Posts Tagged With: Berkeley Cafe

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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Sadlack’s: Traces remain, hiding in plain sight

LoseringIt’s coming up on four years since Sadlack’s, the legendary Raleigh watering hole where Ryan Adams formed the first version of Whiskeytown way back in 1994, was shut down and bulldozed to make way for a hotel. It’s part of a relentless march of “progress” in which more and more of Raleigh’s funky Whiskeytown-era landmarks covered in “Losering” have fallen to the wrecking ball.

I know, time marches on and there’s little point in lamenting those old corner stores we’ve lost. Still, I miss ’em. And if you know where to look, you’ll find a cool tribute to Sadlack’s a mile and a half from where it once stood — at downtown Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe, an establishment co-owned by a couple of Sadlack’s regulars (and also the first place I ever interviewed Ryan way back when).

Although the Berkeley’s upstairs back patio is smaller than the old Sadlack’s outdoor space, it definitely has a similar vibe in which you feel like the spirit lives on, especially when they have live music. And as a marker signifying where it all went down, these two street signs in the rafters serve as a reminder.

Sadlack’s stood at the corner of Enterprise and Hillsborough streets, after all

SadBerk.jpg

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“Austin City Limits” — from within Austin’s city limits

ACLI’m bummed to be missing Saturday night’s Yesterday’s News/Strangers Almanac show back home at Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe. But I’ll be in a fun place, Austin for the Texas Book Festival, and at least there will be something decent to watch on TV that same night — “Comin’ Right at Ya” subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson playing on “Austin City Limits” with Asleep at the Wheel, alongside Sturgill Simpson plus guests including the Avett Brothers (with whom the Wheel will play on New Year’s Eve), Amos Lee and various Texas Playboys.

That’s cool, even if the timing of it is pretty ironic for yours truly: The book festival brings me to Ray’s hometown on the same weekend he’s on a television program I would have been able to watch from anywhere in the country. The Wheel and “ACL” go all the way back to the show’s very beginnings, episode no. 1 in 1976 (after Willie Nelson played the pilot), and the group has been on it enough times since over the years to be inducted into the “Austin City Limits” Hall of Fame this past June.

Anyway, check here to find exactly when and where in your area it will air. Here in Austin, looks like it’s on at 7 p.m. local time on public station KLRU-TV. And in the Raleigh/Durham vicinity, it comes on at midnight Saturday on UNC-TV.

AATWACL

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“Yesterday’s News” at the Berkeley Cafe

SACoverShowAs noted in the “Losering” preface, my story with Ryan Adams began at downtown Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe, where I sat down to interview him after a show more than 20 years ago and things went kind of disastrously awry — a fitting metaphor for the whole story. The Berkeley has changed a good bit over the past two decades, shrinking down to just the Cafe space after the music hall was converted to a pipe/tobacco shop two years ago. But it remains a live-music venue; and with ownership by veterans of the late, lamented Sadlack’s, it’s still a repository of cool, funky vibes of old.

All of which is to say it’s fitting that the Berkeley will be the site of a very intriguing show this weekend, aimed at those with fond memories of Raleigh’s Whiskeytown era. As part of Guitartown’s “Cover Album of the Month” series, Jeff Mullins and Ryan Kennemur will perform Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus Strangers Almanac on Saturday night under the name Yesterday’s News. And as you can see from the poster, it’s even free (although donations are encouraged).

Ordinarily, I would not miss this for the world. Unfortunately, however, it falls on the same weekend as the  Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas. So I’m afraid that being there in spirit will have to do, but you should go.

UPDATE (10/20/2015): And here is how it went.

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Aloft over Sadlack’s

SadNov14It’s been close to nine months since the last time we checked in on the site of the late, lamented Sadlack’s, the old Hillsborough street watering hole where Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown formed more than two decades ago. Done in by Raleigh’s ongoing real-estate boom, Sadlack’s closed for the last time in the wee small hours of Jan. 1, 2014, following an epic New Year’s Eve show; fittingly, it fell to the Backsliders to do last-rites honors.

The lot was soon fenced in and the building boarded up, but it didn’t go under the wrecking ball until May 2014. And since then, a 135-room Aloft Hotel has been under construction on the site. In the upper right is what it looked like last November and below is what it looks like today, close enough to opening day that a “NOW HIRING” banner is already up.

