A SCENE GROWS UP
BY ERIC GINSBURG
Andrew Dudek was born to be a host, and he knows it. Behind the glasses and impressive beard is one of the “most gregarious, talkative, friendly people” a former bandmate said, and she’s right. Sitting down with Dudek — one of the patron saints of the DIY music scene in Greensboro — for the first time, I was immediately at ease.
It makes sense that he has been behind several of the most significant venues in recent local history, an impressive feat that is less surprising when you realize just how obsessed he is with music. When we first met, he showed off a set of portable speakers he carries with him, and laughed that he puts music on when he’s in the shower, even if he can’t hear it.
“I’m kind of ruled by music,” he said. “I have to have it on at all times.”
Sitting at a wooden table in his Glenwood home, Dudek sifted through an unofficial archive of show flyers from the ’90s, a full wall of CDs behind him and his 10-monthold daughter crawling at his feet with a toy hammer.
While he certainly didn’t do it alone, Dudek has initiated an unwieldy amount of shows and spaces He lived at and helped run the legendary Dick Street house-show space, founded Gate City Noise, helped create the Flying Anvil and facilitated Square One.
People like him breathe music — which is pretty important if you’re living in a house that hosts three or four concerts in the living room every week. The reign of the house known simply as Dick Street began in 1993, a punk house of sorts named for the short stretch of road near the intersection of Lee Street and Freeman Mill Road.
The skateboard ramp in the backyard came first, followed by a one-off show that everyone enjoyed, kicking off a rash of bookings, former housemate Crkt Leggett said. Up to 11 people lived in the house at a time, with four of them staying in Dudek’s room at one point. Blake Faulkner, who is now married to Dudek, lived in a gutted, broken-down van with a loft in it, permanently parked next to the house that she described as an “annex.”
“It felt exciting to be a part of a national music scene,” she said, adding that she especially appreciated connecting with women who came through the space. “A lot of people really had their hearts in that place.”
Faulkner said Dick Street was like a community space, and felt different than other house-show spaces because the people were open-hearted and generous, and that the space always felt safe. Politics and lifestyle choices sometimes united the residents and the steady stream of guests, but the skating, music and friendship came first.
While Dick Street wasn’t the first house-show space in town — Leggett remembers spending a lot of time at the “Miracle House” on Market Street before moving in to Dick Street — it was unique in several ways.
“We were one of the first punk houses that I was aware of that had almost an equal number of male and female residents,” Leggett said. “We tried to run things on a fairly communal basis. We didn’t promote our house as an anarcho-house.”
Politics did play a role in Leggett’s band, BlownApart Bastards, with the singer tabling with ’zines about indigenous and animal rights, playing music Leggett described as “eco-crust punk.” People connected to the house helped found the local Food Not Bombs chapter, and were involved in struggles for political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal and organized critical-mass bike rides.
The police never gave them a hard time — Dudek remembers just one time a sheriff’s deputy rolled by, telling people they had to drink on the property before leaving. With an abandoned house on one side — to which they once ran extension cords to and broke in to play a show — neighbors who didn’t speak English on the other and a church across the street, they were left alone.
“We were on a side of town that nobody gave a sh*t about,” Dudek said.
At the time the city felt abandoned, with a dead downtown after 5 p.m., empty warehouses and lax law enforcement enabling them to climb on a downtown roof or swim in a country-club pool at 2 a.m., it was easy to feel like they owned the city and could do whatever they wanted in the wasteland.
The different house-show spaces bleed together in the minds of veterans from the scene, though some can still easily rattle off entire bills for specific shows as if they booked the bands that morning. Other spaces came and went relatively quickly, even more official venues like the Turtle or the Onion Cellar.
Sometimes spaces were named for their address, like “Lee F*cking Street,” which was basically a squat where buckets of piss sat on a floor that was falling in. Other names were similarly pragmatic, like the “Broken Window” where people actually climbed through a broken window to get inside.
