It's been a big year for lots of local bands, and it's not likely that the stream of good records coming from the Triangle is going to stop soon. You've got places like Kings, Bickett Gallery, Local 506, Nightlight and The Cave to thank for that. But Kings and Bickett are gone and going, and it's common for area rock clubs to teeter on survival every month. With that and the stream of new venues opening in mind, we decided to check in to see how some of the Triangle's live music venues are faring.
The death of Kings on South McDowell Street may be prescient of a Raleigh rebirth of the most intimate, inspirational and possibly fleeting musical arrangement—the almighty house show. Low-brow noisemakers, unkempt folk revivalists and crust-caked punks: The house show accommodates the extremes of D.I.Y. music-making, catering to concepts that big, official venues like The Lincoln Theatre, The Brewery and The Berkeley Cafe dare not approach. Slim's is sometimes close, Bickett Gallery was often closer, and maybe there's a glimmer of hope in Volume 11.
But, for seven years in Raleigh, only Kings could successfully adopt the claustrophobic affection of a rock show in someone's living room. It was also the only open-armed venue for the bands that began by playing house shows in Raleigh, too—bands like Baroness, Government Warning and Holy Mountain—but got too big for bungalows and ranch homes upon their second, third or fourth Oak City visit.
Until 2006, when police interjection, landlord disapproval and tenant exhaustion met at a head, houses like The Thrashitorium and The Posidome—horrendously terrific handles, one might add—led Raleigh's house circuit. As Ex-Thrashitorium residents moved on to book successful Kings shows over the last two years, a new breed of house simultaneously appeared in Raleigh. Organized, enthusiastic and often with a working P.A. system, these hippodromes not only picked up slack, but did it—and continue to do it—as well, if not better than, their predecessors.
Names and addresses aren't important. Well, they are, but they just create the aforementioned problems (yes, cops and landlords) that forced the old houses out of business. Finding a good show is a simple as using MySpace, checking fliers plastered on Hillsborough Street telephone poles, the walls of local record stores and the windows of Raleigh's best pizza joints. The shows accept everyone but on-duty police officers. Off-duty officers are totally welcome, by the way.
Even if the clubs that go hand-in-hand with Raleigh's house scene need a break, the houe scene itself is thriving. New houses are popping up, ready to take their share of do-it-yourself glory. Just keep an eye out for the fliers. Five-dollar donations suggested. No drinking if you're under 21. Stay out of the street. And enjoy. —Rich Ivey
Full disclosure: Rich Ivey was the sole constant resident of The Posidome from 2003-2006. He no longer lives there, but he keeps it posi.
The opening of Hideaway BBQ in Raleigh ran about 500 days late. But since its debut in October 2006, the numbers associated with the self-proclaimed home of "authentic barbecue and real country music" have been much more positive. There were the 260 people who turned out to see the Bottle Rockets, and the 222 strong—from babes in arms to the grandparents holding them—who attended a Farmer Jason matinee.
So what's Hideaway BBQ doing right? You could go with something as fundamental as it serves food people want to eat (ribs and brisket being the specialties) and books music people want to hear. Owner Palmer Stacy, whose roots music fanaticism is reflected by walls of his memorabilia celebrating Hank I through Hank III and a 100-CD jukebox stocked from his own collection, had the insight to hire Marianne Taylor as talent buyer.
Taylor, who collected contacts while spending a year in Nashville soaking in the sounds she loves, continues to bring the best country and roots acts to Raleigh, a pattern she established while booking shows at The Pour House. Real-country singer Dale Watson, genre-straddling vets Steve Wynn and Peter Case, up-and-comer Sarah Borges, alt-country heroes Scott Miller and Fred Eaglesmith, bluegrassers The Gibson Brothers: They're just a few of the artists who've played the Hideaway under Taylor's watch.
Hideaway BBQ has already earned the reputation of being both band- and listener-friendly to the extreme. Bands are fed at the restaurant, and Stacy makes a point of buying merchandise from all the acts. The sound system was recently upgraded. Next up is an Airstream trailer to serve as a green room. And every show is an all-ages event, with kids under 12 in for free.
But maybe success is best measured by the happy artist. "Wayne Hancock played here when we first opened," says Taylor, who hosted him at Hideaway again last weekend. "When he decided to go back on tour this spring, he told his agent to get a date from me and then build the rest of the tour around it." And that's even before the Airstream. —Rick Cornell
To keep up with Hideaway BBQ, visit www.hideawaybbq.com.
Dynamic equilibrium perhaps best describes Chapel Hill-Carrboro's club scene right now. Some venues are upping their live music quota, while others are scaling back. Others are just changing the surroundings.
Blend—which occupies the second level of the three-bar complex that houses Hell and Bub O'Malleys—has dropped a significant portion of its live music roster since making the switch from Wetlands to Blend in February.
