Posts Tagged With: Comet Lounge

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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See you at The Comet

CometCheckActually, I won’t, seeing as how the Comet Lounge (a dank, dark Raleigh watering hole immortalized in the lyrics to the Whiskeytown Strangers Almanac song “Yesterday’s News”) was torn down long ago. Yet this canceled check, a recent gift from one of Ryan’s old Raleigh roommates, still exists as a reminder of one of his primary haunts from the Whiskeytown days.

It dates back to the same time period as the phone-bill check in Thomas O’Keefe’s recent eBay auction lot, but I like this one better. David Ryan Adams wrote it for 10 bucks to the Comet on a Wednesday in June 1997 for an amount that probably covered part of a night’s drinking — summarized in the Memo line as “Things.” That right there is pretty much the entire hard-luck story of “Losering” on one small piece of paper.

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Ryan’s Raleigh — disappearing fast…

SadlacksBefore

Sadlack’s, circa 2012.

Toward the end of “Losering,” I wrote that Ryan Adams probably wouldn’t even recognize his old hometown anymore, given how much of Raleigh has been torn down and rebuilt since Whiskeytown’s 1990s heyday. You don’t have to look any farther than the Hillsborough Street strip, Raleigh’s main drag along the northern edge of the NC State campus, to see how some of the city’s most notable Whiskeytown-era landmarks are disappearing, bulldozed to make way for fancy new real-estate projects going up.

Right across from the NC State Bell Tower is where the former Sadlack’s stood, at the corner of Hillsborough and Enterprise streets. Here it is on the right, the place where Whiskeytown first convened 20 years ago. But Sadlack’s has been gone since its last-waltz blowout this past New Year’s Eve and below is what that block looks like now, on its way to becoming a 135-room Aloft Hotel that will open sometime next summer.

SadsNov

The new Aloft Hotel rises over the grave of Sadlack’s.

 


BreweryNov

Stanhope, under construction on the block where The Brewery used to be.

About seventh-tenths of a mile west of where Sadlack’s was, The Brewery nightclub used to stand at 3009 Hillsborough Street; site of countless late and great nights with Whiskeytown, Backsliders, 6 String Drag and other cool bands from all over. After the club was torn down in 2011 (along with the Comet Lounge next door), that block stood vacant for a couple of years, home to nothing more than weeds and parked cars. Now it’s being turned into the huge student-residential complex you see going up here on the right; called Stanhope, it’s also opening next summer.

DaisyStNov

6 Daisy Street in Raleigh, home of Lazy Stars, American Rock Highway and other bands from Ryan Adams’ distant past.

Fortunately, not quite everything has vanished. Ryan’s old residence with Tom Cushman, the Daisy Street House, is still standing just off Hillsborough Street. Here it is on the left; I parked in front of it when I went by to take the picture of the old Brewery site.

Also, former Brewery co-owner (and “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer) Van Alston is still a nightlife impressario in Raleigh, picking up musicians’ bar tabs at his current downtown joint Slim’s. In recognition of his many contributions to the music community over the years, the local alt-weekly here recently bequeathed Alston with one of its annual Indies Arts Awards — for which congratulations are in order.

Alas, something else that hasn’t changed all these years later is that Ryan remains a magnet for hecklers, even when he’s playing bigger, plusher rooms than he ever played in Raleigh; and he still doesn’t hesitate to fire back. A friend of mine knows someone who caught Ryan’s show in Boston the other night and passed along the following account of the evening:

Ryan Adams is incredibly gifted, but sober or not, still a bit of a jerk on stage. Nothing like when I first saw him play at the House of Blues on Lansdowne Street, where he put his back to audience for much of the show, and/or stood in the stage wings, in darkness, out of the view of the paying attendees. He ripped into a couple of fans last night, one of whom was right next to me. “You should write a blog to speak your mind, and join this asshole in front of me, you fucking prick!” That was typical of comments throughout the night… My friend was somehow able to isolate Adams’ snarky persona from his performance and still enjoy the event, something I wasn’t quite able to do.

Oh, Ryan…

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Friends near and far, throwing rocks at the moon

SadlacksRIPFor those of us who were in Raleigh during our town’s glory days as epicenter of mid-’90s alternative-country, this holiday season has been just like the old times of the “Losering” era. It seems like we’ve all been saying hello again, as well as goodbye for good.

December brought the end of the building that housed one of Ryan Adams’ favorite Whiskeytown-era watering holes, the Comet Lounge, which was finally torn down two years after the demolition of the adjacent Brewery nightclub. And New Year’s Eve brought the end of Sadlack’s, the Hillsborough Street sandwich shop/bar where Whiskeytown formed two decades ago, which is closing to make way for a hotel. I went to Kenny Roby’s show there last Saturday night to report this story about the end; and while I was there, a Sadlack’s regular who may or may not have been drunk got in my face to rant, because I apparently chose the wrong person to interview. On the whole, I’d say it was a very Sadlack’s interaction, along with the following response from an angry reader (reproduced here in all its sub-literate glory):

Sadlack’s not well written at all, lame and denigrating you so called journalistic hack, you must be a smart ass never traveled punk yankee go home…news and disturber another rag with paid articles written to favor their advertisers

Golly, guess he told me.

Come New Year’s Eve, the Backsliders presided over the end out on the back patio with a last-rites set that included a couple of new songs good enough to qualify as encouraging. But just like always, it was “Throwing Rocks at the Moon” that put a lump in my throat. Title track of a 1997 album that really should have launched the Backsliders to stardom (or at least beyond dayjobs), “Moon” is a pretty-much-perfect evocation of bittersweet goodbyes. I found myself thinking about Ryan, of course, who left Sadlack’s and Raleigh behind long ago; and also my old friend Peter Blackstock, for whom I wrote that first No Depression Whiskeytown story all those years ago — and who just left the Triangle to move back to Austin and take the rock-writer job at the American-Statesman. I really wish he could’ve been there, so I sent a silent toast in his direction

6SDI’m also wishing Peter was gonna be here this weekend for Saturday’s reunion show by the third band from Raleigh’s alt-country kingpin troika, Kenny Roby’s 6 String Drag. Of course, the principles get a little twitchy about calling this a “reunion,” a word that carries the baggage of expectations. But no matter what they’re calling it, 6 String Drag’s four members have reconvened to record new music, which they’ll do later this month at Mitch Easter’s splendid Fidelitorium recording emporium over in Kernersville. I can’t wait to hear it. Meantime, here’s a preview of Saturday night’s show. Yes, of course, I’ll be there.

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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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Sign your name: More golden-oldie artifacts

As recounted in a couple of places in “Losering,” I would sometimes get  Ryan to autograph his CDs when I interviewed him. While that’s not exactly strict journalistic protocol — in fact, I’m sure the very idea makes some of my more hardcore colleagues cringe — I’ve discovered that it can be a useful way to soften interview subjects up. Not that Ryan ever needed softening up back then, but it would always get the conversation off to a good start.

Anyway, below are two that I’ve hung onto. The one on the left is on the cover of the original Mood Food Records version of Faithless Street, which Ryan and Skillet signed (their bandmate Caitlin Cary did, too, on the inside of the booklet next to the lyrics to her song “Matrimony”). That was at Sadlack’s in late 1995, the interview where Ryan brought along that receipt. The one on the right is on my advance copy of Strangers Almanac, circa spring 1997, which Ryan signed over drinks at the Comet Lounge (a place namechecked in the lyrics to the Strangers song “Yesterday’s News”).

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