A perfect musical storm

by Ogi Overman

For good things to happen, three factors have to coalesce simultaneously: Everybody involved has to be on the same page; nobody can care who gets the credit; and a touch of serendipity has to come into play.

Last Friday in Greensboro all those elements were in evidence. Your first thought would be the downtown Festival of Lights, but that wasn’t it, although it played a huge role in it. Rather, it was a concert within the larger context that may well have turned them both into an Event.

First off, a show that involves Bob Margolin and Melva Houston will never, ever be just another show. They are the blues royalty of the Triad, a fact that is beyond dispute. Margolin, the longtime Muddy Waters sideman and one of the finest blues guitarists on the planet, and Houston, the chanteuse who began as a Memphis backup singer for all those revered Stax soulmen of the ’60s and is a bigger star in Europe than here, blew the doors off the joint. Melva and her creamof-the-crop sideman — Earl Austin on keys,

Charlley Ward on guitar, Chuck Cotton on drums and Tom Philion on bass — blasted through an hour’s worth of blues, soul and R&B standards that left the SRO crowd drenched in sweat before headliner Margolin even took the stage.

Then, if Melva took them to the precipice, Margolin hoisted them over the mountaintop. Ever gracious, he shared the spotlight with veteran slinger Terry VunCannon and prodigy Matt Hill, even taking a turn on bass so Hill could shine on his homemade Tele and VunCannon on his ’56 Strat. (Margolin plays a gold Les Paul for those keeping score at home.) Afterward, he commented that the show reminded him of the old frat-house gigs, with the crowd nudged up against the monitors and the stage on floor level. “Just playing for my neighbors, doing what I do,” he smiled.

And that brings us to the venue. Located on the second floor above a restaurant in the twomonth old, five-story building in the Hamburger Square block of South Elm Street, it is called Bin 33, and this marked its maiden voyage as a concert venue. Whatever it may have been designed for, it has found a new purpose in life. And downtown has found a new hot spot. At a time when downtown is reeling from two ugly incidents and city council’s paranoid, kneejerk overreaction by imposing an 18-and-under curfew, this place could be just what the Fun Doctors ordered.

Now finally to the promoter himself, who could be the linchpin to the whole process. If the name Tom Philion does not ring a bell, it means you’ve been in the area less than four years. Philion was the executive director of the Eastern Music Festival until being lured away in early 2007 to a similar post with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. When the president of the United Arts Council resigned, the board was miraculously able to lure Philion back to Greensboro to take the reins.

“For me, coming back to town is a real opportunity to kind of be a catalyst,” he said before strapping on his bass and hitting the stage behind Melva. “What I do basically is connect the dots, get people excited, help figure out the possibilities of what can be done. We need people who are passionate about music, about the arts, and about Greensboro.”

Excellent. Let’s put them all in the same room and see what happens.