A musical journey through Tate Street history

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TateIan Pasquini recorded over 20 interviews for his documentary ‘Tate Street That Great Street,’ many of which he plans to archive with UNCG. (Daniel Wirtheim)

by Daniel Wirtheim

Classical music spilled from the window as Ian Pasquini carried his video equipment to the small, white, ranch-style home. He knocked on the front door, no one answered. He waited for a few minutes, knocked again and just as he was ready to leave the face of the woman he had come to know as the “mother of Tate Street” beckoned him in.

Pasquini, a musician, spent a year and four months capturing more than 20 interviews and calling people all over the country to document the evolution of music and venues on Greensboro’s Tate Street near UNCG and Greensboro College. His 15-minute video “Tate Street That Great Street” was uploaded to YouTube last April and he has plans to archive the rest of his interviews with UNCG.

“No one uses the front door,” Leung said to Pasquini as he stood on her doorstep holding his camera. “It’s bad feng shui.”

Inside, the home was crowded with objects, but it was not cluttered. At Leung’s insistence Pasquini set the camera up to film her interview before a painting of the Great Wall of China. Meanwhile, Leung started preparing food.

Nearly all of the local musicians Pasquini had interviewed spoke of Amelia Leung, who along with her husband opened Hong Kong House in 1971 in the space where Sisters and Boba House now operate. Leung was known for cooking foods with macrobiotics —recipes that many considered “ahead of her time” — and offering bands free meals for playing at the restaurant. She catered to the burgeoning music scene and even allowed an employee to open up another venue, Aliza’s Café, in the basement. It was a series of phone calls and emails that had brought Pasquini to Leung’s house.

“I was drinking homemade green tea,” Pasquini said. “She made these boiled eggs that were black. They were either soy sauce or I don’t know — I’d never seen it before. But I’m trying to do an interview and she’s trying to shovel food down my throat. It kind of painted this picture that Amelia is still the mother of this scene.”

Pasquini grew up hearing stories of the street’s culture and music from both of his parents who went to UNCG in the late ’70s. He found the story of music on Tate Street compelling but could only come up with a few articles on the subject, often cramming stories into 750 words. In other words, there were not enough primary sources for Pasquini, a musician pursuing history degree, to understand what it was that made Tate Street a great place for music.

The topic of his master’s thesis came easy to him; he would delve straight into the musical history of Tate Street.

“I just tried to go at it,” Pasquini said. “I was expecting it to be a punk story, just a DIY, I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing thing. It’s like, ‘No one in Black Flag knew how to play a guitar but they did it anyway, so that’s what I’m going to do.’”

Pasquini set out arranging interviews with former band members, bouncers, promoters and venue owners who were active on Tate Street from the ’60s through the ’80s. He searched through archives for photos and at one point took a bus to New Orleans to meet Chuck Alston, whom he had heard about through other interviews.

Alston was living alone and harboring three file cabinets full of Tate Street Memorabilia. According to Pasquini, Alston was wearing what appeared to be pots and pans.

Alston had landed in Greensboro due to a technicality from his position as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, Pasquini said. In Greensboro, Alston started a small publication, the Greensboro Substitute, and contributed his writing and painting to Tate Street culture.

“It’s so intertwined. He starts these magazines and it’s all these musicians and artists from Tate Street. Everybody is so interconnected,” Pasquini said.

The stories from one interview often overlapped with one another, sometimes giving multiple interpretations of the same story. There was a fuzzy tale that New York Pizza was involved with the mafia — a story that was never confirmed. There were memories of Henry Rollins from Black Flag rolling across broken glass on the floor of Fridays, a punk and new-wave venue that operated where Jimmy John’s is now. Many people remembered Devo’s 1979 performance in UNCG’s Aycock Theatre and even more interviewees mentioned Eugene Chadbourne who played an electric rake on Tate Street.

You have all these people working towards a greater goal, that’s what made it so great, Pasquini said. It was a place where everyone was connected.

And when Pasquini visits Tate Street today it’s not uncommon for him to meet someone who’s seen Tate Street That Great Street with the good chance that, in some interview, he’s heard their name before.