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The beloved Hillsborough Street club was smoky, noisy, rowdy and where today's Raleigh music scene cut its teeth

Bye-bye Brewery 

The beloved Hillsborough Street club was smoky, noisy, rowdy and where today's Raleigh music scene cut its teeth

Perhaps more than any other person you will ever meet, Jac Cain loves rock 'n' roll. The music is in his attire—a tight tank top peaking from beneath an unbuttoned, navy blue shirt embroidered with the famous "Stubb's Bar-B-Q" logo. His hair, a bottle-blonde glow cut close and carefully combed, points to punk.

And the zeal is as apparent in the matching flame tattoos that sweep up both of his forearms as it is in the thick, deep scars hidden just under the ink, scars that earned Cain a friendship with Neil Young's son, Zeke, when he toured with Young years ago as a road crew member for Young's tour opener, Ben Folds Five.

But those arms don't just look the rock 'n' roll part; for years, they played the part most every night, tweaking soundboard knobs and lugging guitars, monitors and drum kits to and from the thigh-high, beer-stained musical fixture that was The Brewery's stage.

As the "production manager" and principal personality of The Brewery from 1992 to 1997 and again from 2001 until the club closed its doors in late February, Cain estimates that he worked between 2,500 and 3,000 sets at 3009 Hillsborough St., scurrying from the stage-side soundboard to the stage to the front-of-house soundboard set against the club's back wall only 35 feet away as he attempted to satisfy the whims of rock bands.

"Most bands would walk into the club and they wouldn't be happy because it was so small. Most small clubs aren't done well ... But I would work with the band so that, by the end of the night, the band, the crew and the crowd would leave the show happy. And I didn't get a lot of complaints," Cain says, leaning against a pool table in the Comet Lounge, a bar that shares its roof and parking lot with The Brewery. "And that just felt good."

For most of its two decade existence, that was the essence of The Brewery—turning a small space permanently stained by smoke, sweat and beer into something magical, something where local bands and local fans could not only flock to showcase their own passions but also could hear the best the nation had to offer. In retrospect, many credit The Brewery's founder and owner, Kenny Hobby, with being something of a visionary, a man committed to the music and to the local scene despite the knowledge that he stood to lose everything.

Hobby didn't lose everything, though. His club stood at the epicenter of a mid-1980s music scene that threatened to explode nationally, and—when age requirements for drinking took away part of his crowd—he adjusted, hosting influential matinee punk shows that local high-schoolers flocked to on Sunday afternoons.

"Kenny Hobby had this right combination of intelligence and positive attitude—very, very open and friendly to the music people were making—that really set the tone for what went on there," remarks Godfrey Cheshire, a music and film critic for the Spectator starting in 1978.

The history of The Brewery exists not in the financial ledger, however, but in the people that lived their lives there, the people that made its scene happen. Some look back with anger, though others look back and find lots of smiles and a cloud left by a decade-long alcoholic daze. More still look back with an unadulterated nostalgia.

"I'm going to miss it," Cain says, frowning and growing uncharacteristically quiet. "I'm going to miss that place a hell of a lot."

These are the stories of those people, the ones that lived and loved them, the ones that took thousands and thousands of nights and sets and songs and turned a little club that could have meant nothing into a collective history that meant everything.

SAM MADISON
(The Bleeding Hearts, The Usuals, Bloodmobile, Dixie Witch, Man Will Destroy Himself)
When Kenny Hobby started running it, I was in The Usuals starting around 1984, and we would sell it out every time we played. He was happy to have us ... And in that era, all the guys in the band lived right there on Daisy Street, so, after a show, we would bring everybody home from the bar and just have a big party. There would literally be 150 people in the house, and me and Audley Freed would be sitting there switching off guitar licks in the living room. It was like an every-weekend thing. If it was Jane's Addiction or whoever playing or especially if it was us playing, everybody would come back to 6 Daisy St. and party the night away ... The '80s was a blurry decade.

GODFREY CHESHIRE
(Film critic, Independent Weekly)
Hal Crowther wrote a column two years ago called "The Way We Were," and, in it, he talked about the music scene and the coverage the Spectator had given it then. He said I was "the Midnight Mayor of Hillsborough Street." If I was mayor, then The Brewery was Town Hall. The period from 1978 to 1985 was the richest and most creative span for music in Raleigh in that era. The Brewery was the key club. It came along not too far from the time The Pier over in Cameron Village closed down, so it was there when that whole movement of independent, creative rock 'n' roll peaked ... When I was in London in the summer of '85 and I took the Greetings from Comboland mixtape and got so much really unexpected interest from people, I got a letter from someone in Raleigh. The letter said that they could have put a dog pooping on stage at The Brewery, and that they would have had a packed house ... It was a social nexus. I've spent more time in The Brewery than I have in any other entertainment venue in my entire life ... and to participate in a scene like that in the late '70s and the early '80s was a real pleasure.