Sadlack’s stood where the left edge of the new building is now, and yeah, I still miss it. Not to mention the Brewery, the Berkeley Cafe’s old music-hall space and a bunch of other joints around town. But time marches on…

SadSite

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Berkeley Cafe + Sadlack’s = my happy place

Photo courtesy of John Morris, goodnightraleigh.com

Photo courtesy of John Morris, goodnightraleigh.com

For the past year or so, two key Raleigh venues from Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown-era “Losering” story have had figurative swords hanging over them. That’s the Berkeley Cafe and Sadlack’s Heroes, both of which were seemingly doomedThree months ago, the odds of continued survival didn’t look good for either place. Then when the Berkeley announced it was about to “close for remodeling,” it was hard not to assume the worst.

In a delightfully improbable turn of events, however, I am happy to report that the Berkeley and Sadlack’s are joining forces in a union that makes all the sense in the world. In the near term, the Berkeley will still close for remodeling at the end of this week, and Sadlack’s is still scheduled to shut down at the end of this year. But come January, the Berkeley will reopen under new management: Sadlack’s owner Rose Schwetz has bought the Berkeley and is going to spend the next three months overseeing a large-scale remodel that will (I hope) combine the best aspects of these two famous blue-collar dives.

When the new Berkeley opens its doors, yes, the Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown artifacts on the walls of Sadlack’s will be there. But that’s assuming that Rose can hang onto them in the meantime.

“Everybody’s been telling me, ‘I want this, I want that, put my name on it,'” she says with a laugh. “Stuff like that is not really very important to me, but it is to some people. Still, we’ll try to hang onto the important things. We’ll start packing stuff up over there around Thanksgiving.”

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Farewell to the Berkeley Cafe music hall; and (no) news on Sadlack’s

This weekend saw the closing of the Berkeley Cafe music hall, one of Whiskeytown’s key venues from the mid-1990s period that “Losering” covers. And while I’m sad to see it go, at least the joint went out in style. Chapel Hill roots-rock icons Southern Culture on the Skids, who already qualified as venerable during Whiskeytown’s heyday and are still going strong almost two decades later, blew the roof off with a last-waltz performance that went long into the wee hours of Sunday morning. I was there to do a report for the paper, which is here.

Meanwhile, things are still up in the air with another “Losering”-era landmark in Raleigh, Sadlack’s. The previously announced June 1 deadline for finding a new location came and went without any news, and it’s still open on Hillsborough Street across from the NC State Belltower. All sorts of tantalizing rumors have been floating around town about possible spots for a relocated Sadlack’s, but owner Rose Schwetz was still mum when I did one of my regular check-ins on Friday afternoon.

“Well, it’s getting a little closer,” she said. “We’re working on a location, lease and upfit. But still…nothing I can tell you about.”

That statement seems in line with the sign below, which has been on the wall at Sadlack’s for a couple of weeks now. If anything changes, you’ll be the first to know.

SadlacksStatus

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Also under the gun: The Berkeley Cafe’s music hall

BerkeleyCafeWell, heck. Not only are Sadlack’s days numbered, but Raleigh is about to lose yet another music room where some key events in the Ryan Adams “Losering” story happened. The big music hall at the Berkeley Cafe will be no more after June 30, closing to make way for a tobacco shop (and no, that is not a typo).

Well, at least the adjoining cafe space is staying open, and it will continue doing live music. But it will have less than half the capacity of the music hall, which has a legal capacity of 200 and comfortably holds tons more than that. I’m bummed. Check the story on it here.

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Steve Grothmann counts down

GrothmannLast year, when UT Press unveiled its online “Losering” catalog listing with an excerpt including the book’s preface, the very first person I heard from was original Whiskeytown bassist Steve Grothmann. He sent me the link, and a congratulatory note mentioning that he was among those who witnessed the events described in the preface:

btw, I was the bartender that night at the Berkeley when the Dix patient took over the bar. He threw a bunch of bottles at the cops, and I cleaned up broken glass ’til the sun came up. Jennifer nudged me that this guy seemed dangerous, her radar was on, and then it escalated. 

That had me smacking my forehead, because I didn’t remember Steve being there that night and this would have been a great little extra detail to have in there (my reply began, “NOW you tell me this???!!!”). But so it goes; if I ever have the opportunity to revise “Losering” for a future printing, that is definitely going in, along with all the other pithy details that have come to light since the book was published.

