The Flying Anvil is set to land in Greensboro
It doesn’t take much imagination to envision throngs of hipsters packed in front of the stage, to hear the edgy undercurrent of recorded music in the pre-show anticipation and the clunk of beer bottles dropping into plastic trash bins.
But for now the stage in the southwest corner of the brick industrial building that formerly housed Eric Jones Foreign Auto Service is only a few bold slashes in a rough sketch. A white spray-painted line marks off its periphery. Some hastily applied tribal painting dances on the brickwork, evidence perhaps of some long ago rave. A lone speaker erected on a carpenter’s slapdash stand broadcasts the sultry voice of Billie Holliday as a Case skid loader sits idle in the middle of the dance floor. The dim space is illuminated by a single portable industrial light plugged into an extension cord.
Already dubbed the Flying Anvil by the group of investors launching the live music and entertainment venue, the room is animated by some early stirrings of human energy as members of its board and curious downtowners mill around two tables displaying the blueprints, piles of black-on-white T-shirts, stickers and a mailing list at a recent Tuesday evening open house.
Pete Schroth, the president of the new company, holds forth before about a half dozen people, pointing to spray-painted lines marking off the placement of the bar and bathrooms; and describing the space for a record shop off to the side, a second smaller stage in a corner and an outdoor smoking area on the patio. He mentions the club’s plan to acquire a beer and wine license, and rattles off the venue’s occupancy: 700. That puts the new Flying Anvil on par with Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle and Asheville’s Orange Peel.
Speaking of the fabled Cat’s Cradle, Schroth tells the assembled crowd that Cradle owner Frank Heath has agreed to direct some of the acts in his booking circuit to the new Greensboro club.
The team behind the Flying Anvil contains some power hitters. Schroth will be sharing marketing, booking and promotional duties with Gate City Noise owner Andrew Dudek, who has developed a track record for booking seminal acts like My Morning Jacket and Neko Case just before they burst from obscurity. Katie Southard, who manages the Green Bean for Schroth, and Brian Crean, who went through UNCG’s MFA program with Schroth, will handle day-to-day operations for the club.
‘“If you were to consider us a band, Pete and Andrew are the lead singer and guitar player,’” Crean says. ‘“Katie and I would be the rhythm section. We’ll be opening the place, making sure the staff’s on time and running the box office.’”
The team also includes the irrepressible Erik Beerbower, a downtown artist known for his networking talents, along with Frank Auman. The two are investors and serve in advising roles on the business’s board of directors.
But one director in particular gives ballast to the club, which will contend against perceptions that Greensboro doesn’t have enough of an audience to support a major music venue, and against strong competition from the Kenny Efird/Joe Ferguson juggernaut that is ramping up live music offerings at the nearby Greene Street club.
Milton Kern, Beerbower’s father-in-law, is the group’s senior advisor and the landlord. As a central figure in downtown’s redevelopment, he’s developed a reputation for taking some risks but making solid business decisions.
As a standing circle of supporters cracks the tops off beer bottles, Kern tells them he’s invested $350,000 to $400,000 in the building so far.
‘“The group that has come together has good ideas ‘— silly ideas,’” he said. ‘“I like silly ideas. I’d just like to see it go faster. I’d like to see it opened by Christmas or Thanksgiving.’”
For Kern, the Flying Anvil represents a sentimental grace note in an already mighty development portfolio. Coming from the other end, for Dudek the club represents a transition from shoestring indie entrepreneurialism and culture making to high-stakes entertainment business.
The journey over about a dozen years has led him from the house on Dick Street, where he started booking shows in his living room in 1993 until he got evicted, through a freelance period of booking shows with the odd coffee shop, leading to the recent run of shows at his cramped record store on Tate Street. Sometimes he would come out of an event empty handed, he says, but he always tried to make sure the bands made some money.
‘“I can call those bands and those bookers up, and say, ‘Oh, it’s on now. I’ve got the venue you want.’ I feel like it might be Greensboro’s turn. Greensboro’s blowing up and there’s no reason we can’t do it here. I’m tired of driving to Carrboro to see a show. Maybe they can start driving here.’”
He plans to schedule a good number of hip hop acts to address the dearth of venues for that genre in Greensboro, and tap into the strong demand for reggae music in North Carolina. But most of all, his strategy will be to build on the diverse tastes of Gate City music fans.
‘“One night you might see Dwight Yoakam,’” he says. ‘“The next night you might see TV on the Radio or Parliament/Funkadelic.’”
But he acknowledges that to succeed the Flying Anvil will need a little good luck and some cooperation.
‘“I sell Cat’s Cradle tickets out of my store,’” he says. ‘“Frank already has the state on lockdown, so we’re going to try to stay in his good graces and maybe catch some of his scraps.’”
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