But Dick Street will go down in infamy, not just for the years it was open, but also what happened when it closed. The city condemned the property, and sometime around New Years after everyone moved out, the entire inside of the house — walls, sink, toilet — and outside were painted jet-black and “DICK ST. LIVES” was written in huge lettering in the street.
“It was one of the best offenses against a known slumlord that I ever witnessed,” said Leggett, who saw it afterwards.
Dudek first started booking shows while he was living at the house, one of two or three housemates who set them up. There were few rules: Write it on the huge calendar so everyone was on the same page, feed and shelter the bands from out of town, charge $1 per band on the bill and whoever books the show makes the flyer.
Relying mostly on first-hand experience and a book called Book Your Own F*cking Life that listed bands and venues that submitted information, Dudek set up shows at other houses too and moved from organizing gigs based on who contacted him in favor of searching out bands that he actually wanted to hear.
After Dick Street was shut down, Dudek lived briefly in Hawaii but returned to Greensboro in 2000 to buy Crunchy Music Stuff on Tate Street and turned it into Gate City Noise. With no business experience, an overriding passion for music and a knack for booking, Dudek ran the CD and record shop as a concert space as well, briefly selling skateboards too.
It was a bad time to get into the business, as the iPod came out a year later and music downloading took over, but he managed to set up an impressive line-up of shows that were always free, including indie bands that would later blow up like TV on the Radio or the Shins.
Though he refused to sell certain kinds of music, citing Dave Mathews Band and the Grateful Dead as examples, Dudek said he would take requests but tried to expose people to lesser-known acts. While the business was never particularly profitable and Dudek said he essentially paid himself by stealing from the store, he did sell 120 copies of Radiohead’s Kid A at a midnight sale.
“He was a salesman,” said Amy Kingsley, a former staff writer for YES! Weekly who met Dudek when she walked into the store shortly after moving to town. “If you said, ‘Well, I like Bonnie Prince Billy,’ he would say, ‘Well why don’t you check out this band.’ It sort of became a community center for the music scene in Greensboro.”
When they started talking about music, Kingsley said Dudek, who she described as “incredibly charismatic,” suggested they play together. Kingsley, who plays bass, played with Dudek in Dawn Chorus for the next 6 or 7 years, at times practicing at his house or in a storage space. The stage in the back of Gate City Noise was their best practice space, she said, and while the store was important, she said the place was most significant to her as a venue.
Kingsley remembers Dudek hand-screening tickets for a Mark Kozelek show — one of his favorite musicians — and much of the work he put into promoting shows was done by hand.
Looking over flyers from his Dick Street days — like when Propagandhi played at his house on the Fourth of July — Dudek pointed to handbills with multiple colors he cranked out before the days of color copying, running the print through the machine for each separate color.
Dudek closed Gate City Noise around Halloween 2005 with the intention of reopening it shortly after. Along with Pete Schroth – who founded the Green Bean and had organized live music there — and several other backers, Dudek planned to open a much larger venue called the Flying Anvil. Gate City Noise would take up part of the colossal building down an alleyway off of South Elm Street downtown, but he wasn’t able to open it until May.
It didn’t take long for the people behind the Flying Anvil to realize that the project was going down, and less than a year after it opened, the venue shut its doors.
“There was a lot of really good energy put into it [and] even though it did shut down, I still have people coming up to me and saying, ‘Man, that place was unbelievable,’” Schroth said. “We didn’t do it right and it couldn’t last, but a lot of people had a really good time there.”
It was doomed from the start, Dudek said, especially because they were paying per square foot and the space was much bigger than it needed to be. With more room than they could handle, the owners built things like a huge bar and a women’s bathroom with 12 stalls.
“When we walked in there the first time it was crampacked full of old cars,” Schroth said, remembering he wondered how the hell they would clear the space out. The cars were moved for them, but the cost of renting nearby parking skyrocketed and they were losing money on a lot of shows. Instead of giving the band 100 percent of the door, as Dudek says in hindsight they should have done, bands were promised a certain amount and if the crowd didn’t materialize, the Flying Anvil lost money.
From a performer’s point of view, Kingsley said the only thing she didn’t like about the space was that it was cold when they practiced there because the heat was off, and she was disappointed when it folded.
