Posts Tagged With: NC State

Smashing the state

ChrisClemmonsA few years back, when I was doing research for “Losering,” I interviewed a lot of people — around 40, not all of whom were quoted in the final manuscript because I only had 50,000 words, and there were probably at least that many I spoke to informally or for background. But I still didn’t even come close to getting around to everyone, which means there are still plenty of interesting, amusing, horrifying and even all-of-the-above Ryan Adams stories floating around Raleigh.

One person I didn’t get to in time was Chris Clemmons, a longtime member of the Triangle music community and a bandmate of Sara Bell’s in various groups including Regina Hexaphone (Chris was also the source of the party flyer referenced in this post, which is one of many cool artifacts in his archive). When he was between bands 20-some years ago, Chris informally auditioned as bassist for what eventually became Whiskeytown. At the time, he was living in the Boylan Heights district of downtown Raleigh, in a bungalow apartment upstairs from Caitlin Cary.

His memories of the experience:

I joined them down in Caitlin’s living room one time, we set up and played a few songs. Ryan and Skillet (Gilmore) were both there, too. They probably only had four or five songs at that time, and it went okay until Ryan said we were going to “smash the state.” I think that was his punk-rock ethos because it’s what all the punk bands wanted to go out and do — but this would be a COUNTRY band doing it. Anyway, I said, “I work for the state,” and the conversation did not go so well after that. But I’ve worked in human resources for the state for about 25 years now.

Anyway, Steve (Grothmann) was in the graduate program with Caitlin at NC State. So they knew each other and Caitlin told me they were looking for someone who played standup bass, which he did. I don’t know if he ever actually played standup in Whiskeytown, but he wound up there. I never really knew Ryan and that may have been the first and last conversation I ever had with him. And Whiskeytown broke up in 2000, but I’m still working for the state. I still think about that story now and then.

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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.

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

 


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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.

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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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Revisiting the “Empty Baseball Park”

EBPRaleigh is abuzz this weekend with baseball fever, which is at its most feverish local pitch in years thanks to a high-profile three-game series between the visiting University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Both teams are ranked in the national top-10 — UNC at No. 1, State at No. 6 — and Friday night’s opening game went about how you’d expect based on their relative rankings. Two more games await, and Saturday’s first pitch is at 6:30 p.m.

But for our purposes here, we’re more interested in the setting than the teams or the games — NC State’s Doak Field, which is by the train tracks just off Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street strip. It’s a setting that helped inspire one of Ryan Adams’ choicer obscurities, “Empty Baseball Park,” a lovely little mood piece of a song that emerged in the wake of Whiskeytown’s 1996 full-length debut Faithless Street. I heard Whiskeytown play “Empty Baseball Park” a few times live that year, and it was among the handful of songs recorded as pre-Strangers Almanac demos from the “Baseball Park Sessions.” But it didn’t make it onto Strangers Almanac, eventually emerging as one of the extra bonus tracks on the 1998 Faithless Street reissue.

I’ve always liked “Empty Baseball Park,” which is steeped in a sense of townie ennui that would have fit right onto Strangers (see Chapter 8 of “Losering” for more on that). Over an easy-gliding arrangement, the lyrics tell of drinking at a favorite bar until dark before stumbling on down to the empty ballpark, pretending to heckle a non-existent game, continuing on past the record store (maybe Schoolkids?) and on to the movies (maybe the small underground indie-movie house that used to be near the old Schoolkids space on Hillsborough Street?), trying to think of something else to do. The conclusion: “Nothing’s comin’ to me.” I bet it was at least the partial inspiration for this twisted little piece of genius.

Take a listen…

ADDENDUM (4/29/13): NC state came back to win the second game of the series, but the deciding third game was rained out. And so the series ends as a 1-1 tie. Bummer…

SECOND ADDENDUM (5/26/13): The rubber match happened in the ACC Tournament, and it was one for the ages — UNC edging NC State 2-1 in 18 innings. Wow!

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