I’m going to rip the Band Aid right off at the start: Burley Hayes passed away on Sunday, May 7. Some may ask who Burley Hayes was, but if you played music in Greensboro or the surrounding areas, you knew. You knew because you were part of his family, part of the Somewhere Else Tavern family.
“You’re Loved SomeWhere Else.” That was his motto.
I first met Burley in 1990, when I was 17 years old. I had just moved here from outside New York City and joined a band called Misplaced Aggression. At the time, SWET was located on Freeman Mill Road. It was always a welcome environment, a place I met friends that I’ve had for life.
That’s just the thing: If you were a musician, when no one else would give you a shot to play their club, Burley would welcome you, encourage you, take you into his family. We all got our start in this scene at SWET. We all came back time and time again to support the venue and even when our bands outgrew the club, we came back to pay homage to our Mecca, our roots.
The tavern wasn’t a lavish club, it was seedy and dirty at times, but it welcomed everyone. To me it was our own CBGB’s. CBGB’s was a legendary club, the Somewhere Else Tavern was a legendary club, but more importantly it had a legendary owner.
I don’t ever remember the cover charge being more than $5. Burley didn’t do this to make money; Burley did this for the love of the music and the community.
I remember the night that Burley’s mom passed. Misplaced Aggression was scheduled to play a show. I tried to convince him, my dad tried to convince him, we all tried to convince him to close the bar and go be with his family. He responded with, “I am with my family.” It was the only time in the three decades of Tavern shows that Burley wasn’t at the door.
About 12-13 years ago, I hit up Burley about doing a benefit for my dad, who was suffering from diabetes and needed money to renovate some things in the house for accessibility. I barely got the ask out of my mouth when he replied, “yes.” I played two sets that night back to back, with a Misplaced Aggression reunion and then with the Five L’s.
Burley, well he was a burly man, but he had the softest heart. I remember when his dog, the Tavern’s dog, Elvis, died. I have never seen that man cry like that. It broke my heart and everyone else’s, too.
We gathered today as the day was winding down, us Tavern rats. We shared hugs, stories, caught up. Some laid flowers as a memorial. The owner of the building told us to stay as long as we needed; he understood. We did today what I think embodies what Burley loved most about his community: We gathered as a family and had each other’s back.
The one person I couldn’t wait to see and hug today was Sonni. Sonni booked bands at the tavern, was the bartender for many, many years. More importantly, Sonni might as well have been Burleys kid, because he treated her like she was his daughter. I got that hug and we shared tears.
There will be an official memorial concert in the near future, with details to come. Any bands interested can email Sonni at [email protected].
Greensboro lost a legend, an icon and no one can ever replace that. He was our Godfather, acted as our father, he was a fan, a supporter, he was a uniter and an organizer. Burly Hayes was one of a kind. From the whole community, you will be missed and we love you. RIP Legend.
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