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Left of the dial: You’re gonna hear me on your radio

That-Old-State-Radio-Hour

Logo by Andy Menconi

Radio is like the weather: Everybody (including me) complains endlessly, yet nobody ever seems to do anything about it. So when I was recently offered the opportunity to become part of the problem, what could I do but answer, “Of course”?

Thus we have “That Old North State Radio Hour,” my new radio show about the music of North Carolina. It airs at 7 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesdays on “That Station,” 95.7-FM, the Americana-leaning commercial station that started up in Raleigh back in May. It was their idea for me to do a local-music show, probably because they got tired of me snarking about their playlist.

Since I’ve been studying North Carolina music for a long, long time, my playlist will draw on music from all over the state, beyond Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. And the first show, from Aug. 1, seemed to go pretty well. Take a listen to the archived version here, and scope the opening-week playlist below. I hope you dig it enough to return in coming weeks — starting this Wednesday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Listen over the air at 95.7-FM if you’re within range, or online at ThatStation.net.

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“That Old North State Radio Radio Hour” — playlist for show #1 (Aug. 1, 2018)

Intro/theme song: “Pink Gardenia,” Flat Duo Jets (Chapel Hill)
“Shot From a Cannon,” Rachel Kiel (Carrboro)
“One-Dime Blues,” Etta Baker (Morganton)
“Song,” Sylvan Esso (Durham)
“Indian,” Third of Never (La Grange)
“The Carolinian,” Chatham County Line (Raleigh)
“Another Love,” Michael Rank (Pittsboro)
“Praying Mantis,” Don Dixon (Chapel Hill)
“The Better Man,” Peter Holsapple (Rougemount)
“Blink,” Django Haskins (Durham)
“Oxcart Blues,” Spider Bags (Carrboro)
“Kick Out the Chair,” Skylar Gudasz (Durham)
“You Will Never Take This Song,” Cardinal Family Singers (Raleigh)
“Right Around the Corner,” “5” Royales (Winston-Salem)
“Miles Away,” Phil Cook (Durham)

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Places That Are Gone: The Brewery

On this date in 2011, a piece of local-music history died when the Brewery came down — leveled to make way for a fancy student-housing complex. And even though it’s been gone for seven years and plenty of other fine venues have sprouted up since then, I still think of the Brewery as Raleigh’s definitive live-music club. That’s probably a function of age, but it’s an icon in my personal pantheon.

What follows is a rumination inspired by the Brewery and other joints around town that have vanished in the 27-plus years I’ve lived in Raleigh. I read this onstage at Kings nightclub in Raleigh on April 29, as part of the spoken-word series “7 Stories.”

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PLACES THAT ARE GONE
(with apologies to Tommy Keene)

7storiesmeMy name is David Menconi and I have been writing for the News & Observer for 27 years, three months and 14 days — all in that dingy old building around the corner from here. Tonight finds me in a weird moment of limbo, between work addresses.

This past Thursday, April 26, was our last day at 215 S. McDowell St. Pictures were taken, graffiti scribbled, maybe an object or two broken or lifted on our way out the door. Tomorrow morning, the N&O takes up residence in the Bank of America building on Fayetteville Street. We’re all expecting the old building to be bulldozed soon for a skyscraper.

This very club Kings has a transient history, too. For its first eight years, 1999 to 2007, Kings was right down the block from the N&O, across McDowell Street. The old Kings was the first place I ever saw the Avett Brothers, Little Brother and even Bon Iver and Megafaun — although those last two were the same band back then, DeYarmond Edison.

7storiesposterThe old Kings didn’t have the best layout, with the bar in the middle dividing the room in half. But it did have a lot of funky thrift-store charm. This new Kings we’re in now has been here since 2010 and it’s better in every way. Yet I still think of the old Kings as Raleigh’s definitive indie-rock joint. And contemplating the grassy spot next to Poole’s Diner where it once stood, I got to thinking about other music places that have come and gone in Raleigh’s rush into whatever it’s becoming.

When I moved to Raleigh in January 1991, I lived on Clark Street, just across from Cameron Village. I got here too late to experience the Cameron Village Underground and nightclubs like The Pier, which closed in the mid-’80s. But there was a Record Bar over there — remember record stores? — even though the Cameron Village Record Bar was not my go-to store.

No, my go-to back then was The Record Hole, on Hillsborough Street near campus right across from the Brewery. Run by John Swain, an irascible character straight out of “High Fidelity,” it was one of those joints that was closed til it was open, open til it was closed. John could be pretty gruff, until you proved to him you were alright. I passed his test one day when another customer asked the name of Robert Gordon’s first band, and I knew the answer: Tuff Darts. After that, John would save me records he thought I’d like, which was wonderful while it lasted. He was only 42 years old when he died in the summer of 1991, and the Record Hole died with him. That spot has been Curious Goods ever since.

