Adam Brinson is trying to stay awake long enough to get his kids to sleep. And then, finally, he can go to band practice.
It's 8:30 p.m. on a Monday night, and Brinson sits upstairs with his two sons—Buck, 6, and Levon, 3—reading bedtime stories. Downstairs, Sara tends to their newborn daughter, Sorrel, not yet 1 and already asleep. At last, Brinson steps outside, holding two electric guitars and a mixed six-pack of local brews. He heads just two blocks south, parks across from Pittsboro's landmark courthouse and ambles up a flight of stairs to his new band's antique practice space.
"This is the old hotel," Brinson explains, tuning his Gibson hollowbody guitar as the other three members of The Outboards trickle in.
"There's no telling what went down in this place," answers grinning guitarist Eric Haugen.
The Outboards' fascination with Pittsboro history owes to a collective loyalty to the Chatham County town. They are a neighborhood band: Everyone but bassist Mike Hayes lives on the same small-town block, and even Hayes was Brinson's neighbor until he moved to nearby Bynum. They know each others' wives and kids and see each other mowing the grass or leaving for work. Every Monday night, they gather in this carpeted little room to write rock songs. This casual, near-familial nature is what makes this band possible—and that feeling is engendered by Pittsboro itself, a relaxed commnunity that each member seems somehow bound to protect.
Drummer Clay Boyer, for instance, thought he was finished with music before he met his neighbors. He has a history in bands, including a stint as Archers of Loaf's original drummer. He moved to Portland, Ore., a decade ago, playing music until it felt like a dead end. Soured by experience, he returned to North Carolina, landed in Pittsboro, married and started a family.
"I was talked into it," he admits. Boyer nods toward Brinson. With a 7- and a 3-year-old, Boyer is The Outboards' other dad. "I played in bands a long time. Until I started playing with these guys, I was doubtful whether I was gonna want to get back into it."
With three children of his own, Brinson empathizes.
"The whole band scene—staying up late at night, shouting in the dark, trying to get famous, trying to get people to like you," he says. "When you have kids ..."
"There's a lot to be cynical about," Boyer interjects.
Brinson used to drum in the testy punk duo Blag'ard, which plumbed songwriter Joe Taylor's neuroses. But many of the Outboard's initial songs were about how much Brinson loves his family, he offers with a goofy grin. He sings about the environment, too, and Pittsboro.
"There are 'the world is ending and it bothers me' songs," Brinson says.
The Outboards split the difference between understated pub-rock and late '70s guitar rock, while hints of German and Southern psychedelics suggest genre fluidity. They're like the Wilco of Circle City.
But it's not all gentle. "Rock Chatham Park," the band's most telling tune, takes aim at the proposed development and research park that could dramatically increase Pittsboro's population during the next three decades. Though downtown Pittsboro typically shuts down by early evening, discussions and votes about Chatham Park have packed the nearby courthouse until midnight. The Outboards practiced the night of one such vote. Brinson wanted to open the windows while they played, but they'd been painted shut.
"We missed our big U2 moment," Boyer quips.
The song subject may seem topical from the outside—Pittsboro has been in the news because of Chatham Park—but it's more personal than political for these four. They all moved to Pittsboro for its easy pace. The community lacked the competitiveness they'd observed elsewhere—a progressive Mayberry, where young families moved for low housing prices and a small-town rapport. There's a soda shop, and the cops are friendly even when they break up backyard band practices. Haugen says local crime is cute, like the neighborhood teen with the habit of swiping ashtray change from unlocked cars. As Brinson sings in "Rock Chatham Park," "I live here because I'm a believer/that one can have enough."
His life is evidence for that mantra. He owns the window-washing business Window Wizard and keeps four employees, two late-model work vans and a pickup truck. He is his own boss. His lifestyle is comfortable without excess, his family's modest, two-story home sitting on an old residential street and overrun with cats, dogs and kids.
Before moving to Pittsboro, Hayes lived in Carrboro in a two-room cinderblock house—a box, he calls it. But he often escaped to Chatham County to paddle in Jordan Lake or the Haw River.
Haugen is the newest arrival, having moved from Hillsborough to Pittsboro just two years ago. He tested the neighborhood by coming back and walking his dog; his future neighbors were friendly and outgoing, and he was sold.
"I think the unifying thing is no one has money," he says. "We're all at Food Lion. There's no feeling of competition."
They wonder if the "progressive Mayberry" vibe that drew them may be threatened by Chatham Park. It's not just relative newcomers like these neighbors, but also natives who feel the same way.
"One thing I notice about Pittsboro—regardless of your political stripe, and there are several in town—people that identify as living here share a protectiveness of the town," Boyer says. An increase from the current population of around 4,000 to 60,000 can be a frightening prospect. Brinson prefers a slower roll.
These bandmates don't oppose change—just too much, too fast. Pittsboro now has a co-op, a downtown bar and at least one neighborhood rock band. "That's what we like. It's this little town, and you get like-minded people accumulating," he says.
Massive development around the corner or not, it's an exciting time to live here, Brinson says. "Maybe we can get a Thai restaurant."
With a laugh, Hayes rebuts: "Dream on."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Burrowed in"