Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greensboro Fest and Tate Street Festival: An Inspiring and Pleasantly Exhausting Weekend

I used to wonder why Greensboro felt like home. After moving here for four delightful years of teapots, potlucks, papers, and panel discussions at Guilford College, there was suddenly nothing to do but wait tables and . . . wait. I wasn't sure what for, but as it turned out, I was waiting for a construction tractor to run into my car on Friendly Avenue, forcing me to take leave from work so that I might pick up the dusty guitar that I'd been meaning to learn to play, spend my Tuesday nights at The Flatiron's Open Microphone (which, incidentally, is hosted by our fearless leader, Matty Sheets), write songs, and discover the incredibly supportive and welcoming community of musicians in this town, a community which continues to remind me of almost everything that I want from this life.

Between playing and listening at Greensboro Fest and Tate Street Festival this weekend, Blockheads were perpetually reminded that Greensboro is bursting at the seams with music. Thursday night at Legitimate Business in the Glenwood neighborhood, Casual Curious, Sugar High Gang, and Israel Darling (who will be joining us as we serenade Center City Park this Friday) kicked off Greensboro Fest, which proved to be a weekend packed with music at multiple venues every single night. Friday evening, we shared the stage at Lyndon Street Artworks with old and new friends from Pinche Gringo, Romancer,
N'DangR Species, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Resister, and several other bands. So many folks showed up that Lyndon Street artist, Anni Frohlich, even decided at the last minute to set up shop in the parking lot, discovering a number of new admirers for her eco-inspired collage jewelry.

Friday evening proved to be so much fun that some/most/(all?) of us had trouble rousing ourselves bright and early the next day to kick off the live music at this year's Tate Street Festival. With the help of several rounds of coffee and many familiar faces (some of you even braving the day with your very own hangovers, and we love you for it!) shining at us from the impressively chipper audience, we managed to muster all the same excitement from the night before. Have we mentioned that you guys are the best? After battling the heat onstage, we were relieved to sit back and enjoy music from the Ben Jensen Jazz Trio, The Brand New Life, Bruce Piephoff, and Braco. While Jon, Jerrod, Matty, and Harry were saving it up for performances later in the evening with the bands featuring their alternate creative identities,
Little P and I were recovering from heat exhaustion . As I slowly regained my energy, Little P made fun of me for insisting upon spraying her down with sunscreen and then moving on to spray the pinkest members of the crowd near us (strangers or not), but I paid no mind, as I firmly believe that, while we do so solemnly love our critter buddies under the sea, no land mammal deserves to become a lobster simply for the love of music.

Little P proved my point when she showed up to Studio B on Saturday night thirsting for aloe vera. Nonetheless, she proved to be the same ball of energy that we love so much, ready to rock out in the front row for Funny Like a Funeral, The Lake Isle, Decoration Ghost, and Come Hell Or High Water, featuring our favorite frontwoman Suzanne Stafford as well as our very own Harrison Barrow (on piano) and Matty Sheets (on slide guitar and vocals). By this point in the weekend, we heard several folks singing the praises of Greensboro Fest organizers Mike Wallace and Sam Bridges over what a smashing hit each show had been so far. Magically, some of us managed to make it over to The Blind Tiger afterwards in time to hear even MORE Blockheads doing double duty. Jon Bohlen, upright bass player for the Blockheads, put his electric hat on while Jerrod Smith, our creative percussionist, broke out his fanciest guitar licks so that the Leeves could keep the Tate Street Festival After-party going into the wee hours of the morning Sunday.

By this point, my personal level of exhaustion had made me terrified that I might never wake up Sunday in time to be at Legitimate Business for the fourth and final night of Greensboro Fest with all the necessities: a covered dish, songs to sing, and my beloved Baby Teeth on mandolin, cello, and upright bass. We made it to the venue just in time to catch James Marshall Owen and Molly McGinn jamming in the rain under an old gas station awning next door and feed them some barbeque quinoa, which apparently mixes right nicely in the bowl with homemade vegan chili. Once we'd warmed our bellies, we gathered around to hear Liz Kraszeski and Allison Weldon (formerly of Mama Got Saved) as well as James Marshall Owen as they played acoustic sets, followed by The Baby Teeth. I even heard tell that someone from WUAG was there recording the show live for broadcast on Radio Greensboro. Hopefully they caught the entire evening, because Eszett, Secret Message Machine, Torch Runner, and The Bronzed Chorus
made for a fabulous ending to an incredibly exhausting but delightfully inspiring weekend.

We were so inspired, as a matter of fact, that instead of stumbling home to bed, more than a few Blockheads managed to keep their eyes open for one last hurrah at our dear friend Suzanne's house, where we engaged in what might only be described as rowdy musical incest with members of both Come Hell Or High Water and The Baby Teeth as well as former members of Eating the Invaders. As we sang together, several of us smacked on drums and a cast-iron pan as Barry Staples held down the beat, Harry and Gael and Matty played piano with Little P on accordion and random crocodile xylophone solos, Aren chimed in on mandolin, Suzanne broke out the rarest of her original tunes on guitar, Marshall and I passed the banjo back and forth until he fell asleep sitting up (prompting us to write what I believe might be the 79th impromptu tune in Greensboro history about Marshall's uncanny tendency to fall asleep sitting up), and I realized that, like so many of the Greensboro musicians who are part of the wonderful, supportive community that made this weekend possible, we just can't help ourselves.

Even at the end of the playing and show-going marathon, when we should be in bed, our droopy eyes and fading voices and tired, callused fingers will continue to play, with or without us. Whether we have the right equipment or the best sound guy or the perfect venue, it seems we have no choice. So thank you, Greensboro, for giving us the time and the place to do it up right this weekend. You're the best.

-emily stewart

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