More important than what we have gathered herethrough the help of a few dozen musicians, fans, writers, disc jockeys, publicists, artists and photographersis what we haven’t gathered. Indeed, this is a jumble of information and icons, but the web of what’s been left unsaidthe bands not included, the stories not spoken, the photographs still in the vaultsis the matrix upon which what is presented has blossomed. Remember: This mess is barely a glimpse into 25 years of music in our Triangle. There has beenand will beso much more.
For higher resolution versions of these pages, e-mail Music Editor Grayson Currin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Ross Grady, Karen Mann, Leslie Land, Greg Humphreys, Kirk Ross and J.P. Trostle with this project. Photo collage by J.P. Trostle.
We asked a few dozen writers, musicians, fans and club owners to reflect on their involvement with Triangle music. The best of those responses are collected below.
The memory is vague, and it reaches back beyond the Independent‘s genesis in 1983, but to me no event so pungently evokes the true independence of the rock scene that has enlivened the Triangle for well over 30 years: Sometime circa 1979-80, th’ Cigaretz opened for Arrogance at Town Hall, a massive rock club that once dominated the main block of Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street. To those who don’t recall either band, this bill was somewhat akin to the Sex Pistols opening for the Eagles; to the uninitiated, it might have seemed an anomaly bordering on an abomination.
To me, it made perfect sense: I’d seen Arrogance debut at a short-lived psychedelic joint outside of Chapel Hill in the fall of 1969. We were all teenagers and they were unbelievably loud and electric. Within two years, they’d given up the Stratocasters for acoustic guitars and were becoming known for the muscular beauty of their singing and songwriting. They pioneered playing original material in local rock clubs, and making and self-releasing their own records, novel practices that would become articles of faith for subsequent generations of rockers.
Th’ Cigaretz blasted onto the Raleigh scene, unforgettably, by allegedly inciting the “May Day Police Riot” of 1978, in which scores of hapless partiers at a street fair were clubbed and arrested by Raleigh’s finest. Th’ Cigz were the purest local embodiment of punk energy that North Carolina could have wished for (or, if one were a police captain, dreaded). They were anarchic, incendiary and brilliantly satiric.
The idea of the two bands sharing the same stage came, I’m sure, from the fact that the Arrogance guys completely got what the Cigaretz were up to. But this was a watershed moment in terms of audiences and sensibilities, and Arrogance’s long-hair-and-jeans crowd jostling against the Cigz’ skinny-tie coterie guaranteed an oil-and-water standoff.
If memory serves, th’ Cigaretz got booed, then Arrogance’s Robert Kirkland insulted his own fans for their clueless boorishness. No doubt some club-goers that night went home totally baffled, if not outraged.
But the musicians understood: This was not about fashion. It was about music and the constant imperative to trash boundaries. Godfrey Cheshire
I guess it’s fitting that I now own a rock club, since the music scene was my impetus to transfer to UNC in 1987. During my first two years of college, I was constantly traveling to the Triangle area to check out the wealth of talent that bypassed Greensboro. But the wealth of great local bands made the greatest impression on me. This was about five years before Chapel Hill was deemed the next Seattle. What’s striking to me now is that the abundance of strong local music exceeds that period of time. Having the luxury of seeing many of the next-great-blogged-about touring bands play at 506, few are actually as good as the top tier of local bands playing in this town on a regular basis. Glenn Boothe
In the nine years The Bluegrass Experience played at the old Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill every Thursday night, we often asked audience members who were professional musicians to join us on stage: Peter Rowan, guitarist Dan Crary, fiddle legend Bobby Hicks, members of The Red Clay Ramblers and Riders in the Sky. But there were also some folks who, after a few beers, were confident they could sing and play well enough to join us. One night, a somewhat frightened high school student from Durham was encouraged by her rowdy friends to “get up there and sing one.” She chose a key and a tempo and launched into Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” It was a powerful rendition, full of energy and sly humor. Everyone loved it. It was the first time Rebecca Reynolds, later of Rebecca and the Hytones, ever sang on stage. Tommy Edwards
This may have been just barely over 25 years ago. I was in the band Ape Hill (Clyde Edgerton, Susan Ketchin, Dave Siegel), and we were playing on the stage at the old Star Point Tavern near Carrboro. We were in the middle of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” The front of the waist-high stage suddenly collapsed. The back of the stage was secure. Our speakers tilted forward and fell as we ran and stumbled forward. In 30 minutes, the stage was back up, and we started the performance back up this way: “Home up yonder/ in the sky lord, in the sky.” Clyde Edgerton
The stairs leading up to Chaz’s Bull City Records creak with an amusement park’s rickety anticipation of something wonderful to come. They represent the happy vagrancy of the Durham music scene: “We don’t need speakers and lights; we’ll play anywhere.” It was January 12, 2007, and the city’s walls were stirring with the electricity of something about to happen. That night, my giddy anticipation would solidify into a brick-solid faith in the local music scene.