"Our DJ events are generally really successful, and the live music we do book has been very successful so far," says general manager Idan Eckstein, who previously worked at Wetlands. "I hate to use the word choosey, but our booking team is very selective. We want to put people on the stage that have an audience."
Blend acts as a coffee shop by day and often offers dance parties at night. They've made DJ Mouse's new fetish night, Wasteland, a monthly event and have hosted DJs spinning sets ranging from electroclash to Top 40. Eckstein says Blend will be adding a full food menu in the coming months.
Good news for local rock on The Reservoir front, though: The bar that sits in the space that long held Go! keeps putting together great bills on its floor. Co-owner Bill Fischer says they started hosting shows because there are so few house shows in Orange County. Reservoir felt it could offer that sort of intimate, crowded mood with a good band and a full bar. So far, it's working: Upcoming sets include Snatches of Pink, Tartufi, Dig Shovel Dig and Black Skies.
"This isn't where the bands are going to get paid real good because no one is paying to get in," says Fischer. "But it is real fun and friendly, and I always tend to like shows like that, anyway."
Alexis Mastromichalis, who began managing the experimental space at Nightlight in July, continues to make improvements at the Rosemary Street club. She's hired a new door and bar staff, invested more money in the club's sound system, and continued to book touring and local acts several nights a week. The club will host its third No Future Fest April 20-21 with 40 noise acts. Mastromichalis also says the club should have its wine license by the end of the month and possibly its liquor license during the next several.
The standbys seem to be in good shape: Local 506 celebrates its second year under Glenn Boothe's fine management with The Mountain Goats on May 5, and Cat's Cradle owner Frank Heath says the Cradle won't be moving within Carrboro for the next year at least. Heath does lament the consistent lack of larger rooms available in the Triangle for hosting larger bands, though. He doesn't have exclusive rights on places like Raleigh's Meymandi Hall, and weekends at Disco Rodeo are no longer available for shows. Heath had to pass on Triangle engagements with The Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse and The Shins because he couldn't find a suitable space here for the right dates.
Longtime Cave owner Mouse Mock continues to build The Cave's frontiersman-like Web presence. The underground cavern is now streaming most its sets on the Internet. In the next few months, compilations of those performances will begin airing on Chapel Hill public television. Mock says the streams are strong promotional tools worldwide.
"More and more people all over the world are watching sets at The Cave. Touring bands send word home, and then all of their fans can watch it," says Mock. "Plus, online, you don't have to be 21 to visit The Cave anymore." —Grayson Currin
DOWNTOWN EVENTS CENTER
The three-story space at 14 W. Martin St. has been in a state of flux since 2004, when Martin Street Music Hall replaced what had long been Retail Bar. Martin Street closed less than a year after opening, though, allowing former soundman Rob Farris to take the space over and reopen it as Raleigh Music Hall in 2006. Again, less than a year after opening on the third floor, the Raleigh Music Hall closed as well. Now, Charles Norwood, who served as a booking agent and manager for RMH, has reopened the club as Downtown Events Center, just two months after it closed under its last name. This time around, Norwood hopes to make a permanent home on Martin Street by taking advantage of the downtown revitalization that surrounds his space.
"The Downtown Events Center is going to function as a Convention Center microcosm," says Norwood. "We may have an independent film festival one night, a salsa meringue dance party the next night, followed by a catered corporate reception."
Norwood has high expectations for his new enterprise and points to the renaissance of Fayetteville Street and the new Convention Center as positive additions downtown. He says that more people are filtering through the area than ever before, and he hopes to draw from that wide variety. He's not concerned with being a replacement venue for Kings (two blocks away) or the soon-to-be-gone Bickett Gallery, though he does say he wants live music to play a role in his space.
"We're not going to be just music anymore—more like music plus," he says. "We definitely want to be a part of supporting live music in the Triangle, whether it's reggae, jazz, blues, rock or jam bands. We'll still have dirty punk rock shows, but there will also be nights where we feature a murder-mystery dinner theater type of event. Basically, we're considering this a place where anything can happen." —Kathy Justice
For more, see www.raleighmusichall.com.
It's a good sign in the post- and/or pre-Kings interim that other Raleigh rock clubs are welcoming bands linked so closely to Kings. Birds of Avalon—comprised mostly of people who work at the former McDowell Street epicenter, including co-owner Paul Siler—will play the first of a number of "Kings Presents..." shows at The Pour House on June 9. They'll be ending a tour with The Fucking Champs.
"I hated to see Kings go, and, in the meantime, we're happy to have them," says The Pour House's owner Eric Mullen, who is currently negotiating a long-term lease for his Moore Square space. "But I'm hoping they can find a spot soon so those bands have a place to play here and so that booking agents feel like they don't have to skip Raleigh."
