Greensboro Fest ’08

by Jordan Green

Kemp Stroble stood in the center of the floor at the Blind Tiger on a recent Saturday in the midst of a sea of smiling hipsters during Pinche Gringo’s set. He wore his characteristic scowl — in his case, more a reflection of an engaged personality than a malevolent worldview — that frequently transformed into a grin when someone shouted something into his ear.

Stroble, the organizer of this year’s Greensboro Fest, wears both the role of enthusiast and critic well.

“We’ve got some stars in this town,” he said. “We’ve got some gems…. I wanted to bring it together. The city itself is so sprawled. You’ve got this place here, Guilford College over there, downtown. I was super-stoked when they put in the bike lanes. Stop using the cars. Stop building the condos, and use buildings that are already here.”

It was the third night of the annual Greensboro music festival, which is timed to fall early in the fall semester. Guilford College hosted the first night on Oct. 2, then the Green Bean and the Flatiron split duties on Oct. 3. Tonight, the Blind Tiger and Lyndon Street Artworks are double-teaming. And tomorrow, the party would move to a practice space and occasional venue in the Glenwood neighborhood called Square One.

“This is one of the highs,” Stroble said. “The Blind Tiger is a rock club. It’s loud. It’s smoky and dim. You’ve got garage-blues, indie-rock, dissonant shit. I use this show as an example. I don’t see people at a Malamondos show that I see at a Dawn Chorus show, but the energy works together. I wanted to cram everybody together.”

Bands had played for free all week, and the venues didn’t take money at the door. In theory, the cross-exposure benefited everyone. The anthemic shoe-gaze of Dawn Chorus was paired with the outrageous sleaze-rock of the Malamondos. The prog-metal virtuosity of Nyos went head to head with the ambient adventurism of Irata. The experimental funk of Invisible contended with the massive arrghhhal palette of Giant. The high Americana vocal stylings of Molly McGinn wrangled with the warped folk of I’ll Think About It. Judging by the press of rocking humanity in the joint, the gambit appeared to be succeeding.

Stroble, whose thick trunk, scraggly, red beard, balding dome and perpetual scowl give him the appearance of a Himalayan outcropping, knows many of the bands and much of the audience thanks to his day job pouring coffee at the Green Bean, his labors with an outfit called Lookalive Booking, and his own band, the Tiny Meteors’ periodic forays through the Triad underground.

A band called Eating the Invaders takes the stage, playing reverb-heavy twang with some help from veteran harp player David “Driveway” Moore.

“You know Kemp is doing all this,” said Matty Sheets, one of the band’s vocalists and guitarists. “Let’s give it up for Kemp.”

Stroble stared at a cell phone, and waved him off.

Later, Dawn Chorus played. Guitarist and singer Zachary Mull also gave props to Stroble. Mull and punk impresario John Rash organized the festival in the past. The band was promoting a new album, Florida Street Serenade, and forging ahead with a new bass player.

“I just want to say on behalf of myself and John Rash how much we appreciate Kemp for taking on Greensboro Fest,” Mull said.

His statement was sincere and free of irony, like the band’s music.

Mull’s voice was plaintive and bright, set off by a melodic twang with a touch of melancholy that evoked early Neil Young. On a song called “Whitman’s Sampler” Mull strummed open chords while fellow guitarist Andrew Dudek complemented it with an ethereal wail. Crystal Bright joined them onstage to help out on vocals.

The indie kids, the survivalist hipsters, the city employees, the hip-hop heads, the femme fatales were all in the house. It may be a function of the new convergence of the age that the old tribal distinctions appeared to have broken down. A feeling of togetherness and mutuality prevailed.

Stroble’s band, the Tiny Meteors, took the stage, and they rocked the place. Their songs seemed to have a conventional rock structure, but the tonality was jagged and the vocals hit the ear more like a primal scream than anything like singing. The music was a cold, sharp blast of sonic fury.

He introduced a song called “We Are Awake.”

“This next song is a nice reference point for this festival,” Stroble said. “You’re living in a neighborhood. You may not know your neighbors, but you’re all there for a reason.” He paused, trying to pull together the concept. “Let’s fucking rule this shit,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”

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