I reached the top of the stairs and settled to watch Megafaun, whom I’d never heard of. The trio’s epic noise folk-hymns first blew me away, then drew me back and tucked me under the band’s arms, safe and loved. It was the best Durham show I’d ever seen. In Chaz’s foggy-windowed attic playground, with a heart-anchoring band whose members I would come to know as good friends, something changed: I left feeling wide-awake. The recent past had seen this city stirring, coming to life, inviting us to play. That night, as I headed home, Durham sang back. Catherine Edgerton
Before I lived here, I was visiting with some friends in a caravan from Alabama, circa 1993. As we tooled around town listening to the encyclopedia of tunes on local radio, we noticed a stark figure walking on the side of the road. It was Dexter Romweber. To us, it could’ve been Bob Dylan, to paraphrase D. Boon. “Oh, there’s Dexter,” our friendly host said.
During a tour when I still lived in Mobile, Dexter and garage lords the Woggles stayed at my house for a week, and I learned how much of a searcher he’d been, trying out anything in the search for self or truth: astrology, religion, whatever. The guys I ended up landing here with had a band, naturally, and soon enough, the Frydaddys played a show with the Flat Duo Jets. Going from being outsiders to being folded into the community seems like only a blink now, and it’s a lasting feeling that some folks refer to as “being a lifer.” Chris Toenes
At the start of my education at Duke, I understood that the east campus coffeehouse was a vibrant venue. Strange as it may seem, there were complex layers of secrecy surrounding finding out what the schedule was like. Once these layers had been pulled back, it turned out that I had missed all sorts of great stuff like Shellac and Palace.
By my junior year, the Duke Coffeehouse had laid dormant for the better part of a year or so with nothing of note going on. It was obvious that the Coffeehouse was a cyclical beast. It all depended on the students who were booking it at the time as to whether or not it is well-utilized as a venue or not.
My roommate and I were pretty big fans of a pretty unknown band out of (at that time) Iowa called the Mountain Goats. We did what we could, scraping together money for a plane ticket from various campus organizations who had know idea who we or the band were. Hand-printed tickets, hand-printed and posted handbills came in short order. The end result was a Friday night in April of 1997 with a packed Duke Coffeehouse (easily exceeding the fire capacity) getting rocked by the band’s first ever North Carolina appearance. A hell of a lot of fun. Cory Rayborn
I moved to the Triangle in 1992, fresh out of college. I’d grown up in Clemson, but even then I didn’t pay any attention to basketball. After four years at Rice University, I cared even less.