“It felt like Greensboro’s music scene, which really felt like it was taking off at that point, took a step back,” said Kingsley, who has since moved to Las Vegas.
Faulkner expressed a similar sentiment. “That was a big blow for Greensboro and the show scene,” she said. “That was a lot of chances to attract certain kinds of bands.”
The demise of the space crushed Schroth, who retreated into the countryside with his family and took a while to get back on his feet.
“I think some of it was foolish bravado of, ‘I’m going to do this no matter what it takes,’ and not realizing that you’re not going to do it,” he said. “When that place closed, it was bad. I had some serious health issues go down. When you put that much of your heart into something and it fails so quickly, it hurts pretty bad.”
It was the last gasp of Gate City Noise as well, but Dudek wasn’t done yet. Before long he would help open Square One, a two-room space on the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Grove Street on the same strip that once housed the Onion Cellar and would later host Legitimate Business.
With the business element gone, Square One was a shared practice space for seven bands that also functioned as a show space. There was friction between the bands and even within bands like Dawn Chorus about whether it should function exclusively as a practice space, allowing bands to leave their gear out instead of making way for concerts.
Faulkner said the multi-use space was more accessible than the Flying Anvil and was the “answer to a need” for venues at the time.
Sam Martin, who started booking shows around the time that Square One opened several years ago, is nostalgic for the venue. He was in middle school when Gate City Noise existed on Tate Street and said it was over his head, given that his music taste was based on his mother’s love of early-’80s music.
“It felt like it had been open for a really long time and I was part of some kind of layer of the Greensboro music scene or history,” Martin said. “It had a magic feeling to it. I was always comfortable there even though I was way young.”
Martin was blown away by the first show he saw there — like Gate City Noise, powerhouse touring acts that would later make the big time came through, including Beach House. It was one of the shows that Jack Bonney, the general manager for UNCG’s WUAG from 2003-2011, booked.
Bonney had met Dudek at Gate City Noise and the two had hit it off, with Bonney booking shows for the radio station at various venues affiliated with Dudek. After an era of going to house shows and short-term venues, Bonney said Gate City Noise was more of a mainstay that helped the underground scene become more accessible, especially with free concerts.
“That’s kind of been my curse,” said Dudek, referring to his disinterest in profiting off of music. “I think money just f*cks things up.”
WUAG tried to sponsor one free show a month while Bonney was at the helm, he said, but budget cutbacks at the school eliminated his full-time position and potentially put free shows in jeopardy.
As the lease holder at Square One, Dudek grew weary of nagging people to chip in their share of rent, and turned the space over to other people shortly before it was shut down. It was significantly less time-consuming than other projects had been, Faulkner said, but it was still sad to see it go. It had been nice to revert back to a more DIY space, Dudek said, where you could actually talk to the bands and they acted like real people — something that often didn’t happen at the Flying Anvil because it could draw bigger names.
Like other spaces in town, Square One’s departure from the scene could be attributed to a well-intentioned journalist, said Leggett, who lived at Dick Street. The Miracle House closed decades ago after the News & Record covered a Fugazi show there, and many attribute a visit from the fire marshall that closed Square One as a show space to an article by YES! Weekly’s Jordan Green.
“Once it ends up in the local press, that’s the deathknell,” Leggett said.
Maybe that’s part of the reason much of the scene remains undergroun d — after all, house shows are illegal.
“It’s such a weird town as far as music goes,” Schroth said, who now lives in Lindley Park. “It’s all kind of hushhush. Maybe that’s what we like, and that’s okay. I don’t mean it in a bad way at all. I don’t know that anybody is trying to keep it a secret but that’s just how it’s working out.”
Operating on a similar model to Square One and opening a few blocks away shortly afterwards, Legitimate Business met a similar fate, closing as a venue but remaining as a recording space. Ben Saperstein, who helped open it up, remembers Dudek coming by and offering to help however he could, both with advice and material support for the music inside and the small skate ramp in the back.
