Rock-pop acts spring out of Greensboro’s Greene Street

by Jordan Green

Ailyne takes the stage at Greene Street dressed in headbands, skimpy, Day-Glo athletic shorts and tank tops. Their backs to the audience, the band members take shadowy forms as blinding lights beam into the audience and a recording of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” blares from the speakers. The teenagers, young adults and curious parents brim with excitement as the band explodes into a frenzy of keyboard flourishes, power chords and processed voice. Ailyne, like another band on the bill tonight called Layden, cropped up at a Christian music venue called Caf’ Jam, tucked into a strip mall on High Point Road, in the summer of 2007. With loud guitars, virtuoso musicianship, garish fashion sense and an attitudinal orientation towards positive fun, they found themselves funneled into the regular rotation at Greene Street. Joe Ferguson and Kenny Efird’s house of rock around the corner from Greensboro’s government complex has virtually created a brand with this type of music. Adam Puckett, one of Ailyne’s guitarists, calls Greene Street “a blessing.” Josh Mitchell of Layden says of Fergerson: “He’s our dad.” Since the time Ferguson operated a rock club in the subterranean lounge of the Coliseum Inn on High Point Road, he’s nurtured a number of bands that have launched beyond the Triad, scoring indie label contracts on the West Coast and widespread exposure through vaunted package tours such as Warped. In a kind of farm-team arrangement, those bands have paved a trail followed by successive waves of aspirants. Both Ailyne and Layden have received advice and mentorship from Mercy Mercedes, the headlining band tonight and the instigator of an “80s dance party” that is the cause of the loud fashion on display tonight. “We’re fortunate to have promoters like Joe Ferguson,” says Mercy Mercedes lead bguitarist Brandon Ham. “We’ve stuck with Greene Street, opening for other bands until we’ve gotten popular enough to headline our own shows.” One of the bands that Mercy Mercedes opened for is Farewell, which has signed to Epitaph Records in Los Angeles. Farewell vocalist Marshall Davis is in the house tonight to see his old friends play, following the conclusion of a leg of the Warped tour. Mercy Mercedes is following suit: Recently signed to another southern California label, Militia Group, this concert marks the first date of the band’s US tour, taking them up and down the Atlantic seaboard, through the Midwest and out to the West Coast by the end of September. “Are you guys hot?” Ailyne’s singer, Lucas Johnson, is asking the crowd. “Me too.” A graduate of Liberty University, the institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Va., with a degree in religion emphasizing youth ministry, Johnson speaks in the informal, conversational style characteristic of the 21st century mega-church. “Before we leave we want to tell you Jesus loves you just as much as we do,” he says. The music is infectious. Channing Eymer, a young man wearing a blond flattop and blue pinstripe short-sleeved shirt has been nodding his head along with the music and cradling a Coors Light throughout Ailyne’s set. Eymer and his business partner, Greg Hogan, scheduled time off from their power washing business four weeks in advance so they could drive up to Greensboro to see Ailyne from the Savannah, Ga. area. “Greatest keyboardist ever,” Eymer says, as Jimmy Petty climbs off the stage with his road case. The accolades continue as Corey Doran, Ailyne’s second guitarist, follows: “Greatest guitarist ever.” The sound engineer plays “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, as the members of Ailyne haul their gear offstage and Layden

setsup. The guys from Layden look like decadent fixtures in the court ofKing Louis XIV or, alternately, members of Twisted Sister, wearing hotpants and wigs constructed from cascades of tight curls. Theyplow through a half-dozen songs, mixing thunderous pop-punk in the moldof the Descendents, seventies arena-rock virtuosity and Coldplay-stylefinesse before ceding the stage to Mercy Mercedes. When MercyMercedes takes the stage, they look fabulous and decrepit, dressed inshiny jackets, scarves, sunglasses and sweatbands — the works. Theyconduct between-songs banter in a bad imitation of drug-addled Britishrock stars.

“Cellphones up in the air,” singer Nate Smith instructs a pliable audience.“There ya go. Wave ’em side to side. You know what I mean?” Toward theend of their set Mercy Mercedes rips through an ’80s medley beginningwith Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and then the members pulloff their wigs and dispense with the British accents. At the conclusionof the last song, Ham leans into the audience, doling out high fives,and then hands his guitar to a fan. The rapturous mass demands anencore, and the players graciously oblige. “Can you pass myguitar up here?” Ham asks. “We’re going to do one more song. It’s beena very many months since we last played this song, so it will soundbetter than we really are if we can get everybody onstage.” Thereare at least a hundred souls onstage, and a furious mosh pit suddenlyerupts on the floor. With only Smith and rhythm guitar player Matt Lovevisible in the throng the band performs an anthemic rendition of “Dr.Huxtable.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at