Rhythm Alley Redux - 13 - May 1986
"Welcome to your life - there's no turning back." - Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
02 - Terminal Mouse
03 - The Woods with Long Gone
04 - Claudia Schmidt
08 - Leopard Society
09 - The Accelerators with Naked Ramblers
10 - Three Hits
16 - Foreign Bodies with Denouement
17 - Bluegrass Experience
21 - Flat Duo-Jets with Michael Kelsh
22 - Dayroom Monitors with the Montegoes
23 - Killer Whales
24 - Johnny Quest with Light in August
25 - Fred! the Concert (with Rohrwaggon, Flat-Duo Jets, Foreign Bodies and Terminal Mouse)
29 - Antic Hay
30 - Treva Spontaine and the Graphic
31 - The Bad Checks
Another quick note about the economics of alcohol sales in the mid-80s in North Carolina - we paid the distributors pretty much the same as what we could buy the stuff for from Big Bertha (the walk-in beer cooler in the downtown grocery store), but buying from anyone other than a distributor was illegal. Of course it was good that it got delivered to us and they took away the empty long-necks but basically it was collusion between the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board and the big beer distributors. That being said, there were a couple of Saturday evenings that we had little choice but to go buy a few flats of Bud cans from the Carrboro Harris-Teeter - it was that or canceling a show and being closed. Jeannette was terrific (after years of experience) in predicting sales so that we weren’t carrying a lot of unsold inventory but we didn’t run out very often either.
Running out of beer on a night was a problem I really wanted to have as we went into May. We were not in good shape financially. We’d had a handful of really big shows in April but not nearly enough of them. And the benefit we’d gotten from a bunch of nights hosting King Mackerel in March was pretty much wiped out by the two-night Riders in the Sky engagement where we didn’t come close to making their guarantee. The other problem we had was that the April schedule, while short, was loaded with some of the folks that always drew the biggest crowds and I was really trying to avoid overbooking any particular band. That meant that I was going to be booking a lot of nights in May with good bands that just hadn’t found big audiences yet - and I had to book a bunch of them. And May was kind of a slow month, with exams and graduation being a distraction the first half of the month and a break from school and a holiday emptying the town out for the second.
Jeannette picked Terminal Mouse to play her birthday party the first Friday night of May and we followed them up with The Woods Saturday night. Really good bands and really good shows but not huge draws that first weekend. On Sunday afternoon, we reprised the first show we did as owners of the Alley with the return of Claudia Schmidt. Let me say this for those of you who have or may someday have small children. We were always absolutely delighted to see people bring their babies and kids into the Alley but you’ve got to remember that no matter how much sweeping you do, years of broken bottles are going to leave small glass shards on the floor. We spent much of the afternoon strongly suggesting to parents that they pick their toddlers up off the ground before they shredded their knees with bits of broken Miller bottles. Claudia was a good draw, especially for a Sunday, and we nearly sold out so we more than covered her guarantee and actually sold a few beers as well.
Leopard Society had opened for other bands a couple of times but Thursday the 8th was the first time they headlined a show. If Jeannette was there, she took the night off and listened to the band (she liked ‘em) as I believe PC and Kelly worked that show with me. It was not well-attended (couple dozen folks at the most) - they were a good band and should have had a better audience.
Cassette insert for The Leopard Society EP
The Accelerators were back on Friday night with the Naked Ramblers and honestly didn’t draw much better, which was not good for a Friday. Saturday’s Three Hits show was badly attended as well, so if we started the month in the hole, we were managing to dig it deeper the first two weeks of May.
That was probably when we started thinking about a rent party. If that sounds like a desperation move and usually a precursor to an establishment going under, I usually think so too. But we were in fact getting desperate as we really needed a cushion going into summer but instead we were trying to get out of the red. The Cave had done something similar a month or so before so we started asking around to see if anyone would be interested. I have no idea what we told the bands but we’re both extremely honest people so I can only think we told the truth and asked for help. We quickly got all the help we could use and more (I will always be grateful to not only everyone that played, but to the many bands that offered to play that we couldn’t fit on the schedule).
