Now in its seventh year, The Brewery's annual S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest has survived a rather unappetizing name, the blizzard of 2000, and that 'rasslin'-guy emcee. The brainchild of Greg Mosorjak, the club's booking agent, S.P.I.T.T.L.E. spotlights artists that take the words country, rock, bluegrass, roots and punk and combines them two, three, sometimes four at a time. Over the years, the fest has hosted at least four acts that have graced the cover of alt-country bible No Depression (Whiskeytown, Robbie Fulks, Blue Mountain and The Bottle Rockets) and made plenty of room for local heroes The Backsliders, Six String Drag and The Carbines, along with hosting such crowd-pleasing out-of-towners as Sleepy LaBeef, The V-Roys and Beaver Nelson.
And now in its third year, Guitartown--a local e-mail listserv catering to the alt-country crowd--has survived street-team spammings, a rant from Ryan Adams and the kind of squabbles that flare up in communities both concrete and cyber. For the uninitiated--that, most likely, being anyone other than its 571 members--Guitartown is the conduit for information about the kind of music that Masorjak fills up The Brewery with every late January.
Steve Earle may be the listserv's spiritual advisor (it's named after his 1986 record), but Alison Temple is its Miss Americana. Shortly after moving to the Triangle in early spring of '99, Temple started Guitartown as a way to meet people who were into the local music scene, particularly the alt-country scene.
"I was hoping to find people who were passionate about the local music scene," Temple recalls. "It was also meant to serve as a place to keep people informed when new bands were coming to town that were worth seeing."
"Information Delivered Passionately" could be Guitartown's motto. Folks have opinions, and they're not afraid to use 'em. Because S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest and Guitartown seem to go hand-in-hand, I've asked some of its members to introduce this year's bands.
Friday, Jan. 25
7 pm: Hobart Willis & The Back Forty. "Straight outta Snow Camp, North Carolina, it's the full amigo flavor of Hobart and his boys," promises Lisa Bachelder of Raleigh. "Hardcore honky-tonk chased with rock 'n' roll. A couple of rounds and I dare you not to shuffle your feet, wiggle your rumpus and get yourself in just a little bit of trouble."
Song to Yell For: "'Painted Picture,' with its great sing-along line: 'Dedicated, self-medicated, painted picture of a honky-tonk star.'"
8 pm: Poonhounds. "Basically, they're a shit-kicking Ramones" is the succinct description served up by Durham's Carina Muehl. This four-piece boasts past or current members of Jack Black, Hells Belles, Slurpeeeee!, The Lubricators and Negative State, among others.
Song to Yell For: Says Muehl, "I look forward to seeing if they know more than a dozen songs by now--they had eight the first time they performed--and if they'll do The Backslider's 'My Baby's Gone.'"
9 pm: Hooverville. Despite their non-sibling status, Hooverville leaders Greg Hanson and John Bemis bring to mind the Brothers Stanley, Louvin and Everly. And Raleigh's Jennifer Reavis also pays attention to the words, be they angry ("May you burn in hell while above the cold wind blow") or hopeful ("If I catch that train in the pouring down rain, it's all because of you").
Song to Yell For: "Don't Forget Your Station." "How can you relax with the girl, the big house and the cool evenings on a shady porch when taunting ghosts haunt every corner?" asks Reavis.
10 pm: Olympic Ass Kicking Team. "On his three solo releases, Terry Anderson mixes pop, primal rock and roots and emerges as North Carolina's answer to NRBQ and Rockpile," states Hillsborough resident Rick Cornell. (Yes, my guitartown Gold card reads "Member since April 1999.") "He's also an ace recruiter: His team features Mike Krause and Roger Gupton on guitars and Woods-mate Jack Cornell on bass."
Song to Yell For: With apologies to The Georgia Satellites and the one-off Hindu Love Gods, Anderson still does the best version of his own hit "Battleship Chains."
