At their two-guitar, double-drummer peak, The Cherry Valence could remind even the most jaded why live rock 'n' roll can't be beat. Huge, soul-born rhythms, thick, slicing basslines, vocals that reveled in going over the top, guitarmonies that left hot tube amps begging for more: For a while there, The Cherry Valence of the stage was peerless, maybe flawless.
But that was only a symptom: Though they formed years before Kings opened, The Cherry Valence was the quintessential product of the Kings microcosm on McDowell Street for about five years. They were the house blend and band of choice for the club that let Raleigh have a strong music scene again, bassist and Kings co-owner Paul Siler part of a triumvirate that staked their lives in a club that transformed what Raleigh had to offer to touring and local musicians alike. Indeed, when it's all said and done, the most important thing about The Cherry Valence won't be how good it was or that the band broke up to reform with a new lineup (and how good they were, too) years later. It will be that The Cherry Valence stood for new possibilities and realizations in Raleigh.
"Way, way back when, I set up two shows for Karp in Raleigh, and they were supposed to play a certain club. But, 'Oh, there's a plumbing leak. The show's not going to happen.' So we had to scramble to put the show in a practice space," remembers Cheetie Kumar, guitarist for The Cherry Valence and, now, Birds of Avalon. "That was fun and novel and stuff, but it's not something a touring band wants to deal with in a new town. Having Kings as a touchstone allowed us to identify kindred spirits in the touring musical world and at home."
It's not that Raleigh didn't have bands before Kings. It's just that, for several consecutive years, those bands didn't have a consistent place that felt like home. But Kings wasn't just a stage. On McDowell Street, no band ever had to be an island. At Kings, bands connected and built a healthy scene. While making their third 500-mile tour drive in a row to Lawrence, Kan., last week, each member of Birds of Avalon—Kumar and Silers's new five-piece that owes its entire existence to Kings—consistently compares Kings and its sociomusical network to a family. Those references are so common that it feels like a long-standing fact that, for eight years, Kings has been one big, productive household.
"There was definitely a family of bands that came out of Kings," says Siler just before spening the next three minutes listing off bands that called Kings home, from Raleigh's The Loners to Brooklyn's Oneida. "There are a lot of bands where people worked the bar or the door. Bo Taylor from Bandway even built the bar."
Indeed, when Birds of Avalon played their first rock-club show in 2005, they didn't even play at Kings. They played underground at Chapel Hill's The Cave. They wanted to get some practice in a venue before their web of friends (or "family members") saw the new band's nightclub chops. That's because four-fifths of Birds of Avalon works or has worked at Kings. Siler still owns it with Ben Barwick and Steve Popson, and Kumar's worked behind the bar more than once. Blond-locked frontman Craig Tilley—who started as a doorman six years ago—is now a manager, or, as he puts it, the guy who's "managing so we don't run out of things." Kumar and Siler didn't know Tilley when Kings hired him, and they didn't know he could sing until he formed a Cars tribute band for Kings' entirely sacred Great Cover-Up in 2002. That band became The Weather, who put out a record on Pidgeon English in 2003. BOA bassist David Mueller has played every Cover-Up except one, and—most nights—he can be found at the door or behind the bar. That is, if he's not onstage with BOA, STRANGE or Heads on Sticks.
Only Scott Nurkin, who's been living in Chapel Hill for a decade, hasn't handed someone a can of PBR from the Kings bar. Still, he owes his BOA membership to the club. He admired The Cherry Valence from afar the first time he went to Kings in 2000. He was taken with the band and the atmosphere, and after that night, his own band, The Dynamite Brothers, spent months trying to land an opening slot for TCV at Kings. It finally happened.
A drummer, Nurkin was drawn to the best version of The Cherry Valence that ever existed—the one where Brian Quast and Nick Whitley could almost lean their backs against the rear curtain of the Kings stage as they got lock-and-key with two drumsets. They played their first show on Sept. 11, 1999, at Kings. That was the second packed house at Kings.
It makes sad but perfect sense, then, that what will certainly be the last sold-out show at Kings (aside, perhaps, from a closing day party on Sunday) will mark the CD release show for Birds of Avalon. If The Cherry Valence provided the anthems by which Raleigh musicians found a home and each other on South McDowell Street (they did), then Birds of Avalon will be the blazing guitars of the closing score and—hopefully—the segue sounds for a second space.