7storieslineupDowntown on West Street, across from Roast Grill, stood the Fallout Shelter — a subterranean spot that had anything and everything. I remember the insane 1993 bidding war over the local band Motorola, who played a showcase at the Fallout Shelter for seemingly every record-label A&R scout in the free world. There were more industry people than paying customers, which was sadly indicative of how the renamed Motocaster’s career went after that, too. The Fallout Shelter closed a few years later, around the time Motocaster was breaking up.

In the mid-1990s, what is now the Lincoln Theatre on Cabarrus Street was called Gillie’s. All I remember about the place was its seating around the bar — swings that hung down from the ceiling, which was pretty precarious late at night after a few drinks. The Pour House over on Blount Street was different back then, too, called The Grove.

Raleigh’s main R&B club downtown was The Vibe, upstairs at 119 E. Hargett St. — where you’ll find Alter Ego hair salon now. In the late ’90s, when Public Enemy was on hiatus, their deejay Terminator X moved to the area and bought an ostrich farm in Dunn. And he’d come down to The Vibe to spin records and hang out with the owner, Greg Dent. A few years earlier, Greg ran another Raleigh club called The Zoo and one of his regulars there was a young man named Christopher Wallace. You might know him as Notorious B.I.G.

Just down Martin Street, the Berkeley Cafe is still there, although its old music hall is now Capitol Smokes next door. But the Berkeley still has bands play on the back patio, which is kind of a shrine to the old Sadlack’s Heroes — the funky beer joint that anchored the Hillsborough Street strip for three decades. That block of Hillsborough is a fancy Aloft Hotel nowadays, but countless musicians worked and played at Sadlack’s over the years. It is, of course, where Ryan Adams formed Whiskeytown in 1994. But that’s another story.

Hillsborough Street is pretty much unrecognizable now from the early ’90s, with the Rathskeller, Western Lanes, Velvet Cloak and IHOP all gone, or going. Even Logan Court, “Faithless Street” to those in the know, was recently torn down. I miss them all.

Still, the long-gone place that lingers strongest in my memory was down at the west end of Hillsborough Street, the Brewery. It’s been gone since 2011, torn down to make way for the student housing complex Stanhope. But in December of 1990, when I came to Raleigh for my job interview at the N&O, the Brewery was the first place here I ever saw a show. Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, who was a lot of fun. While the Brewery wasn’t too long on creature comforts, I quickly became a regular, especially during the eight years when I lived a block away.

In 1992, the band Blind Melon needed to get out of L.A., so their label moved them to Durham. The story I heard was that they needed to go someplace “less druggy,” which is both funny and sad. But that summer of 1992, before their album came out, Blind Melon played every Sunday night for a month at the Brewery, and I was shocked at how terrible they were. At least they remembered to send the Brewery a platinum album to remember them by after they hit it big. I remember seeing it on the wall behind the bar, and I’ve often wondered where it is now.

I also saw the Cranberries at the Brewery, playing for about 40 people a few months before they blew up on MTV. Paul Westerberg, Stereolab, Don Dixon, COC, Flat Duo Jets — too many to count. The Brewery was also one of the sets for the movie “Bandwagon,” which you should see if you haven’t because Jac Cain is in it.

The most fun of all was in the second half of the ’90s, when the Brewery was the CBGBs of alternative country. It was home turf for the Backsliders, who recorded a live album there and called it From Raleigh, North Carolina. Whiskeytown, 6 String Drag, Pine State, $2 Pistols and more all seemed to play the Brewery at least once a month. And at least one band I know of formed there: Tres Chicas, in the women’s bathroom. The acoustics in there were solid, I hear.

A breezeway connected the Brewery with the Comet Lounge next door, and that was the best between-band hangout spot. I especially remember SPITTLEFEST, the “Southern Plunge Into Trailer Trash & Leisure Entertainment,” which brought together a bunch of twangy bands every year. They’d set up a potluck in the breezeway, and I can still picture it. Even smell the barbecue if I try really hard.

Because yeah, I was there. And I’ve even got the T-shirt to prove it.

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Ryan Adams and “The Voice”

RyanTheVoiceRyan Adams has never seemed like a singing-contest kind of guy, but he’s had quite a run on the season of NBC’s “The Voice” that just concluded. The most high-profile instance was Tuesday night’s finale, where Ryan showed up decked out in a Sonic Youth T-shirt and (in a bit of rich irony) performed with his fellow North Carolina native Britton Buchanan. They did “To Be Without You,” one of my favorite songs from Ryan’s Prisoner album.

Buchanan is all of 18 years old and never quite reached the song’s bereft core, but he did fine opposite Ryan. In the wake of this performance, I would not be surprised if someone in Nashville was working up a full-on country version of “To Be Without You.” And while Buchanan showed a lot of prime-time poise, he ultimately fell just short of the brass ring — to an even younger contestant. Buchanan came in second behind 15-year-old Bryn Cartelli.

