Triad musicians sign on to Stand Against HB2 2.0 in Winston-Salem

Mike Allen, the organizer of Stand Against HB2, speaks at the first benefit concert in Saxapahaw in June. (photo by Dave Brainard)

Generations of Triad musicians are enlisting to raise money to help Equality NC fight HB 2 through a concert in Winston-Salem following a successful benefit in Saxapahaw.

Mike Allen, an advertising creative director and copywriter who lives in Wake Forest outside of Raleigh, has developed a reputation as the person to call when you want to organize a benefit concert.

He’s been organizing benefis concerts for the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, an organization that builds fences for pet owners free of charge if they agree to take their pets off chains, for about six years. But that was small scale compared to what he was about to get into when Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 2, the notorious anti-LGBT, anti-trans and anti-worker bill that has prompted a boycott against North Carolina by entertainers from Bruce Springsteen to Demi Lovato.

It started with a phone call from Caitlyn Cary, formerly a member of the ’90s alt-country band Whiskeytown, to Rod Abernethy, a composer for video game soundtracks and alum of the seminal ’70s rock band Arrogance. Abernethy in turn called Allen.

“They had talked; they said, ‘We really want to do something in response to this,’” Allen recalled. “‘Would you help plan something?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I emailed Heather LaGarde at the Haw River Ballroom. They gave us the room for nothing. Four days later I had all the bands lined up.”

The all-star lineup that coalesced for the May 15 concert at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw showcased four generations of North Carolina music standouts, including a set by Abernethy and his old Arrogance bandmate Robert Kirkland, Chapel Hill black shoegaze pioneers the Veldt, Cary’s band Tres Chicas, reunions by jangle-pop standard-bearers the dBs and the Connells, alt-country acts like the Backsliders and John Howie Jr. & the Rosewood Bluff, the iconic Southern Culture on the Skids, indie-hip hop artist Shirlette Ammons, the Love Language, Laurelyn Dossett, members of Mipso, and Winston-Salem gentleman rocker Jeffrey Dean Foster. They raised more than $20,000 to donate to Equality NC to wage the fight against HB 2.

He can’t remember exactly who it was, but Allen said that a couple days after the Haw River Ballroom concert someone suggested to him that he replicate the effort across the state.

“I laughed,” he recalled. “I was very happy, but I was tired from the Haw River thing. I decided I should probably do it though.”

Shifting to a venue in the Triad seemed like a natural evolution from an initial concert that was heavy on Triangle talent, so Allen contacted Foster, an old friend and musician, who has used his solo album releases as an opportunity to raise money for the anti-poverty initiative the Shalom Project in Winston-Salem. He also enlisted Dossett and Ed Bumgardner, who put him in touch with Greg Carlisle, owner of the Millennium Center. Like LaGarde in Saxapahaw, Carlisle offered his venue free of charge for the concert, scheduled for June 26.

“I kind of put together a team because I don’t really know bands in the Triad,” Allen said. “They helped me get in touch with these folks and told me who I should get to play.”

Meanwhile, as the Winston-Salem date approaches, Allen is already at work on subsequent benefit concerts in Asheville and Wilmington.

The lineup for the Winston-Salem show carries over some of the talent from the first concert, including Foster, Dossett, Abernethy and Kirkland, and Howie, along with Jon Lindsay and Sarah Shook. Bumgardner’s Luxuriant Sedans, Doug Davis & the Solid Citizens, Michael Slawter, Camel City Collective, Foxture and Spirit System represent Winston-Salem. A strong contingent from Greensboro includes Bruce Piephoff & Scott Sawyer, Molly McGinn & Quilla and Totally Slow. Tange Lomax, a High Point rapper who performed at Phuzz Phest earlier this year, is also on the bill.

Like the Saxapahaw concert, the Winston-Salem iteration will hit some seminal moments in Triad music history and occasion a couple reunions.

Allen said that Little Diesel, a proto-punk band formed by Peter Holsapple and Will Rigby during their high school years in Winston-Salem, will play together for the first time since 1975. Rigby was a founding member of the dB’s, a New York City band whose members came from Winston-Salem, along with Chris Stamey and Gene Holder, in early 1978, with Holsapple joining the band later that year.

While the dB’s are not on the bill, the lineup is heavy with alumni from the band: Along with Little Diesel, Stamey is scheduled to perform a set. And Holsapple, who is also known for playing keyboards and guitar as an auxiliary member of REM, is also playing a set with his own group.

While the dB’s, as Winston-Salem expats in New York City, established lasting underground influence, two Greensboro bands in the 1990s brushed closer to mainstream success. Bus Stop, a pop-funk hybrid whose members include Evan Olson, Britt “Snüzz” Uzzell, Eddie Walker and Chuck Folds, won “Dick Clark’s USA Music Challenge” in 1992. Later in the decade, in 1996, Athenaeum, a Greensboro pop band with a more anthemic rock sound, was signed to Atlantic Records.

Bus Stop performed last at the final show at the old Blind Tiger in Greensboro in December 2010, before it relocated from Walker Avenue to Spring Garden Street. Olson said Walker suggested the idea of a reunion for Stand Against HB2 after receiving a phone call from Dossett.

Snüzz, who has been in poor health for the past couple months, determined he will be unable to play, but encouraged his bandmates to carry.

“Snüzz’s guitar sound and Snüzz in general is a big part of the sound,” Olson said. “I expressed my concern about how hard it would be there to do a Bus Stop show without Snüzz being there.”

Mark Kano, the former frontman for Athenaeum, volunteered to fill in for Snüzz. He’s also scheduled to perform a set of his own music.

“We had a discussion about how maybe we didn’t know what to do,” Olson said. “Mark Kano came up with a suggested set list. He was a fan of Bus Stop, and he said he’d love to do this.

“I’m looking forward to playing those songs and the energy’s going to be different, but we’re going to make the most of it,” Olson added. “I feel confident in Mark’s ability. It’s gonna rock.”

Snüzz said in a Facebook message: “I want to be there desperately, but am still in treatment and [am] just not up to it.”

Olson said Bus Stop plans to close with a rendition of “North Carolina, We’re Better Than This,” Snüzz’s 2013 anthem for the Moral Monday movement. Snüzz added that Kenny Roby, a Triangle-based singer-songwriter has also told him he plans to perform the song, which he said “should be pretty amazing.”

There’s little doubt that Snüzz’s absence will be keenly felt at the concert, while his music will be palpable.

“We’ve decided to pay tribute to his life and his music,” Olson said.