Crowd’s going Southbound 49’s way

by Jordan Green

Southbound 49 plays “Slingin’ Mud” at Plum Krazy’s Too in Kernersville on Nov. 16. (video shot by Jordan Green)

Pick a venue, pick a band. Something is going on in the Triad on any given Friday night. A band playing familiar songs. Couples cradling each other at the bar. Workaday women cutting loose on the dance floor, casting significant glances in a pantomime of courtship, and draining opaque plastic whiskey cups.

The indie rock scene is provincial and elitist, smug in its rigid conventions, risking nothing with songs that are not meant to connect at any level of authentic emotion, little performance rituals that are safe in their nearly total detachment. Give me a cover band. Bring me joy and catharsis.

Those are the goods delivered by Southbound 49, a group of Asheboro buddies who have grown from boyhood to manhood together, who dream of penning and performing original songs but slog through Skynyrd, Bob Seger and Black Crowes covers custom made to effectuate the release demanded by the audience.

A small crowd gathers at the cocktail tables situated across a wooden dance floor from the stage at this hospitable biker bar just off Business 40 in Kernersville. It’s an airy room with an adjacent section lined with pool tables and the whole joint anchored by a horseshoe bar. Plum Krazy’s Too, an offshoot of its more established cousin in Greensboro, opened about four and a half months ago. The facility was previously occupied by a bar with a less savory reputation, proprietor Frank Fiore says, and originally it was a Western Sizzler. Soaring oak joists give the place the look of an alpine ski lodge; it’s easy to imagine the cocktail tables replaced by booths, and plates of breaded pork chops and white gravy drawing the crowds instead of sweating longnecks of Bud Light and Heineken.

“We have a great following, a lot of loyal fans,” says bass player Ryan West of his band. The group is named after a roadway that traverses their native Randolph County on which lies the community center where the band played its first gig and on which drummer Chris Allen’s brother was killed in a traffic accident.

“If we had started anyplace else I would question whether we would make it this far as a local band,” West says.

Southbound 49 has one original song, “Slingin’ Mud” – about partying in the woods – in its repertoire.

“I guess it’s the reputation you build playing cover songs,” West says. “If you try to play an original in a club like this, if you start playing too many originals you run people away.”

MySpace has emboldened the band since it provides a platform to showcase original songs and bypass the roadhouses. Lyrical duties will likely fall to singer Heath Wilson, who works at a Toyota parts store in Asheboro, and keyboardist Eric McCain, an employee of Lowe’s Foods in Archdale.

“I think when we do write a song we want to write true stories, stuff that’s happened to people we know,” West says, adding, “Eric is a great poet for the deep songs about life. Eric has a great way of putting those words into a song. Everybody will try to write but I think the songs we’ll end up using will be Eric’s and Heath’s.”

It’s after 10 p.m. and the crowd is still thin, but the management is anxious to get the show underway, so the band gladly accommodates.

They run through a string of rockin’ Nashville hot country hits interspersed with Bob Seger and Lynyrd Skynyrd classics. The songs sparkle with flirtation and energy. Wilson prowls the dance floor with a portable mic, slinking up to the single women on the dance floor before breaking away. Singer and dancers, they cock hips and wag fingers at each other in mock reproach. When the energy seems to flag, Wilson launches a backflip off the stage lip.

The guitar playing of Adam West and Brian Ingold – both of them veteran metal musicians and the former the brother of the bass player – drives the largely country repertoire like an old-school Detroit muscle car. McCain’s keyboard playing lends the music and soulful quality and Allen’s steady thwack accents the music.

“I think that’s the main reason people like us,” Wilson says at the end of the set. “We get out and talk to people. We’re friendly.”

Ryan West muses about the vast possibilities of artistic exploration set against the constraints of market demand. He’s a big fan of Mike Watt, the burly bass player who helped found the avant-punk-folk unit the Minutemen in the early 1980s.

“I love jazz too,” he says. “Max Roach – he was a drummer, and I can see myself playing drums. Charles Mingus, a bass player. Charlie Parker, my God.”

Then he pauses.

“I think I stuck with this so long because we get along so good,” he says. “The biggest problem we have is trying to figure out where to eat.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at