Will either of them have a career beyond the show? Stay tuned because stranger things have happened.

While Tuesday was Ryan’s first appearance on “The Voice,” it was actually the second time this season that he’s been there in song. Last month, contestant Dylan Hartigan took a crack at singing Ryan’s Heartbreaker-era standard “Come Pick Me Up,” with mixed results. But that was at least a nice paycheck for old Raleigh hand Van Alston.

Watching this from afar has been…well, weird.

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Unblocked by Ryan Adams on Twitter: Will wonders never cease?

DRAtwitterWhen it comes to social media, I have been on Ryan Adams’ do-not-fly list for as long as I can remember — a period that predates the book I wrote about him, “Losering.” Not that I think he’s paying the slightest bit of attention to me, but he did at least go to the trouble of blocking me on Twitter. I am hardly alone in this, of course. There are enough of us who have been shown the door to populate an actual joke-group on Facebook, “Blocked By Ryan Adams On Social Media.”

Today, however, I somehow found myself improbably joining the ranks of the unblocked. I have no idea how or when this might have happened, as it’s literally been years since the last time I checked. But whatever the reason, today that blue “Follow” button appeared as an option when I went to his Twitter page, rather than the scoldy “You have been blocked from following this account at the request of the user” shame-message that used to show up.

So anyway, what the heck, I followed him. Even took the liberty of hitting the heart-shaped “Like” button on a few of his tweets, like this one about Heartbreaker. I’m sure it won’t last, even if I can restrain the urge to mention the words “North Carolina” in one of his threads. And now that I’ve called attention to my presence in this way, I wonder what the over/under is on how long it takes for me to get blocked again?

Stay tuned…

...UPDATE (mid-day on May 17, 2018): After I followed him, it took less than 48 hours for me to be kicked back into the teeming blocked masses. I didn’t even have to reply to any of his Tweets for it to happen.

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Ryan Adams is still done with North Carolina

FB_IMG_1524569789104With some regularity, I still get asked this question: Do you think Ryan will ever come back?

And while I’m sure the reasons behind it are complicated, the answer is simple: No.

Since the last time Ryan Adams played a show in his “Losering”-era hometown of Raleigh way back in 2005, he has pointedly avoided North Carolina — even while doing shows all around it, repeatedly, in every adjoining state.

This has happened enough times over the last 13 years that it has to be deliberate, which seems odd. Ryan has friends and fans here, a lot of them, but apparently not enough to bring him back because he appears to regard his native state the way a former inmate does a prison. He was entertaining questions on Instagram the other day, mostly about current recording projects, when someone asked him about returning. His reply:

Not going to NC. I already did my time there.

Well, so much for a belated homecoming/hero’s welcome on his next tour. But Ryan is still repping The Old North State, or at least its bands. Here we have a picture from Monday night’s Los Angeles premiere of the new Marvel movie “Avengers: Infinity War,” and darned if Ryan didn’t show up wearing another Corrosion of Conformity T-shirt — the iconic Raleigh hardcore band.

Nice to know he remembers something here fondly.

 

 

 

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Ryan’s Raleigh: “Faithless Street” is no more

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 11.46.18 AMI have always found it quite amusing that the real-life “Faithless Street” — one of the actual places where Ryan Adams lived in Raleigh during Whiskeytown’s early days, where events transpired that would turn up in songs on the band’s 1996 full-length debut Faithless Street — was actually right next to a place literally called Hope. Back then, he was living in the neighborhood adjacent to NC State University; an old rental house located on Logan Court, at the corner of Logan and Hope Street, just off the Hillsborough Street strip and about a block away from Sadlack’s.

But alas, time marches on, there’s no stopping progress and so on. As with Sadlack’s, the Brewery, the Velvet Cloak and so many other landmarks from Raleigh’s 1990s-vintage Whiskeytown era, the wrecking ball has struck again. Below is what the block where Ryan used to live looks like now, no doubt on its way to being transformed into another faceless residential/retail development. I guess there’s just too much money to be made for it to be otherwise, but it still kind of breaks my heart to see this happen — again and again and again…

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Chris Stamey: Lucky 13 for the American Music Series

20180321_200029You can work on a book for months (or years) and it’s still kind of an abstraction — nothing more than a collection of computerized pixels. And even though we live in a digital world nowadays, I’m still enough of an old-school creature to where a book doesn’t feel real to me until there’s a physical copy I can hold in my hand. So it’s always a satisfying moment when a box of a new American Music Series title shows up on my doorstep. Here we have our 13th and latest book, Chris Stamey’s fantastic new memoir “A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories.” Speaking as a longtime fan, I am beyond proud and thrilled to have this one in the series.

