Friday, August 22, 2014

Blogger size limitation

Lex pointed out that some of the Rhythm Alley posts seemed to be missing - I apparently ran into a Blogger limitation on the size of a "page" which includes both the main page and the archive pages.  To resolve that, I switched from a monthly to a weekly archive - they should now all be available by scrolling way, way down to the bottom and looking through the August archive links.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - Post(er)script

While in Chapel Hill recently for the Be Loud! Sophie concert, world-renowned urban archaeologist, author and all-around swell guy Peter "PC" Cashwell took some time to do some digging in the old Chapel Hill town landfill in Carolina North Forest and unearthed what appear to be early attempts at pre-Internet advertising utilizing actual paper and a technique then known as "photocopying".  Obviously the paper itself is way too fragile to be handled but PC has graciously digitized these "posters" and made them available for your edutainment.  I have attempted to present them in a chronological order.

An early attempt at what became known as "poster art"

Odd hieroglyphics that are completely untranslatable to modern man

Here we see a somewhat more mature approach, at least featuring likenesses of members of the performing troupe

The last two known works of the Hammondiluvian period

Note the complete absence of any mention of Screamin' Jay Hawkins - you will be tested on the significance of that omission

An attempt to add some gravitas to the proceedings with the likeness of a well-loved childhood authority figure

I got nothing

As we move closer to modern times, sexuality becomes more a part of advertising, despite the evident disapproval of the mustachioed gentleman in the corner

This text-heavy example is a case-study in TMI - this style was used a few years later in the early World Wide Web era, spawning a number of "World's Worst Website" collections

This one is perfect

Two takes on a much-appreciated attempt to save a valuable historical landmark from the bulldozer.  Lord knows it helped.

If anyone else has any such finds, please feel free to send them to me for publication.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 17 - Acknowledgements

I hope you guys have enjoyed this - it was a painful joy to put together.

Here’s a shout-out to the people and places that made our owning Rhythm Alley not only possible, but necessary...

Those that have gone on before:
David Enloe, Faye Hunter, Gil Templeton, Dan Cowett, Stephen Akin, Stacy Guess, Carey Floyd, Sally Dunning and one of my dearest friends, Kevin Bruce, who introduced me to much good music, to home brewing and to how to appropriately use “party” as a verb - I miss you, KeeBee.

The clubs and bars of the first half of the 80s:
The 9:30 Club, Friendship Station, Psychodeli, Cagney’s (DC area)
Culture Club, The Pier, Cafe Deja Vu, The Bear's Den, Fallout Shelter, The Brewery (Raleigh)
Milestone, Viceroy Park (Charlotte)
The Riff (Winston-Salem)
Secret Garden (Greensboro)
The Cave, Cat's Cradle (Chapel Hill)

The Bands:
The Fabulous Knobs, Fetchin' Bones, The Bad Checks, UV Prom, Snatches of Pink, The Connells, Johnny Quest, Don Dixon, Shakin' Sherman and the Blazers, Flat Duo-Jets, Foreign Bodies, Terminal Mouse, Let's Active, the dB's, Chris Stamey, Mike Cross, Touchstone, New Grass Revival, Bluegrass Experience, Red Clay Ramblers, A Number of Things, The Veldt, The Othermothers, Right Profile, SCOTS, Three Hits, The Graphic, The Wood(pecker)s, Hege V and the Bijous, Gumbo Ya-Ya, Rod Dash, The Dayroom Monitors, The Accelerators, The Phantoms, all the other bands that I’m forgetting or that we saw but were never able to book and most of all, The Pressure Boys

All the other peeps that helped us along the way, like Mike Beard, Matt Matthews, Tim and Mark Harper, Bond Kenneth Bond, Kelly Dalton, Jeff and Tracy, Zingo, Dan (the one that wasn’t Zingo), Diane Smith, Bryan Milosky, Barney Pilgrim and the countless other folks that helped behind the bar, in front of the bar, on the stage or on the dance floor.

Incredibly many thanks to Hooper “Lex” Alexander IV - the best friend this boy’s ever had or ever hope to have.

Finally, it feels weird to thank Jeannette, since we were (and remain) partners in every sense of the word but thanks, hon, for putting up with me for the last 30 years, including my (not-so-) ridiculous fantasy of owning a rock and roll club.