“He had a couple of suggestions as someone who had pretty much done the same thing multiple times in this town,” said Saperstein, who also played in several local bands. “He seemed excited that someone else was doing something.”
Faulkner and Dudek both ask themselves if there’s something about Greensboro that contributes to such spaces regularly opening and closing. Leggett, who went on to coach roller derby, said part of it makes sense.
“House shows are illegal, and Square One and Legitimate Business were illegal, but it’s just up to ‘the kids’ to keep opening up these places and finding them and being resourceful,” he said. “I feel like you can either complain or do something about it.”
That’s exactly what Dudek did, and like Schroth, Faulkner and Leggett, he is heartened to know there are still house shows. He seems more in touch with the current underground house-show scene than his cohorts from the last two decades — though he was recently kicked out of one because he didn’t realize the house had a rule against drinking.
While none of them said they go very often or at all, many said they would be happy to share their knowledge to open a venue, be it a mid-sized space like the Flying Anvil or booking house shows.
Martin and Bonney aren’t complaining either. After booking his first house show at his sister’s best friend’s mother’s house in 2008, Martin has continued setting up concerts throughout town, including two recent ones that were canceled when a house-show space stopped operating. After being laid off from WUAG a year ago, Bonney helped reconfigure CFBG — another show space in town — as a cooperative record store, which he helps run and curate.
Bonney said people like Dudek and Martin will keep the local music scene going, but like Martin, cautioned against people taking live music for granted.
“I would like to see maybe more consistency in a venue [because] shows are kind of all over the place,” Bonney said. “People are always going to try and make live music an option in this town but people do have to go out and support it.”
Martin said part of the problem is people’s attitude about the city, but said he has also found that it’s easier to get people to come see him perform if he comes out to their shows too.
“People treat Greensboro as kind of a holding tank,” Martin said. “What I am hoping is that if I stay dedicated and keep working and trying to make it better and not leave for somewhere that the grass is greener, that people will follow my lead. Supporting things, especially in Greensboro, should be involuntary. It should just happen.”
Like many of his counterparts from the scene here over the past 20 years, Dudek isn’t as directly involved in live music anymore but remains connected. Dec. 8 he DJed a dance party at Sticks and Stones, smiling as a packed room danced to everything from New Order to Beyonce. His hobby these days is the Beard & Moustache Club, which he helped start and which led him on a six-week motorcycle ride to Alaska to compete. Dudek still books bands for the club’s fundraising events, but he isn’t connected to any venues.
Despite it’s rapid disintegration, Schroth credits the Flying Anvil with propelling him to where he is now. As the stage manager for the Avett Brothers, he can trace his relationship to the band to when they played at the Green Bean or the Flying Anvil’s opening bash.
“It was hell for a while but definitely good things came out of it,” he said.
Schroth, who as a kid tried and failed to pick up an instrument, said he is thrilled that he gets to play along and react to the music by controlling the light board as he tours with the Avett Brothers.
“I very much feel like that light board becomes my instrument and I am reacting as they’re playing,” he said. “It’s really cool to see what they’re doing on stage and that reaction in the crowd, there are some nights when those two become one thing and there is no division and it’s just a huge ball of energy. It’s very intense, I don’t know how else to describe it. Something happens.”
Leggett hasn’t seriously played bass in a band since BlownApart Bastards, but said he still really enjoys seeing live music “although I usually stay in the back or higher elevations and let the actual youths participate in the circle pit.” In some ways, he wishes the music scene wasn’t so compartmentalized, recalling as Dudek did the Dick Street days when wildly different acts would share the same bill.
Though Dudek isn’t actively involved in a show space, it’s hard to imagine him staying out for long. He’s talked with Leggett about buying the old Dick Street house and turning into some kind of community space. Leggett said he’s not sure that makes sense, but Dudek will probably find something.
He may not know what form his next project will take — he’s considered starting a music blog with friends around the country and also has an idea for a city-funded, livemusic council that could help fledgling projects — but rest assured that he’s not done yet. After all, someone that is so addicted to music and who was born to host can’t stay out of the scene forever.