Silence the Sky

by Jordan Green

The saxophonist, a 21-year-old named Casey Cranford with a thatch of bushy brown hair pulled back in band, fingers his instrument in an un-insulated room tucked behind the basement garage of drummer Derek Barts’ palatial house at the end of a cul-de-sac on High Point’s Oak Hollow Lake.

Outside, in the post-dusk gloom beside the lake after a sudden plunge of the Celsius, Cranford had hunched his shoulders together to ward off the cold as he waited for guitarist Tim Fogarty to go around front to open the garage door. Inside, it’s a little better, warm enough that Greg Goad, a 19-year-old bass player from Walnut Cove, is wearing a T-shirt.

The band members met each other the usual way: through shared day jobs, classified ads and previous band experience. They hold in common a technical proficiency with their instruments, a spirit of adventurousness in the journey and an emotional commitment to the music. Their sound is a stew of funk and psychedelia, the heat of which draws these musicians to its center; they might otherwise drift from this backwater faded industrial region recently beset by residential and commercial mortgage foreclosures.

Fogarty and Barts founded Silence the Sky in 2005. Guitarist Ben Cessna – a student at Appalachian State University, he’s skipping practice tonight – met Fogarty through a mutual teaching gig at Smith-Whitley music store in High Point, and soon joined the band. Cranford, Goad and keyboardist Jay Beverly came on board in the summer after a major personnel overhaul.

“I was born here, went to Grimsley, did the whole Greensboro thing,” Cranford says. “I want to move.” He catches himself: “I mean, I wanted to move before I met you guys.” One of his band mates interjects a protest, and Cranford adds, “I was ready to go; I couldn’t find anybody to play with.”

Jay Beverly, a fixture of the tie-dyed jam-band scene at Greensboro’s Blind Tiger who’s better known as Jaybird, finds himself similarly situated. Before the practice has even started, he’s working the keys, beginning with ripples of sound building to a romp with spacey flourishes. “This shit is bad-the-fuck-ass,” he says, expressing approval for the new instrument. He was born in Virginia, but has lived in Greensboro most of his life. Both of his parents hold doctorates in music; they’ve taught at UNCG and Appalachian State. Jaybird himself has recently completed an associate’s degree in music theory and sound engineering at GTCC.

“It’s good to finally find a band that can actually keep up with me,” he says. “I’ve been at it for a little while. I’m 32. Music is all I’ve ever known.”

Jaybird is a headstrong and mercurial captain, something of a counterweight to Fogarty, who acts as a more laid-back team leader by dispensing discrete praise and coaching to his fellow players. The two played together in Mars Bound Mind, so when Jaybird joined Silence the Sky in the late summer it was natural for him to bring several of the former band’s songs with him.

They’ve generated enough solid original songs for an eclectic and flexible performance repertoire. The band has logged some miles on the road, including a stop House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, and won some accolades, taking first place in Ziggy’s July 2006 battle of the bands. Silence the Sky was included in the Ziggy’s Thanksgathering concert last month before the Winston-Salem venue’s Baity Street location closed, which in the Triad music scene is the equivalent of being present at the Last Supper.

Now it’s rehearsal time: a training session to keep fit over the holidays as they look forward to a cluster of shows across the state in January.

“Let’s swear on the Bible or something,” Barts says, with an easy laugh. “Get this thing going.”

Goad plays a loping, punchy bass line and Fogarty comes in with a fleshy rhythm guitar shuffle that seamlessly mutates into a flight of mercurial, bird-like notes, as the song “Barrett” commences. Cranford leans into his alto sax, producing a sketch of angular yet melodic notes. The drums, as they typically do, skitter with light-handed but controlled and muscular accentuation. The keyboards are lost somewhere in the mix.

Several changes in, Jaybird begins to sing in raspy and soulful declamations that recall the psychedelic intensity of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The bass throttles ahead, then slows, and Goad locks into an introspective exchange with Fogarty.

Now the song’s tension has dissipated like fog burned off by the sun, and Jaybird speak-sings a testament to shape-shifting promise: “There’s a window in space… waiting for you to look inside… there’s a man standing, waiting for a bus… it’s an intergalactic uni-bus.”

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