Where the Punks Meet the Godfather.
Burley Hayes has owned and operated the Somewhere Else Tavern for almost 30 years.
In Triad’s “here today, gone later today” music scene… Burley Hayes and the Somewhere Else Tavern have withstood the test of time.
A van backs a trailer towards the entrance of the Somewhere Else Tavern in Greensboro, ready to disgorge another load of amps, drums and electric guitars, tools of the trade for one of the six metal bands playing here the day after Thanksgiving. From inside the club come the echoes of another band soundchecking: “Kick drum,” “snare,” “right guitar,” requests soundman Dave Kindred, followed by the sounds of said instruments reverberating past the bar and solitary pool table and into the parking lot. On their way they pass Burley Hayes, surrounded by audio and video equipment as he runs the door at the music club he’s owned and operated for nearly 30 years. “It’s the magic that’s kept me in it,” says Hayes, as he greets another regular by name. “Original music is a hard road to travel, and it depends on family and friends to support it. Anyone can go to a cover club.” Onstage, Icarus is launching into a set of such rock and roll, having passed muster with Kindred. Things run smoothly at the Tavern; the next band, Death Proof (the name is a reference to their Christian beliefs, not the Quentin Tarantino film), is already setting up their gear next to the stage while Icarus plays, assuring a relatively seamless transition between acts, while the opener, Vaughn Street Glee Club, have already broken down their equipment and moved it out of the building. With their short hair, polo shirts and lack of visible tattoos, Icarus have a somewhat different image than their metal brethren; put them in matching suits and you’d have the Kingsmen circa 1965. Like the Kingsmen and the generations of garage rockers that followed them, the bands at tonight’s show perch precariously on the line between teenage rebellion and boy-next-door Middle American respectability; I meet more past and future members of the US military in one night at the Tavern than I have in two years of doing sound for the downtown indie rock scene at TwoArtChicks or Solaris. “We’ve never cared about our image,” says Icarus vocalist David Smith, when asked about the group’s appearance.
Their sound is different, too, possibly because of Smith’s previous experience as a reggae singer, or the jazz leanings of bassist Bryan Kreidler and drummer Kevin Weber, who have played together since high school. “A lot of metal is depressing,” says guitarist Grant Feroe. “We have a very positive outlook.” The group is unanimous in their regard for the Tavern, where they played their very first show. “My mom said, ‘I’ve been there,’” says Weber, underlining the venue’s longevity.
Hayes got his start in the local music business as a teenager, cleaning up at the Blue Max, a venue in downtown Greensboro run by Bill Kennedy, owner of a string of popular local nightspots. “The first time I heard live music, it chose my path,” says Hayes, who credits his interest in music to his family. “My mom would listen to Elvis, my father would listen to the Inkspots and George Jones and my brothers listened to everything from beach music to Ozzy Osbourne,” says Hayes. The family owned several curb markets, and the Somewhere Else Tavern was opened on July 3, 1979 in a property they owned on Freeman Mill Road.
“I played drums at thefirst Sunday Night Jam Superjam,” brags Kindred, the soundman. Theweekly jam was a long runninginstitution that ran for 586 consecutiveSundays, beginning on the Tavern’s opening night, according to Hayes’calculations. “When people were in North Carolina,they’d stop at the Tavern on Sunday night,” says Hayes. “We had ElvinBishop, Poison, a lot of eighties hairband members — it’s always beenan artists’ hotspot. “We had to carry Elvin Bishop out of theclub, he got so drunk,” says Hayes. “He was shouting, ‘One more song,one more beer!’” The Freeman Mill location helped to create earlyword-ofmouth publicity for the venue, says Hayes. “It was onthe south side of Greensboro, and kids wouldn’t tell their parents theywere going there,” he says. “It gave it an air of mystery.” TheTavern moved to its present home across the street from GuilfordCollege in 1998. Hayes was looking to get away from Freeman Mill’sgrowing drug and crime problems. “This is a goodneighborhood,” says Hayes. “Moving here was a blessing.” I don’tremember the first show I saw at the Somewhere Else Tavern, but sometime in the early 1990s I went to down to Freeman Mill Road to see mybrother’s former band Disstemper play on a double bill with the TrueBrothers, then known as True & True. It was a strange pairing:Disstemper’s thrash metal with the retro country sounds of the brothers— though Disstemper did do a killer version of Glen Campbell’s“Rhinestone Cowboy.” “There’s no difference in musicians,” says Hayes when I bring up his genre-bending billing practices. “It all interconnects. “Besides, how are you going to put someone with the True Brothers?” says Hayes. “Who’s going to match them?”