So when Spring 1993 rolled around, it’s fair to say I was unprepared. I remember going to a Mudhoney show at the old Cat’s Cradle on April 5 and my mixture of bewilderment and irritation as the entire sold-out-capacity audience sat on the cigarette-scarred industrial-gray carpet and waited for the show to start while all the Chapel Hillians watched some freaking ballgame on TV. Ross Grady
If all had gone according to plan, I’d be in Portland right now, and I certainly wouldn’t be discussing the Triangle music scene with you. Most likely I’d be trying to keep my head above surface, amidst the choked sea of bands relocating their sound to the overpopulated music community, as if being based there or Williamsburg or Silver Lake or whatever en vogue city would instantly catapult you into indie darlingdom.
Thankfully, plans changed and I moved to Chapel Hill in 2003 from Wilmington after spending undergrad evenings driving up I-40 to see shows at Go! and Cats Cradle. The program director at my college radio station and a budding musician, the significance of the Triangle music scene was glaringly obvious. I realized that I didn’t want to leave the South. I wanted to contribute to the historical foundation here.
I founded Holidays for Quince Records with Jenks Miller in 2006 while co-workers at a local record store,. The label was conceived from frustrations and confusions over the diminishing focus on the music community from larger local labels. Perhaps the advantage of not having lived here during the mid-’90s indie boom when Chapel Hill was considered “the next Seattle” enabled a fresher perspective. I couldn’t believe the wealth of local talent overlooked and dismissed. Our label mission statement became apparent: Release local music that we believe in.
I’ve realized that it is about geography. Committing to and believing in the place we create and live. I stopped thinking about where I could be and focused on building community where I paid taxes and rent, paying attention to the poles I was hanging show fliers onto and the musicians who were filling my glasses to make their own rent, so that they, too, could tour in the fall.
The point? Sustainability. Loyalty. Community. Thank you to other small local labels that have the idea, too. Thank you to club owners who allow local bills and benefits. Thank you to the musicians who haven’t moved to big hipster cities. We appreciate your art and want you to make more of it there. There is rejuvenation in the scene. Bring it. Heather McEntire
Two of the bright musical moments of being back in NC for a couple years: Chris Stamey and I had finished our 2006 Christmas show set at Local 506, and I had the thrill of hearing Django Haskins perform his songs by his bad self. Riveting and Triangle-smart, he’s another great torchbearer of a lingering creativity gene around here. … Old friend Lynn Blakey invited me to be her reckless duet partner at the last Love Hangover at Kings’ in Raleigh last Valentine’s Day After. Another blast, including “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” Just two reasons it’s sweet here. Peter Holsapple
So I’ve been thinking about all of this local stuff. And there are memory issues. Obviously.
But as a fan of what I rock n’ rolled to, I think about the Bad Checks, Accelerators, Flat Duo Jets. These kinda folks were really effecting what my folks in Snatches of Pink were attempting, failing, defining and defacing. They inspired and pushed. It’s funny, though: I almost feel like the bands that impacted the scene the most were the ones that weren’t even from around here. Jason & the Scorchers use to just burn down this town, with Jason as the bullfighter and Warner as the bull. But I was doing most of my homework at local shows by the Replacements and Tex & the Horseheads, two bands that made altered states an extreme spectator sport. I was sold. And when their tour buses pulled out of our town, all us local bands knew just where things stood on the food chain. Michael Rank
I used to live in a house in Carrboro that hosted shows. Local acts like Shannon O’Connor, Bibis Ellison and the Living Dead mingled with touring bands such as Navies in the intimate bonus room on the edge of our house. Once, after Spoon played the Cradle and closed down OCSC, they came over for an impromptu party. Britt Daniel sat imperiously on a Styrofoam cooler, watching drunk girls wrestle in our performance space, and my roommate, Janet, picked on the keyboardist for also playing in Fastball. At another party, unconfirmed reports placed Evan Dando strumming an acoustic guitar around the side of our house. Such ongoing dialogue between local and national culture, made possible by the area’s strong pool of local talent and well-developed infrastructure, is my most persistent and fondest impression of the Triangle music scene. Brian Howe
The Music Maker Relief Foundation has been celebrating our state’s musical-cultural heritage for the past several years in downtown Durham every summer. It has been a joy to have Cool John Ferguson, John Dee Holeman, Bishop Dready Manning, George Higgs, Lightnin Wells, Benton Flippen, Skeeter Brandon, Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes and so many more celebrate the blues on the very tobacco warehouses where legends such as Blind Boy Fuller, Rev. Gary Davis, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee created the Piedmont Blues a music which is celebrated throughout the world. Tim Duffy
Six (al)most memorable moments in Raleigh music history, in no particular order:
My first Cherry Valence show at Humble Pie: That’s when they were doing the two drummer thing. Nick was doing lead vocals, playing sax and playing drums. I thought Cheetie was the sexiest thing since legs. This was my first rock show ever.