FRANK HEATH
(Owner, Cat's Cradle)
This label, Making Waves, was putting out this compilation called Welcome to Comboland, and the BBC was filming at The Brewery for a video that was going to come out about all those really great bands here. The Othermothers, Fetchin' Bones and some others were playing, and they would have them play the same song over and over because they were recording itÉ But Flat Duo Jets weren't able to get on the bill because the recording was taking so long for each band. They were being rebels and were pissed off, so they set up their amps and drums in the back of a pick-up truck and played in the parking lot. That was kind of ordinary for Dexter [Romweber, the guitarist] because he used to play on Franklin Street about every night of the week, but he was taking it to a new level. I hadn't seen a lot of those bands that were playing ... really good North Carolina bands. That was the show that really got me into that music.

SCOTT WILLIAMS
(Fan, Days of Daddy)
I'm from Gastonia, and Corrosion of Conformity's first singer, Benji Shelton, is from that town, so I knew about what was going on here. Really, after I graduated high school in 1983, I moved to Raleigh to be with bands like COC ... And I've seen them play dozens of times there, nearly every show they ever played at The Brewery. Many people don't remember, but Reed [Mullin, bassist] was the one that really got the punk scene started here because he would rent The Brewery out from Kenny and they would play. The guys were just teenagers themselves back then, and they would pack The Brewery with these excited high-school kids. In their heyday—I'd say from 1983 to 1986—when they were playing at The Brewery, regardless of who they were playing with, they were like this machine. Even if they were friends with the people they were playing with or they respected the guys, they would rip every band that played on that stage a new asshole. Bands would be playing on stage, and COC would be mopping the stage with them just a few minutes later. I saw it every time ... And it was like some kind of thermonuclear bomb would just explode in your face.

DICK HODGIN
(Brewery soundman, producer)
The first time the Circle Jerks came through, there were two shows. An all-ages show in the early evening, and an over-18 show immediately following. The Circle Jerks were a great punk band, and they had a very serious anti-Christian stance. Many churches and communities in California had rallied against their shows and obviously sent newsletters out to churches across the U.S. to help gather resistance to their shows. That night, a group of about 15 Christians came down to protest the band, and they were relegated to standing across the street. They brought a huge makeshift cross, maybe 10 feet tall. As the drinkers lined up to get into the show while the all-age crowd was inside rocking, the Christian group moved across the street to the sidewalk right in front of The Brewery, about 15 feet in front of the line of fans. The fans started yelling at the Christians, and the Christians started yelling back. About 15 minutes later, a local television crew showed up and started filming live from across the street. The images were put on the news and, obviously, every parent that had dropped off their kid there for the all-ages show saw it and jumped into their cars to come rescue their kid. When it really started turning into a circus from the cameras, the Christians, the traffic and the crowd, the Christians rushed to the building and started beating the cross against the walls of The Brewery. The fans retaliated by throwing rocks, bottles and anything they could find at the Christians, as the parents tried to force their way inside to rescue the kids. It was pretty surreal ... All to the strains of "Killing for Jesus" at about 125 dB.

CAITLIN CARY
(Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas)
Of course the first show that Whiskeytown played was at The Brewery. As far as I knew at the time, that was really the only place to play. I'm sure that wasn't true, but everyone in my world made it seem that way. We were opening for a touring band called Jesus Christ Supercar. We were all so nervous that we couldn't stay around the club; we went and ate something at Nur Deli across the street, and then we bought big beers at The Wolf Mart and walked to the rose garden and got really drunk. Not so drunk we couldn't play (well, we could hardly play anyway), but pretty damn drunk.

I don't think there were many people there, but it seemed like such a big deal to me; we'd psyched each other up in the park, the beers made us overconfident—I'd love to have a tape of that show—I bet we were awful. Of course the next show, the one that really mattered, was also at The Brewery: we opened for the Accelerators and the Backsliders. It was huge.

JESSE MALIN
(D Generation, The Finger)
We were having a listening party up here for the record I just finished and Ryan said, "You know, the place we met at, The Brewery, it just closed?" Of course, it's sad and weird kind of when any place like that closes ... I was touring with my band D Generation at the time, and we were getting signed to a major label so we were on one of our first bus tours. The band was actually getting along then, and I remember there was a kid—who turned out to be Ryan Adams—there. People were all excited about his band and stuff because they were doing this Gram Parson and Replacements-type thing. After the show, they said this kid wanted to meet us, and he was all enthusiastic and hyper and wanting to talk about New York, punk rock, Bad Brains, Neil Young ... Sonic Youth. We were all kind of hanging out, and we used the bus as the bar after it closed. He was a big D Generation fan at the time, and I saw this real excitement. His band was just a tape that you throw in the back and never listened to, but Howie—our bassist—kept saying that they were good. He was right ... I always said we had to go back there because, somehow, that place stuck in my mind.