“Icouldn’t find a circus so I came to work here,” jokes Kindred, whobegan doing sound at the Tavern in 1994. “I’m the only one who’ll putup with him,” shouts Burley, interrupting our interview.
“And I’m the only one who’ll put up with you,” replies Kindred. Likeany eccentric rock venue, the Tavern has attracted its own collectionof eccentric and creative characters, beginning with King Zippy, theofficial Somewhere Else Tavern dog. Zippy is the son of Elvis, who wasthe house dog when I went to the Disstemper/ True Brothers show. Elvis,in turn, was descended from Sir Maximillian, who held the position whenthe original location opened. “Music soothes the savagebeast,” says Hayes. “The dog soothes the humans. He’s the third eye.”In a cramped booth beside the stage, Tony Thomas is checking the imageson a bank of video screens. The Tavern videotapes the shows and gives aDVD to bands that pull in at least 20 people. “We’re starting to document the Tavern,” says Hayes about the videos. “Eventually I want to put them in a time vault.” “Burleyand I talked,” says Thomas, explaining how the idea for videotaping thebands came about. “We’ve spent about $15,000 on equipment, and I spenttwo weeks setting up the cameras.” There are 10 cameras above andaround the stage, and Thomas, who used to run sound at Hartley’s Houseof Rock in High Point, can edit videos on the spot. “I’ve known Burleyfor fourteen years,” he says. “He’s like a brother from another mother.”
DeathProof has finished their set and 3 Quarters Dead has taken the stage.Before they step down, however, Death Proof issues a cattle callchallenge for a new lead vocalist. “Our vocalist is leaving atthe end of the year,” announces guitarist Luke DeMoss. “If anyonethinks that they can do what he does as good as he does or better, letus know.” “We don’t want someone who sounds just like Josh [Smith],”DeMoss explains later in the parking lot. “We just need a good leadsinger.” Smith, it turns out, is trading the stage for the pulpit andgoing into full-time ministering. “So we’re not mad at him fora leaving,” says DeMoss. “Well, maybe just a little,” jokes drummerMatt Hufferson. The Greensboro-based band formed in March, and this wastheir third show at the Tavern. “Our influences are Panteraand White Zombie, but we’re a Christian band,” says DeMoss. “We’retrying to create a Panterastyle Christian band.” Regardless of theirspiritual leanings, the Tavern has become a major venue in Greensborofor bands playing metal or “dark” rock, according to Rya Storm,publisher of the online “dark” music magazine Luna Kiss, who frequently books multi-band shows at the Tavern. “Thechallenges that I’ve had so far mostly tie into distance,” says Stormin an e-mail interview. “I think the closest active bands are locatedin or around Charlotte. That part of scene here has somewhat sufferedsince there hasn’t been a regular ‘goth/industrial’ night at the localclubs in quite a while. The bands that are around now either haven’tbeen here in Greensboro before, or not often enough, so that makes thepromoting end a little difficult. It takes a lot of work to get yourname out there and to catch someone’s attention enough to come out fora band they aren’t familiar with. “SWET has been the most open venuefor original bands. Burley is very friendly and you don’t have to jumphoops to get your band in. The price, location and the fact that most,if not all, shows are for all ages helps as well.” Britt Arndt, whoseband Waiting to Bleed will play the Tavern on Dec. 27, remembers oneshow in particular. “Well, one night we had a show withForever Remains and four other bands, all of which canceled the nightof the show,” says Arndt. “It was also a holiday weekend soboth bands were expecting not so good of a turnout, but by 10:30 therewere 60 people there just for the two of us, from Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Danville and other surrounding areas, and it turned out to be ahell of a night.” The crowd tends to ebb and flow with thebands, as one group’s friends and followers leave and another one’sshuffle in, but it thickens as the night moves on. Burley keeps trackof the number of patrons each group draws on a clipboard by the door,but most here tonight appear to be in it for the long haul. Burley’s init for the duration as well. He once also owned a clothing store andband rehearsal space on Lee Street, but closed it after a severeillness. “I made a decision to work on my health instead ofwork all the time,” he says. The Tavern isn’t going anywhere, however.“I used to stress all the time: Will I be able to pay for the beer?Will I be able to pay the electric bill? But one day I just quitstressing,” says Hayes. “We live from month to month just like everyoneelse does. “We’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing,” hesays. “Simplicity is the key to life.”