The Fugees at The Ritz: Wyclef was like, “Lauryn did you get off the train?” Lauryn came out dressed in a trenchcoat and a fedora, and the beat to “Nappy Heads,” dropped. The crowd (including me) went bananas.
Any Friday night at The Cypher (held at Expressions on Blount St.): Poets and lovers of poetry would gather. The house band would lay down original grooves and toss in some soul favorites. Folks would collect outback to talk poetry and politics. It was a colorful scene.
The Mighty Burners at 5 Star: This was always a cool gathering of musicians and great music with Merlin and Mooney on the ones and twos, Boerner on guitar. Shit was dope. Nic Slaton on bass, Iajhi Hampden on drums. We dubbed it “The Tuesday Night Nuptials.”
Running into Redman and Method Man (or was it Keith Murray?) at Crabtree Valley Mall with my best friend and sister: I screamed, “Yo, Red,” like we were cousins, and he and Meth (or Murray?) walked over to our car and asked us to come smoke one with ’em at their hotel. We said, “Aiiight. We’ll come thru,” but chickened out.
My first “solo” gig at Humble Pie: This was before Humble Pie had a music license or a stage (oft times Caitlin Cary was behind the bar hipping me to cool music like Troublefunk or Joe Henry…. Yes, Caitlin Cary hipped me to Troublefunk). So we set up in the back near the kitchen. Daniel (of Apollo Heights) was on guitar, this cat Toothpick on bass, Clark (the designer/architect guy) was on drums. We rehearsed for about 45 minutes at DJ Robert Mooney’s house right before the show. We had a wonderful crowd, full of energy. The experience was addictive and made me want to figure out how to feel that way again. shirlette ammons
I can’t begin to place when I realized there was a thing in the Raleigh area passing as “local music,” but I kind of recall reading more about it under the guise of “the Chapel Hill sound” in the early ’90’s. And I know I read most of this stuff while standing in the grocery store (when I was even younger they had video games and an LP and cassette tape section). Johnny Quest being tagged as a “Greek Bar band” in a nationally distributed glossy didn’t really go over too well with certain JQ members, as I recall.
I was into a lot of different local performers back then: Eldritch Horror was by far the best metal band. Yaggfu Front was a rather decent hiphop act. Superchunk, Polvo, and Erectus Monotone were three “indie” bands I revered (still do).
