Making the best of light provisions at Camp Awesome
In the spring the gritty western edge of downtown lost Fort Asshat, a communal household that produced rock shows, in the spring. Some of the tenants went on tour with their band, and their replacements must have not been so keen on having amps loaded into their living room and beer spilled in the hallway.
That’s the normal evolution of the shifting theater of operations that is the Greensboro rock underground.
North Carolina rock houses have served as refuges for marginally employed working-class whites, places young members of the political left who aren’t attracted to the ghetto of academia can create some semblance of community in precarious economic circumstances.
They’re loosely affiliated with low-rent housing collectives organized around a particular political ideology. I once visited an anarchist house in Raleigh called the Stronghold where entering the ringleader’s bedroom required crawling through a refrigerator; the back panel was removed to allow passage through a strategically placed hole in the wall.
So with Fort Asshat receding into the territory of myth, not a minute too soon Camp Awesome arrives on the scene ‘— a Cedar Street rental in the heart of the Bill Agapion slum empire. The names of the rock houses and leftist collective households across the Piedmont all seem to evoke insurgent outposts in enemy territory.
Victor Devlin and Erin Wyrick come by the military theme honestly. Both are from Jacksonville, a coastal city that lays next door to that other military camp ‘— Lejeune, home to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. Wyrick landed at the Cedar Street house back in March. Devlin, whose band Wolverines debuted at Camp Awesome’s inaugural Halloween rock show on Oct. 29, joined his friend there three months ago.
Devlin, 20, has spent some time in Atlanta. More recently he was back in Jacksonville attending a cosmetology program and suffocating from the oppressive atmosphere of his hometown.
Jacksonville’s oppression to Devlin is personified by racist skinheads, who he says have a bar that condones their activities by failing to notify the police when they beat up other patrons.
‘“I’m the last person you expect to get in a fight; I’m ninety-five pounds,’” says the kid with a full beard and an impish and welcoming smile. ‘“This guy walked up and pushed my girlfriend. She pushed him back. He called me a ‘faggot’ and he called her a ‘spic.’ I took a beer bottle and smashed it over his head, and his friends totally stomped me. It took me a month to recover.
‘“My girlfriend was Mexican and Puerto Rican,’” he adds. ‘“I’m definitely a huge feminist, and it’s not cool to hit women.’”
Greensboro is definitely a more congenial location; its punk scene is liberal and left-leaning, whereas Jacksonville’s is right-wing and patriotic. There are bands Devlin admires like Boa Narrow and Chet Stedman ‘— both on the bill ‘— here and in Chapel Hill, which Devlin describes as ‘“the San Francisco of the east coast.’”
Along with music and radical politics, Devlin maintains an interest in bringing people together for food.
‘“We’re starting to do potlucks every Wednesday because everybody’s poor and we mooch off each other,’” he says.
Wyrick, who sports a grown-out chelsea cut and a mischievous smile, is the other half of Camp Awesome’s community outreach. Other members of the household are reportedly out of town or barricaded an upstairs bedroom.
‘“A lot of the living room is in my room,’” says Wyrick, describing preparations for the show, in a conversation littered with obscenity. ‘“We fliered a’… ton for this. We’re gonna do this on weekends as much as we possibly’… can.’”
Tonight, the show’s starting a little later than planned. At eight o’clock Wyrick is making a beer run. Devlin, whose band plays first, remains un-costumed.
But not to worry. He soon appears on the front porch to join a huddle that includes a couple Spanish anarchist militiamen, a drunken robot and Lt. Jim Dangle of ‘“Reno 911’” (Yes, the gay cop who wears the tight, zipper-straining shorts).
‘“And what are you?’” the robot asks.
‘“White trash?’” Devlin replies in a tone that makes it sound more like a question than a declaration. ‘“I got the John Deere hat, the sweet tattoo. I already got the facial hair.’”
Indeed he does have a sweet tattoo: a Sharpie-inscribed drawing of a fluttering Stars and Bars, accompanied by the words, ‘“The South Will Rise Again.’”
Around 9:30 the living room fills with costumed revelers, suggesting an old-fashioned Southern frat party. There are the guys from Chet Stedman wearing blood-soaked polo shirts, and the drummer of that band wearing a football helmet equipped with two beer-can holders and two flexible straws. There are cowboys, gang members, a sexy construction worker wearing an open safety vest and a boy scout.
Brandon Smith, the other member of Wolverines and a student at NC State in Raleigh, unleashes an explosive clatter of percussion. Devlin, knees knocking spastically, dispatches a set of angular, tightly-executed leads on the guitar that flare into throttling sheets of rhythm. He screams out vocals that constitute an incomprehensible wail of anguish.
One of the anarchist militiamen, David Row, holds a microphone in front of Devlin, filling in for a missing stand. Meanwhile the drum set is migrating forward. The boy scout, who wears and oversized mustache and his own pair of under-sized shorts, volunteers to sit in front of it.
‘“That’s what I like about you,’” Devlin says. ‘“You’re always prepared.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.