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Old Stone Revue makes commission

by Jordan Green

“I think people are getting tired of things that you can’t relate to,” Joe Blevins of the Old Stone Revue is saying as he relaxes around a table on the patio with his fellow band members before their Tuesday night gig at the Clubhouse. “[Our music is] tangible. It’s things that are in your kitchen, instead of things that are in your limo.”

Just now the opening act, a solo guy armed with an acoustic guitar and an earnest voice, lights into a Cat Stevens cover. The conversation at the table naturally turns to Stevens’ Muslim name, which no one can remember, and the fact that he ended up on a no-fly list and barred from entering the United States.

“The guy who wrote ‘Peace Train,'” Blevins exclaims.

“Times have changed my friend,” says bass player Josh Tench.”

“I hear you,” says the disgruntled Blevins. “I’m ready to become an Islamic militant.”

It’s a joke, by the way, but one that provides a window into the man’s perspective on the world, which is by turns bleak and humane – grounded in both hard-won satisfactions and keenly appreciated losses.

Although a couple members live in Greensboro and still others live in the crossroads communities of Kernersville and Belews Creek, the Old Stone Revue didn’t play in the Gate City for a good while, taking refuge in Winston-Salem’s more supportive and more close-knit club scene instead.

Winston-Salem has traditionally been more kind to bands that write their own songs and draw from the American folk-country wellspring of Doc Watson, Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons than has karaoke and dance music-crazy Greensboro, but the Old Stone Revue is starting to see an opening, getting gigs lined up at the Clubhouse, the Rhinoceros Club and the Blind Tiger.

Chris Lord, who plays electric guitar, estimates that the band has three or four albums worth of material written. They recorded once but the results were a bit uneven and then their sound evolved with a line-up change, so they scrapped the project. Maybe they’ll try again.

In the meantime, they’re playing out as much as they can. The guys talk a lot about writers – Vonnegut, Hesse, Hawkings, Anthony Burgess – among themselves, and about politics when it doesn’t get them too pissed off with each other. Blevins admits that such preoccupations don’t always lend themselves to a stage presence that encourages bar patrons to buy drinks. Maybe that’s not as important as it once was. Maybe the human jukeboxes, empty party-hearty platitudes and lightweight vehicles of escapism are losing their iron grip on Greensboro. Maybe.

They don’t go in for a lot of showmanship, this band.

“Hey y’all, we’re the Old Stone Revue,” Blevins says by way of introduction once they’ve got their levels right. “We’re gonna play some tunes.”

With Blevins playing acoustic guitar and Brandon Knox blowing harmonica, the band possesses a warm and worn organic sound despite Tench’s spare attack on electric bass and Adam Moses’ powerful drumming. Lord’s lead guitar playing gradually emerges from the woodwork in a latticework of twang. He plays in discrete couplets, more befitting a honky-tonk band than a rock-and-roll outfit. The showcase instrument is clearly the harmonica.

Blevins and Knox share vocal duties, with Tench occasionally contributing fine harmony. Blevins’ voice is a throaty growl while Knox possesses a soulful instrument redolent of the Southern highlands.

A regular named Robert Leonard sways in the center of the dance floor and grimaces. At the end of a frenzied cover of the Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” Leonard pumps his fist. A huddle of jocks off to one side laughs, and one of them tips his hat at the intrepid mover.

Then there’s the young woman at the bar with brown curls and a black miniskirt, a recent transplant from New York. She judges that the band’s music sounds “sexy,” and before long she’s on the dance floor too, barefooted and spinning round with a friend.

The band moves through lots of original material, including Blevins’ tender and rocking “Man In Black,” in which he sings, “The whiskey tastes like ashes and the room is closing in, but I’ll drink it ’til it’s empty and I fall asleep again.”

Near the end of the set Lord puts down his guitar and joins Blevins, Knox and Tench for an a capella gospel number. Lord’s mic breaks like a thunderclap. Blevins holds his stomach and Knox folds his hands behind his back.

The crowd back at the bar looks on with stunned rapture as the guys sing, “Sinner, you better get down on your knees and pray.”

Then they switch gears and tear up the Gram Parsons country-rock classic, “Ooh Las Vegas.”

Well, I spend all night with the dealer tryin’ to get ahead/ Spend all day at the Holiday Inn, trying to get out of bed

The soundman has pronounced the Old Stone Revue his favorite band of the moment. Owner Art Jefferis lets it be known that he’s also pleased, and says he might try to pair Old Stone with the Mantras, a popular Greensboro blues-rock band with psychedelic inflections.

After the crowd clears out Jefferis confers at the bar with the band.

“We made some scratch tonight,” Blevins says. “Enough to cover everybody’s gas.”

“How bout beer?” the bar owner asks.

“I don’t know,” Blevins says. “I was doing a lot of Jager-bombs.”

Then they get serious.

“I’m looking for a good fit for you,” Jefferis says. “The other band brings their crowd. You bring your crowd. Put it together.”

Blevins nods.

“I appreciate you being a building block for bands,” he says. “I know you’re trying to make money. I appreciate the foresight.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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