Skip ahead a few years, and I’m happily working at WXYC. Karen Mann asks me to interview Mac McCaughn regarding his Wobbly Rail free jazz label. I have no idea who she might have asked prior to me, and I certainly had no vision of myself as a writer of any sort. I was honored she asked me to do it. It was fun. Writing is fun. I haven’t written about jazz in a long time. Cy Rawls
Deciding on one highlight is impossible and cruel, so I’m cramming some of my favorite memories into one dream day: In the morning, I attend a series of house concerts where I catch the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, Robbie Fulks, Peter Case, Blue Mountain, Freedy Johnston, and the Silos from a couple feet away in a living room (most notably that of Pine Hill Farm or Tim Kimrey’s warm space). Then it’s an alt.country 1996 afternoon with the Backsliders, Six String Drag and Whiskeytown at The Brewery. Or Local 506. Or that upstairs place in Durham. It doesn’t matter. To close, I revisit the night the Figgs (506), Richard Buckner (The ArtsCenter), and Matthew Sweet (Cat’s Cradle) all played in an area equivalent to a city block, where Chapel Hill turns into Carrboro. Except in this rewrite of history, I don’t have to choose: I get to see ’em all. Rick Cornell
I currently think that it has always been the individual that make things happen here, not the scenes or ongoing movements that come and pass. Over the last 20 something years or so, there has always been at least ONE great band, no matter what. So, to Regraped, Polvo, Kenny Roby, Corrosion of Conformity, Erectus Monotone, Confessor, the Loners, Rocket Cottage, the Birds of Avalon, Trucker and Days Of (amongst plenty of others), thanks for the ongoing soundtrack of my life in the South. Thanks for the memories, new and old. Brian Walsby
Getting hammered with a couple of SCOTs. Watching Dexter Romweber slay from someone’s porch. The joyous debauchery of Sleazefest. Needling Mac about the Yankees’ misery. It’s more an extended family than a scene, and while that promotes some tongue wagging, there’s camaraderie you won’t find in most cities from the musicians to the club owners to the producers.
Like the inaugural (and only) Independent Music Awards, whose spirit and optimism outweighed its organizational shortcomings, the scene gets by sometimes more on scrappiness than being on point. But for every International Orange destined for greater things before imploding there’s an Old Ceremony blooming unexpectedly. Given the fecund, talent-laden dirt, it’s inevitable, even in a small plot like this. Chris Parker
Back in late 1993, right before I moved to Raleigh from Greensboro, my band, Chew Toy, played at The Brewery with Shiny Beast and another band (I can’t remember if it was Erectus Monotone or Jarvis). I hadn’t spent much time in Raleigh. We always seemed to play in either Greensboro or Chapel Hill. After the show we were invited to a house party in Boylan Heights where I met pretty much everyone in town. As we walked in, I noticed a kid, who looked to be about 16 or 17 years old, in a screaming match with a much bigger guy. I was actually concerned that the kid was going to get beaten up, but he seemed to hold his own in the argument. Everyone else thought the whole thing was hilarious. I asked someone who the kid was, and they said, “Oh, that’s just Ryan Adams. He irritates the hell out of everybody.” Karen A. Mann
My “all girl” girl band Rubbermaid never found a woman who could play drums fast enough to bring the rock, so to speak, so we let whoever the guy guest drummer was Lee Waters from Work Clothes, Chuck Garrison from Pipe or Jon Wurster from Superchunk be an honorary chick for the evening. They were even in the bathroom with us. Rubbermaid was a band that was in on their own joke, although we all believed in the cathartic, redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll. It was like hitting the stage with your ass hanging out. We ritualistically downed our Jager shots and got ready to get shred.
One Sleazefest, Jon Wurster, our drummer and my boyfriend, decided to prank the garage rockers and rockabillies. He grew a beard and the day of the show shaved it into a non-ironic trooper mustache. He wore white jeans too tight, too short and bulging in all the wrong places and a three-quarter sleeve, ’70s jersey with a glittery prog-looking pic of Blue Oyster Cult on the front. He topped it off with uncool sunglasses, a trucker cap and ugly-ass running shoes. He slouched around, used “loser” body language and channeled his inner dork. Gnarly.
The looks of horror and disbelief on the faces of the Sleazegoers was priceless. When Rubbermaid took the stage and he jumped up behind the drums I could see a few people mouthing “what the fuck” and then I heard someone yell, “It’s WURSTER!!” Needless to say, he shaved and changed right after the set. Angie Carlson
Years ago, Shark Quest played a party at Mouse and Gloria Mock’s house out in Chatham County. It was a benefit for a local theater company, and the land surrounding the old farmhouse was carved into little gathering areas. The pathways through the shrubbery and around the barns were lit by strings of colored lights.
