It’s young, fast and fun again

by Ryan Snyder

It was apparent that, while setting up my Raving Knaves’ gear at the Westerwood Tavern, the dozen or so locals didn’t appear to be there for the mod-fueled R&B of the evening’s soon-to-be-headlining quartet, Rough Hands. By the time the PA was assembled, the place was nearly empty.

Then Rough Hands drummer Jackson Lee started texting. Within 10 minutes, fixed-gear cyclists converged from every direction, like bats coming back to a cave with a beer light to guide them. So the bands had a quorum, the bar had customers and we opened the show.

It’s an exciting scene for purveyors of ’70s-era punk, partly because what was old is new again, with an original twist from a raft of plucky young local rockers and partly because we’re guaranteed audiences when sharing bills with young bands.

In addition to local rock venues like Westerwood Tavern, the Flatiron, the Blind Tiger, Somewhere Else Tavern and the Green Bean, among others, there are innovative performance spaces like Lee’s retail shop, My Favorite Things Records, where local and touring bands play for enthusiastic, dance-prone audiences.

It’s also a busy circuit for the Leeves, a prolific trio with an infectious sound harkening back to ’70s new wave, sometimes doing three gigs a week, all in Greensboro. Guitarist and singer Jerrod Smith shrugs off the notion that original bands can’t find work in Greensboro with classic DIY pluck and what he calls an “artistic motive.”

“We play it for people who enjoy it and we enjoy it, not for the money,” says Smith.

Triad-reared acts aren’t the only ones bearing a special affinity for the local scene. Chapel Hill-based punk rockers the Alcazar Hotel have no trouble justifying the one-hour drive west to play here. “Greensboro is the greatest scene I’ve found in North Carolina,” says the band’s singer William Dawson. “I can play in Chapel Hill and not make any money and then go up to Greensboro and make good money and suddenly have a bunch of people I don’t know— so I guess they’re fans of the band — returning to my shows.”

Dawson moved to North Carolina specifically for the music. He’s played juke joints in Mississippi, grappled with a tough Memphis scene and found a musically lifeless environment in the Netherlands.

“Everybody hates their hometown,” says Dawson who suggests that Greensboro locals should appreciate what they have and if they want a new venue they can swap shows with Chapel Hill bands.

Veterans of the Greensboro original-music scene are also finding gigs easier to come by. “It seems to me, things are a lot better,” says Scott Hicks, whose Decoration Ghost has more options than his previous groups. “The fact that we’re playing at the Blind Tiger with any regularity and that over 100 people came to the Green Bean [on Jan. 29] to hear three obscure original bands during a freak snowstorm is certainly hopeful.”

“We have a strong scene filled with jazz-punk greats like the Leeves, folky-country like Come Hell Or High Water, and more punk and surf acts like the Fuss,” notes Austin Pennington. As a booking manager for CFBG and as a drummer in three original bands, Pennington concedes that original bands have to scramble for meager monetary rewards and he’s understandably annoyed when guests pass up the donation jar that guards the door of most alternative performance spaces. The non-traditional spaces are active, but according to at least one owner, they’re pretty much charities that advance original music.

Along with CFBG, Pennington points with hometown pride to Seven Day Weekend, Legitimate Business, My Favorite Things Records, the Green Bean and Maya Art Gallery as some of the venues where you can catch plenty of original music, including his bands Cold Tony, Friendhouse and Switchblade 85.

Lead singer for the new garage-glitter quartet the Hot Ropes, Haley Bradsher holds the lease for Seven Day Weekend, which is next door to Legitimate Business on Grove Street. Both spaces host a range of bands.

“There’s a very thriving scene for an underground movement,” says Bradsher’s boyfriend and guitarist Evan Zakia, who says he gets as much pleasure from seeing other bands as doing his thing. “The whole crowd really digs it.”

While some public voices suggest that the Triad music scene is in decline based on scarce evidence or worse, that it simply “doesn’t rock,” as a December promotional forum in Winston-Salem held by one local production company claimed, those on the front lines suggest that anything but is the truth. It’s also erroneous to assume the premature demise of a scene based on the lack of thriving mid-sized venues, itself an untruth, particularly when a region can only support so many and there are three similar markets within a stone’s throw. But for those who know where to poke around, it’s not too hard to find something shaking.

The Raving Knaves perform at CFBG.

by Dave McLean & Ryan Snyder /