Greensboro Fest: Four days of music and revelry

by Amy Kingsley

Day One

It’s a few minutes after 10 p.m. and the Tiny Meteors should be starting their set at Sternberger Auditorium on the Guilford College campus. But instead they are about a half mile away, stuck at a red light on College Avenue.

“This is what happens when they don’t serve alcohol at the venue,” says Kemp Stroble.

The opening night of Greensboro Fest, a four-day musical extravaganza marking its fourth year in business, is the only one happening at a dry venue. Sternberger, a cavernous arena with little in the way of clubby accoutrement, is about half-filled with a mix of hipsters and college students lured by the promise of free live music.

The fest opens with a performance by Shaking Hands with Danger, a relatively new group that plays chunky, early ’90s-style post-punk. The Tiny Meteors and this reporter missed the second band, Knives Exchanging Hands, because of a prolonged excursion to Red Oak for a few beers.

The Tiny Meteors arrive about ten minutes after the end of the Knives’ set and begin frantically assembling their backline. A few minutes later, after Stroble secures a replacement for his busted guitar, they start their set of Scheherazade-tinged, sinewy post-punk.

Sternberger’s bounciness treats headliners Filthybird particularly well. Singer Renee Mendoza possesses one of the few voices in town capable of commanding so much space, which she does with the help of tight instrumentalists.

Guilford College’s cadre of hippie dancers eats it up.

Day Two

Greensboro Fest moves from its opening night in Greensboro’s northwest fringe to the downtown area that will be its home for the next three nights. The Friday night lineup at the Green Bean is the most eclectic of the four, with hip-hop, comedy, pop and Brazilian samba performances.

On Elm Street, the usual crowd of young urban professionals gawks at the number of bicycles chained to the iron fence beside the coffee shop. Inside the Green Bean is packed with people spilling out the back doors. Greensboro Fest organizer John Rash explains why he chose to introduce hip-hop and comedy this time around.

“I just felt like it was a real big gap that needed to be filled,” Rash says.

Brother Reade, a DJ and MC duo from Winston-Salem, rock the mic for the receptive audience as the official headliners. The crowd is sweaty but nodding to the slow, exotic beats. MC Jimmy Jollif’s rhymes occasionally disappear into the mass of bodies, but when you can hear it his flow earns frequent applause.

The surprise of the night is the final outdoor performance by protest house band Cakalak Thunder. The assembly of percussionists gather on the Elm Street sidewalk and launches into their samba repertoire. Unlike their frequent supporting appearances at marches and rallies, which can tend toward the martial, their performance for Greensboro Fest is pure celebration. The crowd from the Green Bean, as well as a handful of Elm Street regulars, clogs the street with dancing that makes Greensboro, for a moment, feel almost like Carnevale in Rio.

Those in the know, which is practically everyone, continue the revelry at an unofficial after party hosted by the Corndale house and featuring the bands Mouser and Health. Solo acoustic performances drag on into the wee hours, according to house resident Jonathan Moore.

Day Three

On nights like Saturday, the third installment of Greensboro Fest at the Flying Anvil, I console myself with the knowledge that the professional standards of alt-weekly journalists are lower than our button-down media peers.

About 500 people have piled into the Flying Anvil to watch a bill packed with bands like Fist Fight, Crimson Spectre and TigerBearWolf. Like many of the audience members, I spend quite a bit of time outside, drinking off the lingering hangover from the previous night’s after party.

The Flying Anvil is one of two new Greensboro Fest venues, and one well equipped to handle the rock-heavy Saturday line-up.

I miss a lot of the music, catching only snatches of Crimson Spectre and hip-hop group Heavy Contact. Greensboro Fest shows start early, and my tardiness costs me the experience of witnessing the African music of Tasuma.

Fortunately the early start means I catch all of TigerBearWolf before running out of steam. I close my tab, grab my bicycle and swear off drinking for the final night of the fest.

Day Four

The Four Corners Market is an odd place, a venue that looks almost three-quarters evolved from its former incarnation as a retail space into something of a well-lit bar.

In its foyer area, headlining band Requiem, who also have the honor of closing Greensboro Fest, have shoehorned two gigantic banners onto limited wall space. One, which features the slogan “Steal What You Need and Burn the Rest,” encourages a little looting and arson to cap a long and exhausting weekend.

Alas, Requiem is not the kind of band to limit the sloganeering to a couple of banners. Although the rock show soapbox is not generally the best place for nuanced and original thinking, the members of Requiem take every possible opportunity to extol their anarchist lifestyle.

Between the bursts of hot air, the band actually plays good, driving hardcore augmented with wailing violin. But the between-song “banter,” like so much of its ilk, does not rise above boilerplate condemnation of the oppressor du jour.

Although their speechifying sours the evening for this reporter, the performances of their predecessors are more enjoyable. Boxcar Bertha, Boa Narrow and the Anchor Comes Home all deliver solid performances.

Boxcar Bertha plays what might be best described as folk punk. Like Requiem, they are not shy about their political stance, but they temper their music with enough light moments to keep it enjoyable. [Disclosure: Danny Bayer, a frequent contributor to YES! Weekly, plays bass for Boxcar Bertha.]

Between bands, John Rash prepares lesson plans for his day job at Randolph Community College. Planning for Greensboro Fest is a months-long process, and although it’s a lot of fun, it’s also exhausting.

“I feel like I need a long nap,” Rash says.

The looting, it seems, will have to wait for another weekend.

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