Steve has traveled a long and varied road since leaving Whiskeytown in 1996, right before the band signed its major-label deal with Outpost Records. If memory serves, the first time I saw him onstage after that was in 6 String Drag’s horn section. That was around the time Steve also emerged with a new funk-slanted band called the Tonebenders — check out this 1998 No Depression feature I wrote on them. But Steve’s most notable post-Whiskeytown venture would be Countdown Quartet, which he started up with Tonebenders hornman Dave Wright in 1999.

Wide-ranging, free-swinging and lots of fun, Countdown Quartet has always sort of been the Triangle’s answer to Booker T & the MGs — only with vocals. Squirrel Nut Zippers co-founder Jimbo Mathus was a part-time member for a long stretch, and he added plenty of blue-note funk. I remember them being one of the hardest-working bands in town. For about five years, it seemed like I never attended a local show, party or wedding where the Countdown guys weren’t playing in some capacity or configuration.

Although Steve declined to be formally interviewed for “Losering,” he was immensely helpful in providing historical background. We had some e-mail back and forth about Whiskeytown’s earliest recordings, in which he filled in a few details about how the band cut its fantastic cover of “Blank Generation” for the 1995 Richard Hell tribute album Who The Hell  (see Chapter 4). For all you tech-nerd studio types interested in things like this:

I recorded it on my 4 track cassette machine, in the living room of the house Jennifer and I were renting then, near North Hills in Raleigh. As I remember we set up sort of like being on a stage, drums and amps in a line facing forward, with two mics in the room, one toward each side facing us– like we were playing to an audience of two mics. The vocals were overdubbed, I believe. It was LOUD, really LOUD, and simply done, and really fun.

I mixed the 4 tracks a little and Ross Grady came over and we just played the stereo mix into his portable DAT machine and that was that.

I remember that a bunch of  Voidoids songs had already been claimed by other bands involved in this project, and I was really glad that “Blank Generation” was still available. I transcribed the lyrics for Ryan as best I could- they’re hard to get, (this was before any lyric was on the internet) – and then he came back with completely different chords than the original. Basically, the same verses put to new music, which is the same thing we did with Nervous Breakdown– and it turned out much better than if we had more strictly “covered” the song.

Also, here is how Steve remembered Whiskeytown coming together at Sadlack’s back in 1994:

CDQSadlacksStompWhiskeytown version 1 started around Sadlack’s and the house where Ray Duffey and Phil W[andscher] and Dave Wright lived on Park Ave. Skillet owned Sads at the time, and a bunch of NCSU English masters students hung there — Caitlin and me included. Phil worked there and then Caitlin and Ryan too eventually.

6 String Drag, Whiskeytown, and How Town (Dave Wright’s band) rehearsed at the house on Park, and the Tonebenders must have started there too. At that time Ray Duffey played drums with all of those except Whiskeytown, and I was in the Tonebenders later too, and the Countdown Quartet eventually came out of that.  Dave W and I were the part time horn section for 6 String Drag. Lots of creative people hanging out.

A version of Countdown Quartet still exists today, gigging on an occasional basis (including last October’s YR15 shows; check this). But they’ve not been heard from on-record since 2002, when they put out an album with a title paying tribute to the place where it all started: Sadlack’s Stomp. Steve has another band going nowadays, too — Clear Spots, a noisy garage-type band he classifies as “hard to describe,” long on feedback with some Neil Young overtones. I look forward to seeing them sometime soon.

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Ryan’s Raleigh

More than one reader has remarked on how Raleigh is almost like another character in “Losering,” which I’m always happy to hear. I’m proud of the book as a document not just of Ryan, but of the scene and era he emerged from. To that end, I thought I’d show you around a bit with a tour of some of the places in Ryan’s old hometown where various events in the story happened. So come with me on a whirlwind journey through the past, as we wander through Raleigh down Faithless Street toward…Whiskeytown.

BerkeleyCafeBerkeley Cafe (317. W. Martin St.) — This was where my story with Ryan literally began. As recounted in the preface, it’s the first place I ever sat down to interview him way back in 1995. The Berkeley has been around since the early ’80s, and it’s a lot longer on funky charms than creature comforts. But those charms are more than enough. I still see music at the Berkeley on a regular basis, including a show by Caitlin Cary’s Tres Chicas in early November and my 17-year-old son Aaron’s new punk band’s public debut earlier this month; and I have lunch there almost every week with my pal Scott Huler. It’s still one of my favorite Raleigh dives, conveniently located just down the street from the News & Observer’s office.