Birds of Avalon has played Slim's in the past, and booking manager Joe Yerry says his bar will continue to welcome Kings acts in exile. The Loners, who played their first set in three years for Kings' closing night Saturday, will play there later this summer. Slim's will charge admission for the first time in Yerry's tenure this weekend ($3 for The Bleeding Hearts), but he says Slim's, a narrow space on Wilmington Street downtown, has to be careful to avoid loud rock music seven nights a week.
Jim Shires, who runs The Berkeley Cafe just blocks away from Kings, says he doesn't have that hesitation: "We're a close cousin to Kings, I think. I think of most clubs as competition, but I always thought of Kings as a friend or an ally.... I can use some extra shows. We definitely have some holes to fill."
Meanwhile, Sadlack's and The Brewery continue to host three to four shows each week on Hillsborough Street. —Grayson Currin
HEAVY METAL MEETS MISS MANNERS
The night's rock show hasn't been over an hour, but Volume 11 Tavern owner Keith Fairweather is already directing traffic. He hands his bartender a key for a storage room and makes sure another staff member is manhandling a broom. He sees that the soundman is paid, and he tells one of two brawny security guards to check a door outside.
Sitting on the edge of Garner and Raleigh, Volume 11 Tavern is a rock club that's unlike any you've ever encountered: It wears its metal status with a Confessor plaque on a blood-red wall and two gargoyles crowning a wide stage, but it keeps its bathrooms (stocked with hair care products and plenty of soap) cleaner than your kitchen. Cuts from Celtic Frost's Monotheist boom through an overdrive-ready PA. Still, the staff is as cordial as if you've arrived for Sunday dinner.
"There's no carpet anywhere in here, except on the stage. I want to keep it clean," says Fairweather, who's been playing in metal bands since he was a 15-year-old high school student in Broughton. He was a founding member of Slugnut in 1993, and he's been the band's only constant member over 14 years. "The worst place I ever played was Ace's Basement in Greensboro. It had carpet that must have been soaked in piss. I don't want that."
Fairweather is more open to mixing things up in his metal club, though, which opened in January but has offered bands recording and rehearsal room for the last four years in an adjacent space. Volume 11 is less than two miles south of Kings' McDowell Street location, and Fairweather says he thinks Volume 11 offers a chance for several Kings bands to have some sort of home while their home club regroups. "I like a lot of the Kings bands, like Thunderlip," he says, adding that he tried to book a Fu Manchu/ Valient Thorr date last month. Fu Manchu took that day off, and Valient Thorr played its final Kings show. The Thrashitorium (see "House shows," page 41) has already booked a show at Volume 11.
Fairweather is also aware of the hot-and-cold competition he faces in Raleigh as heavy music goes. Part of his inspiration for opening the club, he says, was the lack of a home for metal in the Triangle. Now that he's open, though, he feels like other clubs are interested in part of his action. He also plans to host the occasional cover band, a market he knows The Lincoln Theatre dominates.
"I'm fighting the Lincoln for bands right now," says Fairweather. "I was bidding on a Kittie show with them, but I didn't get it."
Lincoln owner Pat Dickenson says he thinks the clubs can coexist and help Raleigh in the process: "There's room for that place to be here, especially with Kings in the downstate at the moment, as long as it's not the same exact size or a complete carbon-copy set across the street. That's what we're trying to avoid. I think Raleigh needs more places for bands to play anyway." —Grayson Currin
For more, see www.myspace.com/volume11tavern.
James and Michelle Lee used to call 1116 Broad St. in Durham home to their Ooh La Latte, but, for the last year and a half, their Anti-Mall and music venue has been surviving in a massive former mechanical workshop in East Durham as 305 South. Still, Lee says the club has had trouble sustaining itself as venue, especially in a city where several clubs now compete where once there was only Ooh La Latte. But Lee says he's confident that 305 South, which sports a coffee bar and lots of shopping, can be interesting enough to draw showgoers from Chapel Hill and Raleigh to Durham. He says it will take time, though, and it will involve first reminding Durham residents what it's like to have a nightlife of their own.
Back on Broad Street, Broad Street Café owner and principal booker Jonathan Tagg has a different approach. He's booking between six and 10 bands between Thursday and Saturday of each week, opting for light, often acoustic fare on Thursday and heavier rock on Friday and Saturday. Open mics, old-time jams and children's events dot the rest of the week.
Tagg says he will spend the next year making connections with local acts before he pursues national talent. He adds that bands accustomed to Kings likely won't find much on Broad Street, either: "From here to downtown Raleigh, it seems like forever. I'm a little skeptical about people coming from Raleigh. Durham, I think, feels like an ugly sister." —Grayson Currin