No one’s trying to be cool here

by Jordan Green

Reached by phone on a recent Thursday evening, promoter Max Benbassat is vague when describing the two acts booked for the dance studio that he converts into a BYOB live-music listening room. Trade Parade and Mouseketeers are acoustic and kind of folky, he allows.

Later, he’s standing on the sidewalk with the two Page High School students who comprise Mouseketeers — Alex Dolianitis, with cropped hair, and Evan Harris, with tousled locks. The musicians carry themselves like typical youngsters — that is, possessed of a combination of shyness, aloofness and confidence.

Benbassat sets up a station near the doorway to collect money.

After some prying, he reveals that CFBG, a windowless studio whose walls are adorned with paintings by the likes of Angelo Romano, has been hosting concerts since May.

Having spent some of his young adulthood in New York City, Benbassat is aware that his venue’s name bears more than a slight resemblance to that of the legendary punk club in lower Manhattan. CFBG is a distinctly North Carolina Piedmont concern, however: The letters stand for “Campaign For a Better Greensboro.” Benbassat says he would prefer not to exploit his business enterprises to advance his political ambitions, but it has to be noted that “Campaign For a Better Greensboro” is also the slogan for his campaign for an at-large seat on Greensboro City Council. He’s preoccupied with the campaign this evening. It’s the first day of early voting, and the primary — a crucial test — looms 19 days out. Benbassat makes it plain: He’s frustrated about the lack of exposure his candidacy has received, and worried about getting his name and message out to the voters.

Soon, throngs of high school and college students are sitting on the floor. Dolianitis and Harris sit down in folding chairs in front of a white sheet draped across the corner in front of the studio’s bathroom, with a shop light perched above.

Harris, who writes the duo’s original songs, performs with an acoustic guitar, while Dolianitis plays with an electric Fender. The combination gives their music a woody foundation overlaid with a halo of resonance.

They open with a cover of “People, Turn Around” by Delta Spirit and move steadily through three original songs, before ending with a take on My Morning Jacket’s “I Think I’m Going to Hell.”

Altogether, their music suggests Wilco or CSNY at their more delicate moments. Their guitar playing creates overtones that make the music more than the sum of its parts.

Mouseketeers is a cast-off name that they will almost certainly drop. This is their second gig; their first was at Lyndon St. Artworks when Harris was booked, and quickly recruited Dolianitis to join him. Though separated by one year in school, they both hope to attend Appalachian State University and continue their musical collaboration.

Trade Parade, a trio of UNCG students, closes the night.

They’ve played a couple times here before, and tonight they’re playing in front of an enthusiastic and familiar audience — friends.

They promiscuously exchange instruments between songs — hence the name — acoustic guitar, ukelele, electric guitar and drums. Additionally, Jackie Haggerty plays trumpet on one song. The two others, James Wert and Matt Hayes, both know each other from their hometown of Roxboro. They forged a bond with Haggerty, a New Jersey native, at Friday-night campus parties talking about how badly they wanted to be in a band.

After the show, they speak from one mind. “Our mission statement is that we want to make people happy,” Haggerty says.

“We want to make our friends and our new friends happy,” Wert says. “I wouldn’t want to try to be cool.”

“I’ve tried my whole life,” Hayes says. “Never happened for me.”

Mouseketeers, comprised of Page High School students Evan Harris(left) and Alex Dolianitis, work the listening room. (photo by JordanGreen)