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Rhythm Alley Redux - 16 - August 1986

"Watch the flesh on your hand go transparent waving your last goodbye" - Fetchin' Bones, "All Clocks"

01 - Shakin' Sherman and the Blazers
02 - Southern Culture on the Skids

I couldn’t have scripted a more anti-climactic ending to it all, for me at least.  After rarely missing a show since we bought the club, I wasn’t even in the state for our last weekend.  I was still desperately hanging on to my job in Greensboro so when the opportunity for training came up, I really didn’t have the option of turning it down.  So I spent our last week of club ownership in a hotel in Columbia, Maryland while Jeannette was left to finish up.

The last couple of shows feel like they were just right for our last weekend.  Our friends Shakin’ Sherman and the Blazers played for us one last time - somewhere I’ve still got a t-shirt that Sherman, Ronnie, Brian and Lee signed for me.  I know I called the payphone next to the door during a break to say goodbye to the guys.

The Blazers.jpg
Photo of the infamous Blazers LP, still in shrinkwrap

Saturday was our first and only show with Southern Culture on the Skids, back when Stan, Leslie and Chip were playing with Rick (you know, that Rick, not the other Rick).  We’d been flirting with dates for months - me trying to talk them into playing back when they were more associated with DR’s Cat's Cradle and then them trying to work something out with us after the Cradle closed.  By all accounts (why the  ^$%@@%^@ wasn’t I there!?!), it was an excellent wake, which included Jeannette and the gang giving away mementos from the backbar (thankfully saving the bar monkey for me).

The next day Jeannette got on a plane and flew up to BWI to meet me, where we spent the week with me at an IBM mainframe class and Jeannette resting and recovering at the Columbia Place Mall.

Just like that it was over, and a couple of months later we were gone, heading down to Charlotte for my new day job. I went down first to sign the lease on an apartment down at the end of Park Road near Pineville.  Fetchin’ Bones was at the Milestone that night so naturally I went - somehow my friend Tom Beckett ended up crashing on the floor of the apartment with me (I honestly don’t remember whether that was planned or if it just happened).  I worked for a company down in Rock Hill until they consolidated the data center with one in Lancaster, which was a bit of a drive but at least it was against traffic.  In the meantime we spent our time learning Charlotte from a different part of town than I’d grown up in, seeing the occasional show at the Milestone or going dancing at the Pterodactyl Club.  Another year and we were back in Chapel Hill, but it was obviously not the same.


30 years later, it’s not Bo Diddley or King Mackerel or New Grass Revival that I usually think about when I’m reminded of the Alley.

It’s Sonar Strange filling the room with her incredible voice before a sound check - just warming up with no one there other than me and Jeannette getting the place ready for the night.

It’s the first time I heard a 17 year old Dexter Romweber ripping “Riiiioooooottttt” from somewhere around his groin as he and Crow launched into “Riot on Cell Block Number 9” at a Flat Duo-Jets all-ages show.  (That one still gives me chills.)

It’s the smell of Obsession that mixed with the smell of sweat and stale beer for days after a Connells show.

It’s the intense focus on the face of Andy McMillan of Snatches of Pink sitting on the front row and watching the players in Lo Jai after winning tickets from WXYC.

It's the Othermothers going from an excruciating sound check to one of the tightest, most spot-on sets I ever witnessed.

It's guys like After Hours and Uncle Bonsai and Antic Hay and others playing their best for an almost-empty room because that's what you do.

Most of all, it’s the huge grins on the faces of the crowd on those nights when the band was cooking, the beer was flowing, the feet were moving and there wasn’t a damn thing wrong in the world.  Luckily, that’s something I can still get at Frank's Cradle or the Haw River Ballroom or the Artscenter or any of the other venues that have taken the place of the Alley.

Go listen to live music, people!  And support your local rock club.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 15 - July 1986

“So shut your mouth - how can you say I go about things the wrong way?” - The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”

05 - Touchstone
06 - Touchstone
11 - The Connells with Light in August
12 - The Woods with Diminshing Returnz
17 - Mojo Nixon with the Naked Ramblers
18 - Dash Rip Rock with the Flat Duo-Jets
19 - The Pressure Boys with A Number of Things
24 - Rod Dash with the Graphic

On the 2nd of July, John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” hit the theaters. We didn’t see it then but a few years later it became one of our favorite movies.  It was always a mess of a movie, but it made a hell of a lot more sense when it was finally pointed out that Kurt Russell’s character - Jack Burton - is not the hero of the piece.  He’s the bumbling sidekick - the comic relief that always has the best intentions but rushes headlong from one dumb move to another.  Sometimes those dumb moves work out, sometimes they don’t.  It ought to be clear by now that I’m the Jack Burton of this story and Jeannette is Wang Chi, the real hero.  I’d pushed us to jump on the opportunity when Judy decided to sell, over the objections of the person who’d studied and trained and prepared for this and knew it wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t the right situation, as much as we wanted it to be.  She’d done an incredible job of holding everything together to this point and now despite working her ass of to make it a success, we were going to have to get out.

