Whiskeytown, The Flaming Lips, and several others performed at the larger venue. The Ballroom eventually closed after its partners weren’t able to agree to terms on a new lease with the building’s owners.
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