So we started working on Fred! the Concert (it was always a goof of a name - we certainly never tried to pretend it was a benefit for anyone other than the club). In the meantime we had a couple more weeks of shows to do while we put Fred! together. Foreign Bodies played the middle Friday of the month (it used to be a lot deader in Chapel Hill after graduation than it is now, so the 50 or so people they drew was pretty damn good). Bluegrass Experience took the Saturday slot and drew a similar sized audience.
So things were lining up the way I was afraid they would, with audiences of 20-60 people when we needed to be pulling in 80-120 with the occasional sellout.
The Flat Duo-Jets/Michael Kelsh show on Wednesday was a help. While they could both often be found busking (separately) on Franklin Street, Dex and Michael each drew a different set of folks which made for a pretty decent audience (particularly for a weeknight). And it made for a cool show musically with two very distinct styles.
Cassette insert for the legendary Flat Duo-Jets (in stereo) release
Thursday night, on the other hand, was another night that financially we’d have been better off staying closed. But it ought to be clear by now that we weren’t in this for the money. I liked the Dayroom Monitors and was happy to finally give them a headline slot, whether they brought in 12 people or 120. We just couldn’t afford that all the time and unfortunately (but not surprisingly) it was happening too often.
I don’t remember what the ticket price was for The Killer Whales - whether it was the normal $3 or if we boosted it a bit for them. They never really developed the audience around the Triangle that they had in Atlanta and South Carolina so regardless of the ticket price, we didn’t quite make their guarantee. It may sound like I was just booking bands that I liked regardless of their potential audience but that wasn’t quite true (although there was a little of that). The problem was that having just done a couple of the bands that always drew well in April, with the Pressure Boys on a short hiatus and with a couple of other bands touring elsewhere, I had limited options and was counting on people coming in to check out bands they hadn’t seen before. Bit of a tough sell in May between spring semester and summer sessions when lots of people had bailed from town.
Killer Whales logo bumper sticker
I’m pretty sure that the Johnny Quest show on Saturday was their record release party for the 7” of “Irresponsibility” (a different version wound up on their excellent 10 Million Summers CD a few years later). They had a good sweaty dancing crowd for the show and played a good (but short) set of their fast funky-punky tunes before taking a break. After a half an hour or so I went out back and found Jack and asked him when they were going to play their second set. Jack may remember this differently but I’m pretty sure he told me that they’d played their whole catalog but that he’d go round the band up and run through it again if I wanted. I gave the only reasonable response I could - I laughed, shook my head and wandered back inside to have a beer.
Johnny Quest “Irresponsibility” single insert - front
Johnny Quest “Irresponsibility” single insert - back
I want to point something out on the bottom left corner of the back cover above - I don’t think I ever told Jack or Joe how much that one word meant to me. If you’re reading this - thanks, guys!
I think (I hope!) that a lot of bands enjoyed playing the Rhythm Alley - there were so many great bands and wonderful people and terrific talent that made the place special for the audiences and we really wanted it to be special for the bands as well. But the bands that played Fred! went above and beyond the call of duty. It was a great day and was actually more successful than I’d expected it to be. Terminal Mouse and Foreign Bodies took the first two slots, featuring two of the best female vocalists around (both of whom are fortunately still knocking people’s socks off at a club near you). Then Dex and Crow played the lead-in to the return of Rohrwaggon, which was pretty incredible given that we (and they, I think) thought their shows the previous month were going to be it. I think the crowd for this one was even bigger as word had gotten out after their first appearance. We brought a bunch of people in (it was basically a sell-out at $5 a head) and sold a bunch of beer and our friends effectively bailed us out, at least for a couple more months.
May was a long month - we still had another weekend to go. The Antic Hay show on Thursday night didn’t do a lot (I think there were less than 10 paying customers) but the Graphic did better than they had previously and the Bad Checks were back to nearly selling the place out with their show on the last day of the month. I always did my best to find someone to cover the door for me for at least part of a Checks show so I could get out and do a bit of dancing before the end of the night.
Photo of what is left of my Graveyard Tramp t-shirt
So at the end of a very long month, we’d averted disaster with a little help from our friends and some well-attended shows to close out the month. We were trying out some scheduling changes for summer with some of the local bands touring out of town and unavailable and some other acts wanting to come play for us for the first time, or for the first time in awhile.