RON BARTHOLOMEW
(The Nevers, The Hanks)
My brother Dave, my sister and I all met our spouse at The Brewery. I was in The Hanks, and we were playing one of our first shows, opening up for The Woods. She was there seeing the band we were playing with, and we kind of got grouped with the same people. Her roommate came up to me and made a pass, and—after putting off her roommate—I decided that I liked Susan a lot ... I probably saw The Woods there 30 times. Every time they played there—like every four or five weeks—all of these people would show up, and it was really like this one, big family ... It's not like that anymore.

ROBERT SLEDGE
(Ben Folds Five, International Orange, Toxic Popsicle)
The second gig I ever played at The Brewery with Ben Folds Five, I walked offstage with my amp in my hands. I was going to carry it to the back of the club, but the lights were so bright during the show that I couldn't see when they were off after the set. I stepped off the stage, and I promise I've never hit my ass as hard as I did in The Brewery that night. I had the amp in my hands, so I had to ride it all the way down and into a big speaker cabinet. But it was so dark and still so loud, nobody saw it. It was about the worst thing that ever happened to me at a gig, and no one knew.

LEE MOORE
(Artist/Musician, Le Machine)
I met Sara Bell at The Brewery seeing HR from Bad Brains, which was kind of reggae-punk. Everyone was mosh-pitting around us, and I just started talking to her and said, "I really like Irish folk music." She said she liked it, and that she had some Irish records and tapes ... She even told me she played the banjo and mandolin. So we got together and have been friends ever since then. We actually ended up moving in together on Boylan Avenue, and we had a really good record collection. We got to share it.

SARA BELL
(Angels of Epistemology, Regina Hexaphone, Dem Choklodytes)
In 1988, I played a show at The Brewery when I was in a band called Dem Choklodytes with Barbara Herring, Claire Ashby and Michelle Smith. Bill Mooney and Mike Carter had made a giant monkey head that breathed all of this smoke to go on stage, and our friend Gary—who is about seven feet tall—ended up dancing in a cage. Jim Freeburn made a fake band bio that said we were from Denmark and huge over there, so this woman from Spectator wrote a big review of us. It was packed because of the review, but we all just ended up getting really drunk and making a lot of noise. Afterwards, she wasn't so complimentary ... I guess if you didn't know there was no band from Denmark called Dem Choklodytes, what do you do?

GREG "GROG" MOSORJAK
(Former booker for The Brewery, 1994-2002)
When I first started there around 1994, Hootie & The Blowfish had just made it big, and Don Dixon was doing a tour. Hootie joined them the night before in Columbia for a whole show, so I got the rumor out that Hootie would do that here. It was the best crowd Don Dixon had here for a while. From that, the rumor had evolved that R.E.M. would show up as well, so people were waiting for Hootie or R.E.M. Frat boys in the audience were saying that Don Dixon didn't exist, and that was just the name Hootie used to play clubs! During the show, Don laughed and said, "If you're expecting Hootie & The Blowfish, they're not showing up." Now, that was a great Don Dixon show.

JOHN TEER
(Chatham County Line, Burgeon)
When I was in Burgeon, Kool cigarettes sponsored this hilarious battle of the bands that they called Band-to-Band Combat. The winner got to play at Walnut Creek for H.O.R.D.E., I think. The Emma Gibbs Band rented this Greyhound bus, and all of these people came in from Chapel Hill to vote for them. Our bass player's girlfriend was kind of drunk and said something to them about the bus, and one of the guys said something back to her. Our bass player got in his face, and it was tense for a little while. We figured out they probably paid for tickets for a lot of those people so they could come and vote ... But we were all right with it. Hey, if you want to win a band competition, that's the only way to go.

NATHAN ASHER
(Nathan Asher & The Infantry, Phantom FM, Rashomon)
During high school, 1998, I played in a band called Rashomon. We worked out a deal with the Brewery to throw these big high school band shows on Sunday nights, during three-day weekends. Each show had five bands and an alliterative name—like Super Sunday, or Psycho Sexual Sunday. As something of a chunky kid growing up, these shows were my last best chance to impress the girls who I'd liked since middle school. At the last show we ever put on there, I announced that I was going to stage dive and jumped off the stage. A couple of friends caught me, and lifted me straight up by the legs. I kept singing, and they kept lifting me up until my head went through the paneled ceiling. Next thing I knew, I was singing to the pipes and insulation of the Brewery ceiling. Thanks for getting me a date, the memories and the asbestos poisoning.

