Avast ye mateys: It's time to hoist up the John B. sails again. It's not to home we're headed, but hard and fast for merriment, song and debauchery in great Blackbeard's name.
For the fifth consecutive year, The Cave hosts the rock roar of Blackbeard's Lost Weekend, a celebration of grimy, unaffected basement and garage-brewed rumble expressing rock rebellion in its most unadorned state. Garage rock's not some fancy microbrew grog shared by shaven, wrinkleless swells in loafers. It's the ale of unbathed guys in grease-stained T-shirts and Chucks, akin to their puffy-shirted forebears. This weeekend's for drinking it up.
"I used to lose entire weeks," remembers Josh Johnson, drummer for concert founders, The Spinns, and now the two-day show's musical curator. He pauses to breathe into the straw of a breathalyzer that controls his car's ignition.
"Being a musician is a lot like being a pirate," avers Johnson, who goes solo now in Pinche Gringo. "You travel around, stealing dudes' girls, living off the fat of others. You use up all their smokes and raid their cabinets in the morning when they're still sleeping."
It's the same devil-may-care spirit and heedless attitude that fuels rock. As constricting and demoralizing as life can sometimes be, who doesn't want to run away to sea, chasing the moment with kindred hearts, mugs raised to some new adventure? But remember, there's no honor among thieves. After all, The Pirate Bay remains a chief downloader's haven.
"Playing shows all over the country trying to one-up each other, because you're basically jealous that they're a little more successful than you are," Johnson confesses about dealing with fellow bands on the road, though he insists it's all in good fun. "You do little things to fuck them over. You might unplug their shit on stage, drink all their beer while they're playing the show, badmouth each other."
The annual event originated with Johnson's mates in The Spinns, Rob Walsh and Todd Colberg. After calling their party The Freaky Tiki Fest its first year, they changed the name to something more in the spirit of garage rock. This year's festivities will try to match that past intensity, with nine bands and classic soul spun by DJs in The Cave's back smoking lounge. Johnson concentrated on bringing in bands that have never played Blackbeard's. Revitalized interest in the form—spurred by the success of The White Stripes, Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show and new underground icons like Jay Reatard—didn't hurt, inspiring new bands and resurrecting old ones back from history's dustbin across the nation. That experience is echoed locally in new acts like Whatever Brains and Spider Bags, along with Triangle legends Pipe.
Chapel Hill's old rock blowout, Sleazefest, got complacent during its decade-plus run, calling on too many of the same acts year in and year out. Johnson says he'd like to capture the carefree spirit of those first few years. But even if he fails, he says it'll be worth the cost of admission, at just $6.
"I try to make it cheap so people have a good time, and a lot of people can come out," Johnson says. "I wouldn't want to spend any more than that to see some shitty garage, and all these bands are really good. They're all tight and very energetic."
That's what you're looking for in great garage rock—the ability to deliver a three-chord point with precision and gut-busting power. Each night's bill has a different vibe, according to Johnson, with "dirty, gritty, old Sleazefest style primitive rock 'n' roll sounds made by people wilding out onstage," on Friday, and a hard-rocking Saturday with a more blues-psych edge. Next year he'd like to add a third night, just for locals.
As he's gotten older, the 30-year-old Johnson has scaled back his outlandish partying, but he hasn't completely walked the plank. Age hasn't dimmed his enthusiasm, only his capacity, though presumably not so much that he couldn't extend the good times another 24 hours. After all, there's a certain life-affirming innocence in, for a brief moment, reprising the exploits of one's youth. It's similar to the thing that's always attracted Johnson to garage rock—its primal expression of joy and discovery.
"I woke up today listening to Link Wray," says Johnson. "It's about when I hear young white guys trying to sound like old black blues dudes that can't play. They get a guitar and say, 'I can play that chord,' and they just rock it. It's got so much soul to watch somebody that has just picked up a guitar, only knows three chords, and to see the look on their faces."
That is, an excited "Arrr!"