For the most part, I tried to avoid too many first-person indulgences in “Step It Up and Go,” with one big exception. I began Chapter 9 by recounting the first time I ever heard the band R.E.M., which remains one of the most all-time formative moments in the development of my musical cosmos.
As producer of R.E.M.’s early records, a time when they were in North Carolina quite a bit, Winston-Salem native Mitch Easter was very much at the center of that. And he cemented his place there even further with his own band, Let’s Active, marking that combo’s 40-year anniversary with a show Thursday night at The Ramkat in Winston-Salem.
It was a wonderful evening, with Mitch and a cast of friends revisiting long-ago Let’s Active songs from their days as a female-dominated trio. Hearing those songs in the air after so long felt like a trip back in time to being 23 years old all over again. Judging from the crowd response, I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way.
The organizers were kind enough to let me say a few words onstage during the pre-show speakers’ portion of the event, and I am proud to say I took up the least time of anyone (hey, I know my place!). The text is below.
A night to remember.
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Place has always been an important part of music, especially rock & roll. But there have been times in the rock era when the community implied by that word, “place,” was less a physical location and more a state-of-mind network.
I’m thinking of towns like Austin, Minneapolis, Chapel Hill, Athens – and of course, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In the 1980s, it seemed like the best & brightest bands were coming from towns like that, off the beaten path and far from the music industry’s centers. And from Winston-Salem and beyond, those towns were like outposts on an underground-rock chitlin circuit that bands both old and new toured. I was in Austin back then and saw most of the notable bands of that generation come through. And when the Replacements, Guadalcanal Diary or Let’s Active came to play, everyone in town worth knowing was in the room, too. It was a great family to be part of.
Like a lot of people who were from outside North Carolina at that time, my introduction to Let’s Active came via R.E.M., whose 1983 full-length Murmur just floored me. Hearing that for the first time blew my mind and completely reset my musical compass. I wanted to know everything about it, including where it came from and who the producers were: Mitch Easter & Don Dixon. I quickly set about acquiring every record I could find that either of them had anything to do with.
I remember hearing Let’s Active’s Cypress in the fall of 1984, and it felt like a bulletin received from this wonderful & mysterious community out there. And I got to see Let’s Active on a bill with The dB’s in Austin, at a club called Steamboat, and it was a show that was every bit as great as I hoped it would be.
All these years later, Mitch is the last member of the original Let’s Active trio still with us. But the four Let’s Active records are still in the world, as great as ever, and Mitch is still weaving spells in that amazing studio of his.
As for me, I can’t wait to hear this music played live again. Thank you.