I’ve somehow lost the June and July pages of my booking calendar and our bookkeeping was getting a little sloppy by this point, so I’m sure I’m missing a few dates.  What information I’ve got is from the closing sheets that are left but I’m sure a couple are missing.  

I’ve been trying to give everyone some insight into what was going on behind the scenes but I’m not going to talk much about the sale of the Alley later in the month.  It was sad and tragic and awful and heartbreaking and still makes us angry on a number of levels for a number of reasons to this day.  I’d rather focus on the last few shows we did, as much as I can piece the schedule together.  The only thing I’ll say is that Jeannette is quite justly proud of the fact that we didn’t go under, we didn’t walk away from it - we sold it as a viable business and a going concern.

While I’m missing some some dates from July, what I do have includes some pretty damn good shows.  The 4th of July was on a Friday so we didn’t try to book anyone that night.but our friends from Touchstone were back in town and did shows Saturday and Sunday.  They weren’t badly attended for a holiday weekend (around 100 folks each night) so it kept the weekend from being a washout - and we got to see our friends.

Photo of the cover of Touchstone’s “Jealousy” LP

The Connells show the next Friday with Light in August was one of their biggest yet and might have yielded our highest beer sales total for a show that wasn’t an all-day affair, although that might be a little misleading as their crowd was much more apt to hit the imports than the PBRs.

I’ve got the Woods playing with a band called Diminishing Returnz on Saturday.  I’m wondering if this is the night I remember when a bunch of college-age folks showed up for the opening band and then left soon after their set.  It felt a little bit like a changing of the guard, except that I don’t remember the opening band ever doing anything after that.

That might also have been the Saturday afternoon when I was putting up posters on the west end of Franklin Street and ran into Richard Fox, who owned a mobile recording studio and had recorded a couple of shows at the Alley.  He introduced me to the two guys he was going in with to buy Cat’s Cradle.  One was former UNC fullback Billy Johnson, who I’d met a couple of times before through mutual friends.  The other guy was a skinny dude I’d never met before, name of Frank.

If that was some sort of passing of the torch, I didn’t recognize it at the time.  In retrospect, if we handed a torch to Frank, he turned it into a bonfire.  With all of the club owner turnover in Chapel Hill since the early ‘70s, it’s remarkable that Frank has owned the Cradle for almost 30 years.  What’s even more remarkable is what he’s done with it and what he’s done for live music in the Triangle.  What might even be the most remarkable thing is that by all accounts, he’s done everything in the right way and been willing to help everyone else out along the way.  If I wore a hat, it would be off to him.

I realize that Mojo Nixon isn’t everybody’s cup of beer but I liked him and was pretty happy to book him.  Mojo counted as near-local - he was actually born in Chapel Hill but his family moved to Danville when he was a kid.  His second release came out sometime around when he played our place and was getting some attention (both good and bad) from MTV.  We put him with the Naked Ramblers and got a damn nice turnout, especially for a Thursday.

There was a guy that played sax some with Dex and Crow (Derrick, maybe?) that used to come in all the time and bug me to book Dash Rip Rock, a cow-punk-billy band from New Orleans.  They were doing a Southeast tour so we brought them in on Saturday to play with the Jets in a double-bill.  I love their cassette and wished I remembered more about the show but I may have to admit that I was beginning to fade a bit by that time.