DaisyStreetDaisy Street house (6 Daisy St.) — This bungalow where Ryan lived with Tom Cushman in the early ’90s served as the setting for much of Chapter three’s events, including the numerous bands they formed and the near-conflagration that yielded up the song “Burning Bed.” Daisy is just one block long, and the house in question is the first one on the right after you turn onto the street from Hillsborough and pass Cup A Joe. It’s a stone’s throw from the Brewery and walking distance from Ryan’s then-place of employment, the Rathskeller at 2412 Hillsborough (which closed years ago and is now the site of a much-plusher eatery called Porter’s Tavern).

BreweryDemolitionThe Brewery (3009 Hillsborough St.) — When I think “mid-’90s Whiskeytown show,” the Brewery is the place that comes to mind because I saw more Whiskeytown shows there than anywhere else. I’ve got plenty of personal Brewery history myself. When I interviewed for the N&O’s rock-writer job in December 1990, the Brewery was the first club in Raleigh where I saw a show; Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, and it was lots of fun. Yes, the joint was a dive, but also the best-sounding room in town (thank you Jac Cain, soundman to the stars). The Brewery was kind of the CBGB of mid-’90s alternative country, which was handy because I lived just a block away back then. Brewery lore includes a fantastic live EP that the Backsliders recorded there; some scenes in the underrated 1996 movie “Bandwagon”; and Tres Chicas citing the women’s bathroom as the place they formed.

Alas, the Brewery’s been gone since August 2011, when it was torn down to make way for a retail/residential development that will probably never be built — going on a year and a half later, it’s still a dirt parking lot. Two of the N&O’s photographers did a really cool video of the building being demolished, set to a recording of Ryan and Caitlin singing “Heart Is Broken” onstage at the Brewery in October 1999 (a show described in Chapter 11).

Comet

Photo courtesy of John Morris, goodnightraleigh.com

Comet Lounge (3003 Hillsborough St.) — One of Ryan’s favorite watering holes back in the day, a dark-walled joint that was made for consumption more than socializing. The Comet is enshrined in the lyrics of the Strangers Almanac song “Yesterday’s News”: “See you at the Comet.” The Brewery stood right next door to the Comet and they were connected by an adjoining breezeway, which was a big hangout during marathon events like the annual roots-rock blowout  S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest. The two buildings’ proximity made possible hilarious incidents like Ryan wandering over to the Comet for a mid-set drink while Caitlin was singing “Matrimony” onstage at the Brewery (see Chapter five). And the Comet was also the site of a memorably alcohol-fueled interview I conducted with Ryan on the eve of Strangers’ release in 1997 (see Chapter seven). Back in the day, both the Comet and Brewery were partly owned by Van Alston, co-writer of two songs on Heartbreaker including “Come Pick Me Up.” But Van sold his interest in the Comet long ago, and in recent years it’s been a bar called Katmandu.

CircusBurgerCircus Family Restaurant (1600 Wake Forest Road) — As recounted in Chapters two and three, Ryan had a long series of restaurant jobs around Raleigh in the years before he was able to make a fulltime living as a musician. One of them was at this burger joint north of downtown, where he worked long enough to quit with the flamboyant declaration, “This place is like a three-ring circus and I’m tired of working for peanuts.”

Sadlacks

Photo courtesy of John Morris, goodnightraleigh.com

Sadlack’s (2116 Hillsborough St.) — Another of Ryan’s old workplaces and one of Raleigh’s most beloved institutions, with a colorful barfly vibe. Sadlack’s was also the birthplace of Whiskeytown, which came together in the fall of 1994 as an assemblage of Sadlack’s employees and regulars — see Chapter four. Sadlack’s is still open in the shadow of NC State’s belltower, with a vintage Whiskeytown flyer hanging in a frame on a wall across from the bar. But there’s no telling how much longer it will be around. The entire block (which is also the current site of Schoolkids, one of the last independent record stores in the area) has been condemned for a huge 250-room hotel, although it’s not clear when construction will begin; probably sometime in 2013. Sadlack’s owner Rose Schwetz was trying to relocate a few blocks up Hillsborough Street — in the vicinity of the old Rathskeller space, ironically enough — but negotiations fell through. “I’m planning on just staying here for as long as I can, until the bulldozers come and make me leave,” she told me in November 2012. I hope that won’t be for a long time.

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