3 Quarters Dead’s latest CD is called Between Angles and Demons. I’mnot quite sure if this is possibly an overt reference to members’Christian beliefs or another example of heavy metal’s fascination withreligious metaphor and mythology in general. These bands aren’t exactlyyour father’s Christians, as I hear quite a few words that were neveruttered in any church that my mother dragged me to as a wee lad. Butwhy should only Satan’s minions get to use all the spicy terms anyway?The band is probably the most overtly theatrical group on the bill,with singer Jason Sain dressed in an elaborate jacket festooned withbuckles and straps. The Tavern’s elaborate lighting rig adds to thesense of drama, as Sain strikes a tortured pose amidst the clouds ofchemical fog. While the band schedule on the Tavern’s MySpace pagewould seem to cement its present reputation as a punk/metal/hardcorehaven, the music has varied over the years with the rise and fall ofdifferent musical styles in the Gate City. Oddly enough, even though itsits directly across the street, none of the Guilford College-connectedmusicians I know has ever mentioned playing the Tavern, a testamentperhaps to Greensboro’s highly factionalized music scenes. “Bandsget into cliques and don’t think of the big picture,” says Hayes. “Wedo all genres of music. “When we first started we had a lot of blues,Southern rock, a little bit of everything,” says Hayes. “We started theall-original format in the early nineties, because it seemed like itneeded help. It’s always been the underdog.” He reels off alist of classic early ’90s Greensboro bands: Misplaced Aggression,Geezer Lake, Toxic Popsicle, all of whom played the Tavern in theirheyday. “The Imani Reggae Band is one of my favorites,” saysKindred. “We had a lot of really good ska bands.” Several times thisevening I’ve reflected upon a strange paradox: I would probably not bewriting an article about the Tavern were it not for a fateful encounterthat occurred in this very room almost 13 years ago. My then-bandSugercoma was playing that night, and a couple of Greensboro politicalactivists were lured in by the tagline on our flyer: “An art band forthe working class,” apparently thinking we had some sort of overtlyMarxist agenda (We didn’t; we were power pop in the mold ofthen-popular bands like No Doubt. I just thought it sounded clever.) Aconversation with one of them would lead me
tovolunteer with a local progressive monthly, and through a series ofstrange coincidences and connections, into a career as a fulltimejournalist. Who says rock n’ roll can’t change your life?
Thesinger from Bloodline Severed, another Christian band, pulls a memberof the audience onstage and encourages the crowd to show some him somelove. “Just like Jesus, he’s making a sacrifice for people he doesn’teven know,” says Corey Weaver, in reference to the man’s upcomingmilitary deployment to Afghanistan. Thelast band tonight is a Light Divided. The only band on the bill I’dseen before, they’re also the only one with a female singer. “Alot of our fanbase is out of the Tavern and the Soundvent [inThomasville],” says guitarist Eric Humiston in a pre-show interview.“The Tavern plays a big part in the scene. Any band based inGreensboro, Winston-Salem or High Point has played here.” A LightDivided came together in July 2007 when guitarist James Lewis andsinger Jaycee Clark from Graveyard Heart joined forces with Adam Smith,then playing drums in Travesty. “Adam was just hanging out atthe Graveyard Heart practice space and he mentioned jamming together,”says Lewis. “I like Jaycee as a singer and frontperson so I asked herto come with me when we formed a Light Divided.” Humiston andbassist Mike Underwood joined the band last fall. Ironically, neitherof the two former members of Porno Red realized that the other hadcontacted A Light Divided looking for a position. “I felt Icould bring more to the music than the other bass player,” saysUnderwood. “It was cool how it all fell together,” says Humiston. “Ourgoal is to make music we’d be fans of if we weren’t in the band,” saysSmith. Clark writes most of the lyrics and the rest of the band writesthe music. Lewis says his biggest songwriting influence is Johnny Cash,reminding me of Disstemper’s secret Glen Campbell obsession. “I was really pissed off when I wrote the lyrics for our first CD [This year’s Before the Fall],” says Clark. “I’d just been in a car accident.” Whilethe band lists their influences as Killswitch Engaged, Flyleaf and theDeftones, I hear more old-school influences in their 45 minute set, atleast to my raised-on-Iron- Maiden ears. I’m not a regular imbiber ofnew metal, but even after five hours of nearcontinuous exposure, I’mnot bored. Metal rises or falls on its visceral power and the bands’bond with their audience, and I find it easy to lose myself in theall-encompassing roar. With its walls lined with vintage guitars andmemories, Hayes hopes to create a non-profit foundation to keep theTavern going after he’s gone. “This club is about the music, not thedollar bill,” says Hayes. “It’s like a kid comes to the club for twoyears, and then he comes up and asks if he can play and you find outhe’s an artist. Everybody is somebody here; it’s not about being astar. “I’m very fortunate that God has given me the keys to thespaceship.”
To comment on this story, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org