Dash Rip Rocka.jpg
Dash Rip Rock cassette insert

While I might have started to fade, I’ll never forget the last Pressure Boys show we did, for a bunch of reasons.  We needed a good show in order to pay off our final bills for one thing, and A Number of Things and the P-Boys definitely delivered.  But in their tradition of starting shows late, they were still on-stage when last call came around.  I was at the door when an over-dressed middle-aged woman who looked completely out of place came in after last call and sat at the bar and tried to order a beer.  Lex and Kenneth both turned her down and she was still at the bar a couple of minutes later when a guy in a badly-fitting suit brushed past me and started behind the bar.  Lex started over... oh, hell, let me let Lex tell it.
"I'd had my usual six or seven cups of coffee that evening while tending bar, so I was wired so tightly I was hearing with my hair. 
You'd always told me not to let anyone behind the bar, ever, for any reason. And so, when this unassuming guy (and that's all I remember about him) let himself behind the bar, I did what you'd told me to do: I reached under the bar for the baseball bat and headed toward the guy.
He pulled out a badge, and I pulled up so short I'm surprised I didn't tear a hamstring. He identified himself as an ALE agent, and all I could think in that moment was that I was incredibly lucky not to have been shot. (I don't even know if the guy was carrying; I assume he was, but, to his credit, he never came close to going for the weapon.) At that point, I went in the back and found you, and I really don't remember much about what happened after that, other than that I was never so happy in my life to pour myself a Harp draft after the agent had left and we'd locked the doors for the night.
I have come closer to dying in my life, but never so close to dying stupidly. Fark wasn't around then, but "please do not let me die a Fark headline" seems a reasonable request. Fortunately, the ALE agent that evening was a reasonable guy."
I'm not sure I agree with Lex' "reasonable" comment but he's nicer than me. After the little attempt at entrapment failed, our next challenge was to clear the room of beer in about 20 minutes, while the Pressure Boys were still finishing up their encore.  Jeannette kept the ALE officer busy while Lex, Kenneth and I started going through the crowd, snatching near-full beers out of people’s hands and slam-dunking them into the garbage bins.  We made it, but only barely.  And Lex had a story that he’ll tell the rest of his life.

Rangledoon cover.jpg
Cover of the Pressure Boys “Rangledoon” EP - complete with slip cover advertising the completely free blank side of vinyl!

There’s a scene near the end of “24 Hour Party People” portraying the last night The Hacienda was open. Tony Wilson had made his way to the balcony after meeting and greeting his way through the crowd but hadn’t yet brought up the house lights and sent everyone out while exhorting them all to riot and pillage and steal anything that wasn’t nailed down.  He’s actually got a moment alone on the balcony overlooking the packed dance floor and for the first time his expression, seen through the strobing lights, is completely relaxed (or blank, depending on your viewpoint).  Jeannette and I recognized that look in each other when we first saw the movie - for me, I equate it with that last night with the Pressure Boys.  I knew it was all about to come crashing down but stepping from my post at the door into the main room and standing by the soundboard watching the heaving dancefloor, I also knew we’d been a part of something special - something that had meaning even if I wasn’t sure what that meaning was.

I have no recollection of the last weekend in July.  Hell, I don’t even know for sure we were open, other than I have a closing sheet for Rod Dash and the Graphic (odd pairing) for that Thursday night.  But we weren’t quite done yet.

“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ ‘Yessir, the check is in the mail.’” - Kurt Russell, “Big Trouble in Little China”

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 14 - June 1986

"This is a room with a view
See everything for what it is
We want to do what we want forever" - Let's Active, "Room With a View"

06 - Safehouse with Long Gone
07 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
12 - Rod Dash with Arsenic
13 - Suzie Saxon and the Anglos with the Montegoes
14 - Shakin’ Sherman and the Blazers
20 - Dakota Joe and Bullets of Blue
21 - Hege V with Regalion
25 - Dave Olney and the X-Rays
26 - Chris Stamey with the Dayroom Monitors
27 - Othermothers
28 - Glenn Phillips Band

Money woes weren’t the only issue we were facing.  I understand that some alcoholics develop coping mechanisms that they use to disguise their condition for a period of time until it becomes too obvious for others to ignore.  I think the same thing must be true of sleep deprivation as I’d managed to survive at work while falling asleep in my deskchair many afternoons, but that couldn’t last forever - and didn’t.  I’ve been an IT people manager for twenty years now (and a damn good one) and I give credit to my boss at the time for not just firing me without much notice.  Instead he gave me a choice - go find another job or get rid of the club.  We tried to pave the way for doing either or both but I suppose we were finally realizing that this situation was not going to be sustainable over the long haul, even if I was working closer to home.  Me not having a day job was clearly not an option as we were at best barely breaking even.  In the meantime, I tried to back away a little bit and let Jeannette and our friends take on a little more of the load while we decided what to do.