The “official” publication date isn’t until April 15, but you should be able to find “A Spy in the House of Loud” in better bookstores already. Chris is already out there working it, including an entertaining South by Southwest panel recently where he appeared alongside some of his New York peers to tell stories and share memories about the old days at CBGB way back when.

There’s also a Spotify playlist of songs covered in the book. And Chris has some bookstore readings coming up, too. If you’re in the Raleigh vicinity, please come to Quail Ridge Books at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, for an event where Chris will read a few passages and play a few songs with his dB’s cohort Peter Holsapple, among others. I’ll be there as well, in the role of guest interviewer for the Q&A session.

Chris will also do another music/reading event at Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books on April 28; and there’s a May 12 performance in Winston-Salem involving reunions of some of the 1960s-vintage hometown acts he wrote about in the book.

 

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Guy walks into a bar and requests Whiskeytown…

LoseringLike a lot of people in my world, Elliott Humphries is a big Ryan-Adams-by-way-of-Whiskeytown fan. He’s played a number of my book-related events in recent years, and he also brought a “lost” song of Ryan’s to life. So I’d say his bonafides are pretty much impeccable.

Anyway, Elliott was playing this past Sunday night at downtown Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe, which is not only (a) the first place I ever interviewed Ryan, an incident recounted in the preface to “Losering”; but also (b) a joint that is now owned and operated by a few regulars from Sadlack’s, the establishment where Whiskeytown formed way back in 1994. Elliott sent along this exchange he had with some random attendee who showed up asking for…well, just read it.

Guy: Can you play some Whiskeytown?

Everyone in the bar: Stops what they’re doing.

Me: Hey man. Are you from around here?

Guy: Nope. I’m from New Jersey.

Me: Well, what if I told you the P.A. I’m playing through as well as the bar in this establishment came from one of the first places that ever gave Ryan a shot at music?

Guy: What?

Me: All this stuff came from a place called Sadlack’s, which used to be over on Hillsborough Street. That was where Ryan met Skillet and Caitlin and formed Whiskeytown, while working there.

Everyone in the bar: He sure didn’t work there long (laughter)

Me: You see, Ryan hasn’t graced his home state with his presence since 2005. He is a…polarizing figure around here. Furthermore, for you to walk in here and request a guy like me to play Whiskeytown is kind of like walking into a New York deli and ordering a pizza.

(Laughter)

Me: But I will gladly play you some Whiskeytown.

Some stuff you just can’t make up.

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Mapping the Drive-By Truckers

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Drive-By Truckers. Photo by Danny Clinch.

Ever since the American Music Series began, one act has been pretty much at the top of my subject wish-list: Drive-By Truckers, one of the greatest American rock bands going. I’ve been a major Truckers fan going all the way back to 2001’s Southern Rock Opera and they’ve become nothing but more important since then, emerging in recent years as a major progressive voice. It’s high time they were the subject of one of our books. And after a false start or two, I do believe we have the Drive-By Truckers book the world needs on the way.

The author is Stephen Deusnera critic whose byline has appeared in Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Bluegrass Situation, Uncut and numerous other publications. He’s someone I’ve read and admired for years, and not just because he knows his way around Ryan Adams’ catalog. Based on the brilliant proposal he put together for “Heathens: Travels Through the New South with the Drive-By Truckers,” which traces the band’s history by mapping out many of the places where their songs take place, I think he’s just the writer to tackle the Truckers’ story.

Stephen was born and raised in McNary County, Tenn., a locale that serves as the setting for a number of Drive-By truckers songs — most notably 2010’s “The Wig He Made Her Wear,” a song based on a real-life story that happened literally next door to the house where he grew up. He’s also been writing about the Truckers for close to a decade and a half, starting with an 8.4 Pitchfork review of their 2004 masterpiece The Dirty South, in the process becoming fully immersed in their milieu as well as their music.

“I have my own complex personal history with the South,” he says. “I recognize the people who populate their songs, because they’re the people I grew up with, went to school with, attended church with. But I’m also an expatriate who has lived nearly half of my life outside the South, which has complicated my perspective on the place I still call home. I’m not one to romanticize it, and I work to look past the mythology of the South to see the very real place beyond.”

It’s very early in the process, so we don’t have a firm publication date just yet, but this is one I’m genuinely excited about. I can’t wait.

 

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You heard the man: Listen to Ryan Adams

As we’ve covered before, Ryan Adams superfans are a very generous lot — the man’s music just seems to attract those kind of people, which makes his fan universe a great thing to be a part of. And Thom Bennett stands out as a capital fellow who puts cool things out into the world to share. Like the two batches of cool little illustrations he sent my way; they both showed up in the mail, unbidden and unexpected, a terrific surprise. Thanks, man!20180117_210744

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