A gathering of the nerds at Geeksboro

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Members of the Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra performed at Geeksboro on Dec. 9. From left: Chad Eby, Brandon Lee, Chrishawn Darby, Cameron MacManus and Steve Haines. (photo by Lauren Barber)

Geeksboro hosted a family affair on Dec. 9, and everyone showed up: the younger brother anticipating his first play through “Breath of the Wild” and the eldest cousin who remembers Zelda’s earliest iterations; the cool aunt who’s cosplayed Princess Leia more than once; the grandparents who remember that kiss between Captain Kirk and Uhura; and the parents who drove them all.

Under a canopy of icy blue and white holiday lights, nine members of the Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra offered something for everyone, performing jazz arrangements of nerdy classics ranging from the “Twin Peaks” theme to renowned anime series “Cowboy Bebop” in honor of Geeksboro’s fifth anniversary. Joe Scott, the coffeeshop’s co-owner and creative director, curated accompanying video cast behind the ensemble.

As trumpeter Brandon Lee ran scales to the quiet rattle of Chrishawn Darby’s snare and the general dissonance of the others’ warm-up routines, just about everyone in the audience settled into nine rows of sold-out wooden chairs with small coffees and plastic cups of craft beer. Three-inch clone troopers looked on from one wall, standing beside at least seven well-loved editions of Monopoly and a slew of other figurines and haphazard board and puzzle games as the group opened with a commanding performance the Star Trek: Into Darkness theme song. As Scott projected the film’s silver cityscapes, Lee punctuating rapid chase sequences with heightened urgency. The audience’s attention captured, the tone shifted toward lightheartedness for most of the night.

Within three stanzas of the Star Wars theme, laughter erupted and returned in waves as video sequences from the films cut back to the ever-approaching title name from the infamous opening. This, not to mention bassist Steve Haines’ endearing and unbridled glee throughout the piece. Many heads bopped.

Without prompting, the room snapped along to “Twin Peaks”’ mischievous theme. Wally West, on saxophone, and Chad Eby, on clarinet, playfully leaned towards each other as they crooned toward crescendo. Even though most in the audience couldn’t clearly view his body, West tilted backward to let his sax roar above the crowd throughout the night. The physicality of his performance revealed a man comfortable with the type of public vulnerability so magnetic, others can’t help but to be drawn in. After all jazz is supposed to feed off a room’s energy. It’s supposed to be fun.

Haines couldn’t shake joy from his face as he thumbed the opening of “Cowboy Bebop”’s bombastic and playful theme, “Tank!” Eric Willie kept the tempo rolling on the bongos as action montages played between cuts from the spy film-inspired opening credits. Ultra-funky breakdowns featuring sax solos and ecstatic flurries of sound from the whole ensemble broke into a big-band finish that filled every cubic inch of the café. 

Learn more about Geeksboro at geeksboro.com and the Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra at ptjazzorchestra.com.

Midway through the evening, the ensemble deviated from the theme to showcase pianist and jazz vocalist Ariel Pocock, who graced the house with a rendition of “Christmastime is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” To liken her voice to velvet, honey or heaven would do her a disservice. Throughout the rest of the largely upbeat show, though, her black baseball cap rocked side-to-side like the group’s unofficial metronome.

This was particularly the case during the ensemble’s take on “Dr. Who,” which featured stellar solos from almost every musician, each an ode to an era of the decades-long series. This montage, in particular, drove home the intergenerational aspect of the “geek” identifier. Though the video quality improved and the actors changed, the story and its soul endures.

So, as much as the night felt like a party, the space made ample room for sentimentality. Eby, a critically acclaimed composer, unveiled a song he wrote for Scott titled “A Man Without Fear,” inspired by their favorite superhero, Daredevil. Eby extolled Scott as a fearless man himself, whose years-long efforts fostered a welcoming space for the geeks of Greensboro to commune.

“If a place like [Geeksboro] existed when I was in high school, I wouldn’t have been watching “Twin Peaks” at home alone,” Eby said.

When, earlier in the night, Eby admitted to his limited exposure to “Game of Thrones,” the audience responded with taunts but all in jest.

Despite the sundry of subcultures within geekdom, Geeksboro offered a seat to each and provided affirmation that that video game you spent 130 hours with is worthy of elevation through the “high art” of jazz, despite classmates’ eye rolls. A place where teens could internalize the message that it’s cool to care and learn to move with the music with the support of a physical community.

Last Saturday, a chosen family opened is arms a little wider and held on a little tighter.

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