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The Strugglers aren’t struggling at all

by Heather MacIntyre

It’s an overcast Saturday evening, and most are driving around in the wet for what seems like hours to find a reasonable parking space in downtown Greensboro. Once I finally find a spot, (naturally) a great distance from my destination, I sit in my car and refuse to open the door, frustrated with the soggy terrain and humid spring night air. Slowly I look up and catch the gaze of another car parked facing myself in the lot, obviously with a matching agenda and annoyed smirk about the weather. Simultaneously, we open our car doors and walk to the Green Bean, where from even across the street I can gaze in the front glass display window and see that it’s brimming with people.

Walking through the wooden entrance, the mood of the evening is immediately modified by the laughter, gossip, and oh, what is that? A skim double iced mocha latte, light on the flavor, with an extra shot, please. Coffee and carefree college kids gather around the… well it’s not a stage, so we’ll go with “play area” that has been set aside for the bands to perform.

Diving into conversation with the person next to me, I start singing along to the opening act Astro Dan and the Dreamgate Frontier (myspace.com/astrodanandthedreamgatefrontier). Though I’ve never seen them before, I’m familiar with their every song. Why? The Dreamgate Frontier is a cover band for the ever-so-amazing indie kings, the Silver Jews (silverjews.net). Of course everyone in the band has a familiar face, whether you were a fan of Mortar and Pestle, Embarrassing Fruits, Trekky Records, WUAG or any other random side projects and companies that have been sparked amongst these guys.

For me, it was a treat, as I’ve (unfortunately) never had the chance to see the Silver Jews, this would only be the next best thing. But let’s not get sidetracked, the turn out was great for tonight’s event: the CD release party for the Strugglers (thestrugglers.org). During performances, everyone in the coffee shop gathers to the front with just enough room to breathe during performances, and then disperses to tables, decks and back rooms to chat during load-in and change-ups. Most caffeine fanatics (guilty) that normally walk around venues wishing they had something to wake them up are now happily wandering the shop with espresso and smiles. But never fear beer-lovers: The Green Bean also carries a wide range of specialty brews and cheap sips for the college wallet.

“I need it all sometimes,” says music-lover Trey Binfield, “I need energy, but I need to stay chill.” He laughs after a long day at work and takes a sip from his left hand, a to-go cup of the house blend, his other hand clutching a beer. Overall, it’s a great venue for free shows, easy location and a familiar staff that are also involved in the music scene.

Following the very much enjoyed cover band, Butterflies (myspace.com/butterfliesnc) holds the midpoint until the head-act. Butterflies is another one of Josh Kimbrough’s (Mortar and Pestle) projects. They sound a bit like a lighter, more melodic, less poppy and produced version of Mates of State, and have collaborated with many of the other similar NC Triad artists. Most all of the show attendees agree that there is a slight snoozing attitude that we’re all trying to cover up with chatter and coffee. But the show must go on, even on this dreary weekend night.

The final act is the Strugglers, Randy Bickford’s band that has been recording since 2001. Sad-bastard tunes fill the room with a forlorn indie voice that is impossible to not enjoy. The album he is promoting tonight is called The Latest Rights, which has been released on the European label Acuarela Discos. The Latest Rights was already out in Europe in late March, and this night is their second night in a row of CD-release celebration, last night being in Chapel Hill at the Local 506 with Max Indian.

It’s mildly disappointing that he doesn’t have his fiddle player with him at the show, or feature much of him on the new work, so it feels like a major change in his live show. It might be better if it is just him alone, focusing on his very personal and emotional voice that he is known for. His performance isn’t a letdown though, his talent and drive have him on the verge of an obvious statement: He will not be playing free shows at coffee shops much longer. He is in the midst of booking his second European full tour and will return for more US dates this year. His fourth release is arguably, and in my opinion, one of his best of the four full-lengths that he has produced. In all, the show was successful, and everyone at the end was happy and hyped with filled hearts and empty cups.

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