11 pm: Vibe Killers. "Chip Robinson becomes truly possessed and transformed when he does rock 'n' roll," is Raleigh-ite Phyllis Gordon's take on former Backsliders frontguy Robinson. "Intense and introspective when he performs acoustically, he mutates into a joyful demonic force when in front of a band. His turn with his latest group, the Vibe Killers, will wring you out and have you crying for mercy ... "
Song to Yell For: " ... especially if they do 'Purple Rain.'"
12:30 am: Thad Cockrell & the Starlite Country Band. "Despite the often maudlin production, country music in the 1960s and '70s contained something that is virtually lost on today's new crop of singers--soul," says Steve Gardner of Mebane. "When I first heard Thad Cockrell, I was excited that right here, in our own backyard, we have a singer who understands this and has the talent to bring it forth in his music."
Song to Yell For: "'Warmth and Beauty,' which, perhaps not coincidentally, are two major characteristics of Cockrell's voice."
Saturday, Jan. 26
7 pm: Drunk Stuntmen. "They have a sound that's hard to describe," admits Swansboro's Jonathan Lee, a member of the Western Massachusetts-based Stuntmen, this year's only band without an N.C. address. "It lies somewhere near the crossroads where country music and Southern rock intersect, and at times, not too far from the ditch."
Song to Yell For: "Let's go after one of their covers--say Skynyrd's 'Gimme Back My Bullets' or Johnny Cash's 'I Got Stripes.'"
8 pm: Lou Ford. Lora Brooker of Durham describes this Charlotte quintet as "a rural pop outfit, featuring beautifully crafted mid-tempo songs and vocal harmonies by the brothers Edwards. Their sound is rootsy and guitar-oriented with nods to Big Star, Neil Young and The Beatles."
Song to Yell For: Because it's Saturday night, Brooker's choice is "definitely 'Replacement,' a full-throttle rocker that showcases some serious guitar-slinging action!"
9 pm: Patty Hurst Shifter. "Don't call them alt-country, because the only thing twangy about Patty Hurst Shifter is Chris Smith's voice," testifies Temple. "Smith's lyrics make you feel as if the songs are about real people and real situations, set to music by a rock 'n' roll band whose charm is their rough-around-the-edges delivery."
Song to Yell For: Temple's shouting for one of those real-people/real-situations numbers, "The Sweetheart Song."
10 pm: Southern Line. "Southern Line is Steve Howell's bluegrass band," explains Kurt Fortmeyer, Guitartowner and proprietor of the Hyphen Coffeehouse in Fuquay-Varina (where you'll find Southern Line the night before their S.P.I.T.T.L.E. set). "They play original and traditional bluegrass and classic country--and do a mighty fine job of it."
Song to Yell For: "Classic country, huh? I'm going for 'Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.'"
11 pm: Big Dixie. "One of the biggest surprises to people that see us for the first time is that we are so 'country,'" says Big Dixie and Guitartown member Sam Madison. "Sure, we're a loud, aggressive, obnoxious band, but above all we are a country band." Madison breaks down the "Big Dixie sound" as being his punk rock-based interpretations of co-songwriter Jeff Holhouser's country songs.
Song to Yell For: "'Being You Gets You Out.' It's a new one Jeffro wrote a few months ago about how his personality has always gotten him into trouble, but in the end gotten him out of it."
12:30 am: Two Dollar Pistols. Lindsay Reid of Raleigh gets right to the point about the Pistols: "The Two Dollar Pistols have long been one of the very best local country bands. And if you haven't seen them in a while, you'll want to check out their current lineup, which is top-notch." Lead guitarist Scott McCall, bassist Neal Spaulding and drummer Mark Weaver join thunder-voiced frontman John Howie.
Song to Yell For: "Blistered," the Billy Edd Wheeler-penned, John Cash-claimed scorcher and the A side of the Pistols' recent 7-inch.
(One-night tickets are $15, and a two-night pass is $25. Barbecue will be served on the deck, along with between-sets performances by Royer's One Man Band. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)