While one band after another played in the house, people outside were sitting around a bonfire in the middle of the field when a blood-curdling scream silenced them. Suddenly the Macbeths emerged from the darkness to engage in an anguished argument.
Later, others were standing around the food table near the chicken coop when, from behind a stand of trees, another bunch of actors would materialize to perform something absurd from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a really magical evening, one of those Chapel Hill kinds of parties that had lured the denizens of disparate scenes together to share cheap beer and inspired creations.
Many hours into the night, after most people had gone home, The Chicken Wire Gang careened into the driveway fresh from another gig, tumbling out of their van into the yard to play another glassy-eyed and passionate set to the cheers of a handful of devoted partiers who remained.
It was a scene not unlike the musical atmosphere around here, where ventures develop in pockets in different corners of the Triangle, spontaneously emerging and coming together, diverse but undeniably connected by luminous threads. And just when things calm down and it seems like all the creative avenues have been explored, a new bunch of bands arrives to fire up the committed music lovers. Sara Bell
As a Triangle music-maker for approximately 15 years, I have a mental scrapbook full of hilarious, embarrassing, luminous, disturbing, joyous, confusing and downright depressing anecdotes. But due to the restraints of time, copy space and the fear of omitting something, I thought I would try to describe one event that really distinguishes itself in my memory.
In the summer of 2003, Randy Ward and I put on an outdoor quadraphonic sound collage performance in a large field outside the Alamance County home of our friends Tom Laney and Jamie McPhail. The occasion was a midsummer party, and many of our friends were there, some decked out on blankets and others wandering around within the sonic space. The performance ended at nightfall and the frogs in the pond at the lower end of the field joined us for the last few minutes of our improvisation. They continued on in a beautiful, eerie coda in the darkness.
That moment encapsulates the best of my associations with making music in North Carolina: collaboration, unselfconscious experimentation, proximity to nature, and a community that feels like a family (even all the way out here in California.) I am grateful to have shared this moment with Randy, and I am honored to have collaborated with him in the short time he had with us. Chuck Johnson
Three events in 2003 completely altered my perception of local music and washed away any regrets I had about moving here from Austin. February 28: Nightlight opened in style with the sounds of Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan; des ark; and Cold Sides. Nightlight began and remains most righteous. August: thanks to my friend Kelly Kress, I attended a happening performance by two of the finest musicians that have called the Triangle home, Chuck Johnson and Randy Ward. Sitting in a field outside of Chapel Hill drinking beer with the sun setting, the sounds of a North Carolina summer evening ebbed and flowed with the transcendent music. Beautiful. Plus I met Crowmeat Bob. October: I attended a Walt Davis/AIM-curated performance of Ellery Eskelin, Andrea Parkins and Jim Black in Durham that left me slack-jawed. As I drove home with my new friends Stuart Davis and Jenks Miller, I decided we should start a band. Aaron Smithers
As a music community, we’ve always been slowly but steadily evolving, morphing against a constant state of flux. Maybe you don’t need to be 35-plus to see it, but it sure helps. Remember having to drive through Durham to a gig on either side? How many Cradle locations can you recall? Remember when WKNC was all-metal, all-the-time? Remember the threat’ of an increase of the legal drinking age twice? It’s certainly been a journey.
As musicians and fans, we now face a weakening economy and rising fuel costs. But, fortunately, we’re time-tested and roadworthy, and the appetite for local music grows. Besides, musicians here share a real sense of camaraderie, respect and appreciation for each other that’s difficult to find in other places. This type of support has been the real heart and strength of our scene for years, and it genuinely exists, spanning across music genres and cultural lines. Glad to be here. Jeff Carroll
1991: The year that punk broke and John Swain died. The Record Hole, John’s used record store, was Mecca, and he sold my kind of salvation. For almost a decade, I’d made countless pilgrimages there, blindly giving him my hard-earned cash for a stack of records he had on hold for me behind the counter. “The landlord can wait.” Actually no, the landlord couldn’t wait, and I’d be back selling him some records I’d probably bought the week before at Schoolkids down the street. It could be a vicious circle.
