Ace’s Basement returns to the underground

by Ryan Snyder

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.

There’s also a negative side.”

Hunter S. Thompson said that, and it’s a quote that speaks directly to the often sordid nature of the entertainment industry, a game that historically rewards duplicity, punishes integrity and has a funny habit of turning investments into debt. It’s also a business that Joe Ferguson can’t seem to get enough of. Many might recognize Ferguson as the man who recently handled booking at Greene Street Club for a productive stretch, a post now taken up by the Urban Sophisticate’s Benton James. Still others know Ferguson as the originator of one of the darling venues of Greensboro’s underground music scene, the now-defunct music hall Ace’s Basement — a place that will soon find a new home in the Red Room, a hall that exists within the recesses of the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem.

Ferguson opened Ace’s Basement at the bottom of the notorious Coliseum Inn in Greensboro in April 2003 with a performance by seminal Winston-Salem indie-punk band Code Seven. Though the attraction for young music goers was quite evident, this wasn’t the kind of place where any parent could feel safe dropping their kids off for a night. The Coliseum Inn was known by and large as a haven for heroin addiction and prostitution, but just below the red-light world within, Ace’s became a tangential benefactor of the Inn’s unbridled seediness. Whereas so many rock club promoters try to capture, even manufacture, a certain element of sleaze, Ace’s Basement attained it organically.

“Bands would arrive at the original Ace’s cussing their agents when they first pulled up, wondering what have they had gotten into,” Ferguson recalled. “But they’d walk in and become so impressed with what they saw inside and see that anyone who worked there showed that they loved music and were there to cater to whoever played.”

Ferguson’s ambition with the original Ace’s was to provide a place for national touring acts to play while simultaneously allowing for local talent to develop. He saw acts such as House of Fools, Mercy Mercedes and Farewell, many just out of high school, all play as unsigned bands and eventually attached to prominent independent labels during or shortly after that time. They were given the chance to play alongside more renowned acts such as Motion City Soundtrack and Hot Water Music, a nurturing experience that he says prepared them to play larger rooms.

You might hear a lot of bands that play Greene Street nowadays shout out, ‘How many of you remember Ace’s Basement?’ and there always seems to be a great response,” Ferguson said.

Despite experiencing a relatively short but successful run, the venue went out without a proper sendoff in August 2005. Ferguson can’t even recall the details of the final gig at Ace’s offhand, only remembering it as an undistinguished metal show. There will be several soft openings, starting on Jan. 30 and continuing every weekend in February, before Farewell plays the grand opening in March.

The new Ace’s will hold roughly the same number of concert goers, between 200 and 250, but Ferguson acknowledges the fundamental differences in regards to the change of zip code.

“I’m not trying to build a Greensboro scene or a Winston- Salem scene, but a Triad scene,” he said. While such assertions might seem like the company line for anyone with booking aspirations in the area, few if anyone has managed to do so. Ferguson acknowledges the similar efforts of other local venues, particularly the newest, the Aquarius Music hall, but relishes the challenge nonetheless.

“I just felt like there was no reason not to do it,” he stated.

“There’s really no downside and with the bands that we have in mind, I can only think of the positives. All it takes is introducing them to Winston-Salem.”

clockwise from top left: Me Without You, Copeland, Motion City Soundtrack (courtesy photos).