MARIA MA
(Early '80s high school student, former Beastie Boys publicist)
In 1984, Black Flag played The Brewery for the Slip It In tour and, for some reason, they didn't let people in before the show for a long time. And instead of singing "You slip it in," we were standing in line chanting, "You let us in!" This guy named Robert was leading us ... At the time, everyone thought this local character, Robert, looked like Henry Rollins. Before the show, Robert had taken a marker and drawn Henry's tattoos on himself. Henry wasn't very amused by it. I went to St. Mary's at the time, and I took this hippie girl with me who had never gone to a punk or hardcore show, and she came with me. I just remember that Henry was on stage at The Brewery in Speedos and these slip-on shoes, and it was so packed and so hot. People were jumping off the bar stagediving, and it was such an incredible performance. Really, it was frightening because there were so many people, and it was so intense. When we left the girl looks at me and says, "Wow, I feel like I just lost my virginity."

TERRY ANDERSON
(The Woods, Terry Anderson and The Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team, The Yayhoos)
The Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team played there backing Bo Diddley. We played two two-hour sets that night, and we only played about eight songs. We were jamming on each one of them for 15 minutes. Bo had just gotten this new stompbox with this octaver pedal, so Jack [Cornell, Anderson's bassist] would just go step on it and turn the thing on during Bo's solos ... Between sets, we would sit in the back and Bo would be telling us jokes, one right after the other. There were some raunchy ones, but what amazed me was how many the man knew. And he had this big, booming, jovial laugh, so he would be laughing louder than any of us. We were laughing at him just as much as we were at his jokes.

BRIAN WALSBY
(Artist/musician, Patty Duke Syndrome, Daddy)
It wasn't my favorite club in Raleigh (The Fallout Shelter takes that honor), and the Brewery had a history of pussying out with their booking. All the same, I saw a lot of good and funny shit there. I remember seeing bands like COC and Honor Role play amazing shows there that would mop the floor of anybody around these days. There was always lots of drama and good conversation in the parking lot out back. I remember Rob Stewart and myself spending many hours making a welcoming banner to the McDonald brothers of Redd Kross as some sort of sarcastic joke and then waiting several hours for them to arrive so that we could present it to them. The thing I remember the most is all of the times I waited out some lousy band playing inside by leaning up against the wall outside the front door talking to whoever.

BEN BARWICK
(Ashley Stove, co-owner of Kings Barcade)
I saw a lot of amazing shows at The Brewery ... I was at a Polvo show there and I think I was one of about two people in the place. Afterwards, Steve Popson [co-owner of Kings Barcade] dove on the table I was sitting on, and he was really drunk. It was one of the first times I ever talked to Popson ... It seemed that, after a while, the people who operated the place never cared a lot about anything other than getting heads in the door. It had good runs when the right people were booking it, but, after I went there a lot in 1991 and 1992, I never got a sense that it was much of a community thing anymore. That's one of the reasons that Kings ended up happening. We felt that there wasn't anywhere else doing it.

SKILLET GILMORE
(Whiskeytown, Patty Hurst Shifter)
I was at a Lubricators (Kenny Roby's old band) show there. They had just moved to town not long before, and we had become friends 'cause we're all from South Carolina. Anyway, it's getting towards the end of their set and there were maybe 10 people left. I was drunk as a tick by the time they started playing a Motorhead song; "Ace of Spades," I believe. Well, one thing led to another and I decided the thing to do was start a pit. My last memory was a pair of Chuck Taylor's coming straight for my face and BLAMMO! Out like a light, glasses smashed across the bridge of my nose. Jac Cain, eternal soundman of The Brewery, who was playing bass, sees me laid out on the floor, and yells into the mic, "Hey, stop. It's our friend Skillet." I hadn't been in town long at that point, and for years after The Brewery always seemed like home.

Jac Cain remembers that night, and he remembers that the band was, indeed, in the middle of a reeling take on "Ace of Spades" when Skillet hit the deck. Dick Hodgin was there as well, and he swears that—somewhere, in some box, in some room—he has a tape of that show and Cain's command to rescue his newfound friend. And, at last, that's where the story of The Brewery should end—with people passed out in the floor ... during a rock n' roll anthem built around the philosophy of a gambling man who doesn't mind the fear of losing so much, just as long as he gets to play the game a bit longer.

  • The beloved Hillsborough Street club was smoky, noisy, rowdy and where today's Raleigh music scene cut its teeth

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