2008: It’s funny to think it’s been almost 20 years since John Swain’s death, the closing of The Record Hole and that punk is still broke. Scott Williams
During Valient Thorr’s first trip to Europe last year, we discovered European metal bars. Bars where people shamelessly headbanged and air guitared to old videos of Judas Priest concerts with huge AC/DC murals and one even with a giant Venom style pentagram chandelier! Anyway, after coming home and being bummed missing Kings, it was nice to discover Volume 11 as Raleigh’s new metal bar. I saw Municipal Waste and Baroness there: Hopefully they paint a good mural. Jason Aylward
Steve Popson, Paul Siler, Ben Barwick: I have a confession. I was the one who started the tearing down of the bathroom walls on the last night at Kings. One little kick of my foot, and it was like I’d tipped over a beer truck on Brent Rd. One of my favorite and most formative institutions was coming to a close, and I was not going home empty handed. People really loved that place. Some of the best shows I ever saw anywhere were at Kings Broken Social Scene blasting an over-packed house. A killer ZZ Top cover band. Wesley Willis, Melt Banana, the Cover Ups, no need to keep listing. More personally, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. I took a piece of a place with memories. Now every time some uninformed Chicagoan asks, “Why do you have a piece of drywall on your bookshelf?” I just have to laugh. Jamie Proctor
As I go through some old press clippings, it all comes back to me: The excitement of being a part of a new scene; the pride in our little group of bands and labels that were making records; the sense of possibility in the air. Who knew what was around the corner? As Tom Petty would later sing, “The future was wide open.” There was no commercial alt.rock scene to speak of. College radio was where it was at. If you wanted to hear original rock ‘n’ roll, you had to go down the corner and hear it live.
Our scene felt like the little engine that could. We were birthing groups of almost every genre, groups playing every bar in the Southeast and beyond, spreading the news. “We’re making our own music in Chapel-Hill!” The scene kept growing, and the Cradle grew with it, from 200 capacity to over 600. For a while there, it seemed like almost a dozen local original groups were close to selling out the Cradle on a regular basis. Folks were moving here to be part of the local scene, extremely talented folks like Ben Folds. They wanted to be a part of something special.
All of a sudden, there were huge commercially successful versions of our bands on the radio, getting spun 50 times a day and scoring million sellers. We all kept busting our ass and doing our best, but ultimately the market doesn’t give a damn whether Matchbox 20 was a weak, watered-down version of Dillon Fence or if Archers wrote better songs than Green Day. It was about the numbers and who had the most Payola (“Independent Promotion”) behind them. In defiance of this new alt.rock paradigm, our scene spawned one of the most original bands of the 90s, Squirrel Nut Zippers. Even their brilliant re-invention of hot jazz ended up being co-opted and commodified into a short-lived swing craze by the majors.
As the commercial nature of this alternative nation grew through the ’90s, so did the diminution of our scene. Now, every town has its own rock scene, replete with labels, bands, stations, and a very handy lil’ Internet. Practically the only working entities around here left standing from those heady days are Yep Roc and Merge. They continue to thrive. They are visionary in their understanding of the importance of ownership, relationships, knowing their audience, and having great ears. After all, Mac is an Ivy Leaguer.
Most of the bands from that era are long gone. Of course, many of us are still around, just older. Some of us are still recording music and playing. Most of us are having families and making a living. The old music business continues to crumble. Yet another wave of talented and creative young people, blissfully unconcerned with what has come before, arrive on the scene and create their own beautiful music, friendships and memories. This inevitable and constant re-birth of our community and creativity is the music of the human spirit. Long may it play! Greg Humphreys