June started off with guitar wizard Terry McInturff’s Safehouse on Friday night, with Sonar providing the vocals.  Terry’s loaded a couple of their demos on Youtube - they had a really nice, dense rock sound and drew a pretty decent crowd.  Saturday night was what I assume was one of the last Gumbo Ya-Ya shows and they also drew a good number of folks for a June weekend.

The next weekend wasn’t quite so good - I wasn’t expecting sellouts but we needed to put more people in the club and I just hadn’t been able to schedule the kind of shows we needed in order to get ahead.  Looking back, while I was trying to get some different folks onto the calendar it wasn’t enough.  I really liked Rod Dash and I had looked forward to bringing Suzy Saxon and the Anglos down from Richmond for Friday but neither show did much to help us.

Suzie Saxon.jpg
Photo of the cover of Suzy Saxon’s album

Shakin’ Sherman and the Blazers rounded out the weekend and pulled in their crowd of regulars (thank goodness for the Blazers!) but even with them there was less beer consumption than usual.

The next weekend was a short one, with Dakota Joe and Bullets of Blue taking the stage on Friday.  Saturday was a long day, as it was the first time Hege V and the Bijous played the Alley and a crew from The Nashville Network was there to film it for a segment on George for the “Crook and Chase” show.  A year or so before when MTV’s “The Cutting Edge” came to town to film the local scene, they focused on The Brewery and the Cradle so this was the first time Rhythm Alley had a shot at some national exposure.

Hege V was just an awesome band.  There were a number of bands that made some noise outside of the Southeast from that period (see Fetchin’ Bones, the Connells, Flat Duo-Jets and later Southern Culture on the Skids, as well as others) but I don’t know that any band was more immediately ready for the big time than the Bijous.  Great band, great songwriting, George’s showmanship - all made for a good time.  There wasn’t a huge crowd (although not bad for a first date for a new band) but with all of the television and audio cables snaked across the floor, it was probably all that would have worked without someone getting hurt.  In the end, I think they used all of about 10 seconds of the show on “Crook and Chase” but the Rhythm Alley banner hanging at the back of the stage was in fact seen on national basic cable television, so there’s that.

Hege V.jpg
Photo of the cover of the House of Tears LP - a bit of a cheat as it didn’t come out until well after we sold the club.  Not sure why the photo came out so gray here.

I was able to extend the final weekend of June forward a bit, with Dave Olney and the X-Rays coming in on Wednesday night.  I think they’d mostly been playing for DR at the Cradle so they were probably one of the first bookings I got due to the Cradle being closed.  Dave had gone to school at UNC (and had been in a band with Bland Simpson, I found out later) before moving to Nashville and starting a very long career playing country-tinged barroom rock and roll.  It was a really good night for a summertime Wednesday, followed by a Chris Stamey show with (guess who!) the Dayroom Monitors on Thursday.  There was some kind of mix-up with Chris’ show - either I thought he was bringing a band but instead he played solo, or vice versa.  Regardless, I remember it was a really good show (wouldn’t expect anything less) and reasonably well attended.

I would have sworn that the Othermothers show was on a Saturday instead of a Friday.  I say that because I was there for the soundcheck (and Jeannette wasn’t) so it must have started quite late.  I remember that because it was the absolute worst soundcheck I’d ever heard.  The guys had been partying for multiple days (I have no idea who drove over to Chapel Hill from Greensboro but I’m relatively sure they shouldn’t have).  One of the guys (I won’t name names) became the only person I ever saw in the club fall backwards off their bar stool.  I was fully prepared for a complete disaster of a show and instead the guys got up and did one of the tightest, best, most professional sets I’d ever seen.  There were unfortunately not nearly as many people there to see it as there should have been but the folks that did show up drank heavily and were treated to a damn good show.

Photo of the cover of the Othermothers EP

We closed the month with a the steady turnout that Glenn Phillips always got (70-80 people).  This was one of the few shows that I didn’t work - actually Jeannette and I may have skipped town for the rest of the weekend to take a little break and figure out what we were going to do next.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

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.

Leopard Society Cassette insert.jpg
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.

Flat Duo Jets cassettea.jpg
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.

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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.

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Johnny Quest “Irresponsibility” single insert - front

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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.

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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.

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