"Sleazefest is going to continue forever--as long as I'm alive," says Local 506 club owner Dave Robertson. Robertson is behind the bar, while co-owner Monica Swisher sits on the barstool next to me. It's early evening, a bit overcast, but inside Local 506, local headquarters for garage-rock, rockabilly, local punk and the like, it might as well be a casino: You're on Local 506 time.
But not for long. The club--now in its 10th year, will close its doors Aug. 31. And while Robertson will keep Sleazefest alive, unless like-minded souls ("carbon copies of us," Robertson cracks) take over the business, this will be the last sleazy hurrah at the club that could probably tell more stories--make more ears burn--than most venues double its size.
If you're not from around these parts, Sleazefest is a three-day throw-down featuring over a dozen acts a night--a hopped-up hootenanny for the heavily inked and musically inclined, a pig pickin' rockathon that celebrates barbecue, beer, B-movies and, of course, music (encompassing everything from surf and garage to rockabilly, '70s inspired heavy rock and more). The shindig has put the Triangle on the map for the retro/fringe music crowd since its inception back in 1994. Besides offering fans a chance to buy hard-to-find band merch and meet fellow scenesters, the fest has achieved national status, holding its own with similar events such as the Las Vegas Stomp and Washington state's Garagestock. Not bad for a sleepy academic town where the musicians are known more for the swish of their corduroys than their tatts.
As in previous years, The Cave will also be hosting groups over the weekend, so if you don't have 30 clams for a ticket, you can get your Sleaze on, small-scale style. (Cave owner and longtime sleaze aficionado Mister Mouse has been documenting the fest, along with video wiz Craig Zearfoss, since its inception.) For locals, it's a chance to sample the Sleazefest experience without shelling out for the whole combo platter.
The gathering, always held before school resumes and the Chappie is overrun with fresh faces seeking higher learning, turns the heat up a notch on those already steamy Carolina-in-August summer nights. The bacchanal draws a crowd of locals, national acts and the curious, who know that--like Mardi Gras--it's all about the party. Of course, if the music had been second rate, the party wouldn't have gotten off the ground in the first place.
Unlike previous years, this fest won't feature any acts from rock's infancy--Hasil Adkins, Ronnie Dawson, Johnny Legend, Ernie K-Doe have, all graced the event's main stage. But there'll be plenty of returnees: Cali R&B rockers The Bellrays, The 45's, Drive-by Truckers, '60s swingers The Woggles and more, as well as local psychobilly guitar hero Dexter Romweber (who's got a spankin' new disc, Chased By Martians, out soon on Manifesto Records). And it wouldn't be Sleazefest without Southern Culture on the Skids, whose connections helped get the throwdown airborne in the first place.
Besides having a merch booth where you can buy band T-shirts, videos, vinyl and CDs, the Carolina Sports Club next door, aka the "side stage," aka the "Sleaze Lounge," will be hosting bands. "We have lots of interesting stuff on the side stage, like Ultrabait--they're real slut punk from Richmond," Robertson says. He also lays odds that The Las Vegas, hailing form Normal, Ill., are going to be one of the sleepers this year. "They blew everybody away when they played here ... all eight of us!" Robertson says, laughing. "Their stickers are great: 'More rock than a crack house!'"
"Eight-track Gorilla is coming up from Athens--he's in a gorilla costume and he sings to eight-track tapes," Robertson adds. (And what do you say to an eight-track gorilla? Nothing, just hope that he's got good taste.) Swisher points to another oddball act, the likes of which Sleazefest seems to draw out of the woodwork: Bob Log III. "It's very strange: oscillators, pedals, and he wears a helmet so you don't really know who he is," she says. "The music is really weird, blues-based, and he looks like Boba Fett."
Barbecue will also be available in the Sleaze Lounge (they cook a pig each day of the fest, which is also used to feed all the bands, pig-pickin' style).
While fest poobahs Nashville Pussy are no longer on the bill, NP's Blaine and Reuter will be on hand Saturday night for the resurrection of Nine Pound Hammer, the band that caught the eye of then local musician Cory Parks, which led to the formation of Nashville Pussy.
As for semi-unknown quantities, my money goes on The Greenhornes, a Cincinnati five-piece whose recent self-titled Telstar release is a throbbing slab of '60s garage punk you could pitch a tent for. The Greenhornes appear Friday, garage-rock night, along with the dance party faves The Woggles (and the maraca-shakin' antics of lead Woggle Manfred), The 45's, Billy Joe Winghead, The Immortal Lee County Killers and Bob Log III, headlined by those banana-puddin' dispensin' ambassadors of gleefully inbred, deep-fried Dixie culture, S.C.O.T.S.
Saturday night's keyword is "heavy," as in bottom, big amps, and big bad waves of feedback rolling off the stage: The Bellrays are headlining an evening that boasts the aforementioned Nine Pound Hammer, Dragstrip Syndicate and the long overdue Sleazefest debut of Raleigh's highway stars The Cherry Valence (speed kings and admitted fans of everything from Ace Frehley to AC/DC). There'll be a "palette cleanser" in the form of The Big Lazy (a tasteful, upright bass-driven instrumental trio who have made a name for themselves in the soundtrack world), after the evening's opening rock block: The StepGods, Balboas, The Ghost of Rock, Geraldine, X-Impossibles and Leadfoot. "That's why we put The Big Lazy in the middle on Saturday, because then everybody can take a breath," Robertson admits.
Sunday features local heroes Snatches of Pink (who have a new disc in the can), punk pioneers the Bad Checks and Dexterville, along with a garage supergroup of sorts: Andy G. and the Killer Kings featuring Candy Del Mar (The Cramps) and Andy G. from the Devil Dogs. And, what more fitting way to end Sleazefest than with the premiere of an original, two-hour-plus "Southern Rock Opera" that chronicles the rise and crash (literally) of a band based on Lynyrd Skynyrd, courtesy of the Drive-By Truckers?
The Athens group, now a five-piece (so as to duplicate Skynyrd's three-guitar onslaught), originally hail from Muscle Shoals, Ala., and take their subject matter--"modern day Southern mythology"--very seriously, according to Truckers frontman Patterson Hood. Besides tackling the rest of the country's misconceptions of the South, Hood says that the opera explores what it was like to grow up Southern in the '70s, when bands like Skynyrd ruled the airwaves and George Wallace was the political figure most people associated with Alabama. "I hope people aren't disappointed because it's really ... hard-hitting at times," Hood says. "There aren't as many laughs as our earlier songs." The double-CD of the opera, complete with a 24-page booklet, will be available in September.
For its fans, Sleazefest has became a ritual, the stuff that legends are made of: an id-blowing, cathartic one-finger salute to the smarmy "family values" platform espoused by pols and middle-of-the-roaders.
Not to worry. Sleazefest will persevere, either here in Chapel Hill, or possibly in different guises: a New Orleans-based event possibly called The Big Sleazy, and a Tucson-based happening tentatively titled Sleazefest West. "Everything's going to come together, and for us, it's going to be the best one yet," Robertson promises. If you dig the vibe, the fest is a delicious slug of cool, bubbling spring water. If you don't, it's well nigh inscrutable. But it's vital, and most importantly, it's here. At least for now