Dusty Keene and partners sign lease for planned GRIT music venue

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pat tillman dusty keene paul young
Pat Tillman, Dusty Keene and Paul Young (l-r) plan to open GRIT, a music venue, on West Friendly Avenue, near the intersection of Westover Terrace.

Dusty Keene has booked a number of acts ranging from Rhiannon Giddens and Bruce Piephoff at Common Grounds Coffee, his coffee shop in Lindley Park, but he’s been scheming for at least a couple years to open a music venue with more capacity.

The dream is a little closer to realization since Keene and two business partners signed a lease last week on a building on West Friendly Avenue next door to Bandito Bodega. GRIT, short for “Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity,” will occupy a space formerly leased to a credit union in a building owned by local developers Michael Schiftan and Stephen Marks. Keene is teaming up with Paul Young and Pat Tillman. Young is a designer responsible for Greensboro HQ, Preyer Brewing, Gibb’s Hundred Brewing and a tiny house in Saxapahaw featured on the cable TV show “Tiny House Nation.” Pat Tillman is a Guilford County School Board member with a background in corporate marketing.

Keene said the partners are shooting for 225 capacity in the 3,000-square foot space. GRIT is aiming for a more intimate experience than the Blind Tiger, the 600-capacity venue on Spring Garden Street with the most consistent track record of booking live acts over the past 25 years.

Keene’s interest in opening a venue grew out of being a fan as a teenager.

“When I was coming of age in Greensboro, Greensboro had a really great music scene,” he said. “It encompassed every moment of my free time.” He cited North Carolina bands like the Connells, Dillon Fence, Archers of Loaf and Squirrel Nut Zippers, which built strong followings in Greensboro in the 1990s.

Keene envisions GRIT booking music acts that cover a wide array of genres, and he wants to program something virtually every night of the week, whether it’s a monthly reggae show, a weekly trivia night for people who work in the service industry, comedy or film. The location, part of a commercial cluster that includes 1618 Seafood Grille and Mad Hatter, and straddles the Sunset Hills and Westerwood neighborhoods, will likely shape the hybrid approach of the venue.

“First and foremost, it needs to be a great neighborhood bar that people can walk to,” Keene said. “Whether Bruno Mars is playing — that might not be a great example — or it’s a playoff game on Sunday, I want there to be something going on. I want people to know when they come in that this is a great place to see excellent music; no matter who’s playing, it’s going to be good.”

Proximity to Bandito Bodega, a brick-and-mortar establishment that evolved out of Nick Benshoff’s similarly named Bandito Burrito food truck, helped sell Keene and his partners on the location.

“Nick just returned from Japan; he’s been refining this Mexican-Asian fusion food,” Keene said. “One of the deciding factors in our decision to go with this location is the opportunity to infuse it with this great food. Nick is going to design a specialty menu for us. The hope is that we can cut a window to serve food through.”

Keene had previously attempted to open a music venue on the backside of Boxcar Bar & Arcade off Lewis Street in downtown Greensboro. Keene said he spent about nine months of 2017 working with developer Andy Zimmerman to try to get the project off the ground.

“It was a tough experience for Andy and myself,” Keene said. “It didn’t work out. No fault of either of us.”

Now, with a revamped concept and a new set of partners, Keene hopes the planned venue’s name will represent the good mojo that it takes to launch a successful venture.

“We’re incredibly excited to bring something new and exciting to Greensboro,” Keene said. “We hope everybody comes out and gives us a chance.”

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