Farewell’s rock ‘n roll high school

by Jordan Green

Emily Field, dressed in pink and wearing a rose tucked into her jet-black tresses, slips almost unnoticed through the throngs of admirers in front of the pop-punk band Farewell’s merchandise table. It’s in the main hall of Southeast High School in Guilford County, where she attended classes until a cancer diagnosis in January consigned her to chemo treatments and home-bound studies.

“She’s gonna go home and rest,” Tammy Field says as she shepherds her daughter through the foyer. Readily acknowledging her weakened state, Emily wears a sweet smile and displays a self-possessed comportment. She lingers as a few friends come up to exchange hugs. Then Buddy Bell, Farewell’s bass player, runs up and embraces mother and daughter.

“Whatever she needs, if she wants a wig, or medical expenses,” says her brother David, a restaurant manager in Charlotte dressed tonight in a bandanna and Guns n’ Roses T-shirt, who has helped organize the benefit concert. “Make her happy. I don’t care what she spends it on.”

Farewell, a Greensboro band signed to independent label Epitaph Records with a slot on this summer’s Vans Warped Tour, has been roped into playing this Feb. 29 benefit through some circuitous family connections: The twin sister of David Field’s girlfriend dates the band’s drummer.

“I said after supporting them for three years, they better come,” says Laura Tyska, a hair stylist in Greensboro. Did she have to twist any arms? She smiles and holds her forefinger and thumb a half-inch apart. “It was their day off.”

This has not been a typical gig for Farewell, but then none of them are.

They undergo an arduous sound check in the auditorium, adjusting monitors to eliminate squall as members of the Field family, student event organizers, and players in other bands watch from the front row. Jeff Ellis, the drummer, slumps in at-rest posture behind the kit as keyboardist Chris Lee calls back and forth with the soundman. Ellis, who’s been nursing a cold for some days, slips offstage and joins Tyska in the front row, where they sit quietly for a spell.

Then, around 6 p.m. the lights dim, the doors open, and teenagers pour into an excited mass on the floor in front of the stage. The band begins with a song called “88s” off their Epitaph album from last September, Isn’t This Supposed to Be Fun!?

It’s kind of an exuberant kiss off, and a celebration of dreams realized. The song mocks “the geeks and the mods and the Tate Street clowns” and declares, “Yeah, we gotta get out somehow.”

Lee flails over his keyboards, which serve as the band’s siren-like lead instrument, and his face contorts as he sings spirited backup vocals. Singer Marshall Davis positions himself front and center and plants a foot on one of two white road cases strategically placed at the lip of the stage. Bell rocks the bass, periodically wending across the stage like a running back slipping past imaginary assailants. Wil Andrews and Kevin Carter, the band’s two guitarists, stomp pedals, wait for their moments and twirl around the stage while slamming out candy-coated riffs.

By the last song the audience has taken on the feel of a wholesome mob, rambunctious but well behaved. At Davis’ invitation they bounce in a mass, stabbing the air with fingers as if to pluck fruit from a limb just beyond reach.

“‘Cause we’re giving it up but we’ll be just fine,” goes a verse of “88s.” “We’re gonna go, go, go to the next state line/ We’re living it up, we’re leaving it all behind/ And we’ll say goodnight to a closing skyline.”

“We had a hard time coming up with some of the metal bands in the scene,” Davis says by way of explanation. “We’re calling out all the groups that made it hard for us: ‘Hey, look at where we are now.'”

Which is pretty far down a road marked with escalating demands, sufficient excitement, increasing name recognition, multiple sponsorships, a measure of adversity and minimal monetary dividends. They’re looking forward to steady touring this year, with a show at the USO for Camp Lejeune, a slot at the Bamboozle 2008 at Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey – described by Lee as “like the Woodstock for our kind of music” – a five-day run in Japan, and then the Vans Warped Tour, with the first night in southern California in late June.

Earlier this year, the band got stranded in a blizzard in Wyoming. When their 15-passenger van and trailer turned sideways while Bell was driving on Interstate 80, they decided to take a southerly detour to dodge the treacherous weather, canceling four engagements. They ended up in Las Vegas, where they networked with some other Epitaph bands playing a label showcase there. Making the most of their downtime, they worked the malls, handing out stickers until security showed ordered them to stop, moving from one to the next.

“Now, we make more money, but we have more expenses,” Davis says. “People have the wrong idea. You have to work a lot more for just a little more money. We all work day jobs to afford to go on tour. It’s hard when you can’t buy a new car or pay for insurance.”

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