Homecoming for Louis Winfield

by Christian Bryant

Zion Bar and Grill in Greensboro is the Frankenstein of venues. Everyone and everything inside looks mismatched or completely out of place. To the left, used fishnets holding picture frames drape the walls opposite the bar. Plastic picnic-styled cloths with pastel designs cover small, square tables in the center room. Outdated beer posters and signs hang high above the door frames instead of deceased animal heads. To the right, cheap strobe lights flood an empty, greentiled dance floor. The performance stage looks like a Southern front porch with hints of Rastafari. The back wall is a blinding hue of yellow, garnished with an inflatable Red Stripe surfboard and poster immortalizing Bob Marley. Painted balusters on the stage railing display the pan-African colors green, red and yellow, reminding customers where the bar name came from. It’s a venue replete with stories of unexpected events and tonight was no different.

I walk in with Billy Falcon drummer and Greensboro native Louis Winfield, his brother LaJuan, and their friends, Brittany and Carlos, to a crowd of mostly well boozed individuals. It’s quiet except for a low hum of conversation and a few shouts here and there. Louis is in town from Nashville, Tenn. Tomorrow he’ll head to Raleigh to prep for the Bon Jovi concert where he’ll open with Billy Falcon in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,000. Louis says a few musicians invited him to jam, so he thought it would be a good idea to show up. “Being home,” he said, “I feel like it’s going to be a good one.”

Three other musicians are already setting up on stage but still stop to greet

Louis. Center stage, there’s a tattered drum kit with worn heads and a loose snare. You can tell that it’s seen some action. Louis takes his place behind the kit and the four lay into a heavy bluesfunk groove.

The moment Louis starts to play, it can be detected that everyone within Zion would soon bear witness to something amazing. Audience members perk up in their seats and watch closely. Feet begin to tap and a few light hand-patters on tabletops can be heard. An older man makes his way to the dance floor and begins to move his stiff body sporadically. He’s not dancing but he’s definitely feeling the groove.

A few minutes in, the other jam participants decide to give the drummer some and Louis breaks into a solo. He meticulously displaces strikes around the drum kit until audience members experience a full-out rhythmic onslaught. While keeping a steady tempo, Louis wows the room full of open-mouthed onlookers and finishes to a strong round of applause.

He catches his breath, approaches the microphone and says, “Hi, everybody. I’m Louis…” After a brief introduction, he invites his younger brother to the stage to play drums alongside the other musicians. Louis takes a seat while LaJuan launches into a groove comparable to the one his big brother played minutes prior.

Louis leans over and proudly says, “He reminds me of me when I was his age.” Each moment following, he leans back in his seat and stares directly at me to gauge my responses to his brother’s explosive soloing as if my dilated pupils and hand claps weren’t enough.

“Hey! Teach him,” shouts Louis as the musicians take a moment to show LaJuan a new groove.

LaJuan looks in his brother’s direction as he keeps the drumsticks moving. He smirks as he hammers away at the drum kit, almost emulating Louis’ intensity and showmanship to the T. The unbreakable eye contact between the two shows a subtle conversation unfolding and every new lick forces a smile onto Louis’ face.

I soon realize that Louis’ return to North Carolina is less about performing in front of thousands of hometown fans and more about connecting with seldom seen friends and family. This evening, Louis takes advantage of an opportunity to play audience member and recognizes the fact that little brother is in lockstep with every move that big brother makes. It’s a priceless moment in which no amount of interviewing would suffice to evoke such an authentic interaction.

After the Winfield brothers finish playing, the initial musicians unplug their guitars and step down as a new set of rockers take the stage and start jamming.

While Louis heads to the bar to buy a round of celebratory shots, I lean over to LaJuan and say, “You’re were playing like you’ve got something to prove.”

LaJuan shakes his head, laughs for a moment and responds by saying, “Nah, I’m just trying to pick up where he left off.”