by Brian Clarey and Eric Ginsburg
The Forge makerspace reopened last week at the foot of the newly activated Lewis Street in downtown Greensboro, tucked down the train tracks from Gibb’s Hundred Brewing, HQ Greensboro and the Railyard restaurant and parking complex. Tales of inventiveness and industry will be written in this space in the years to come, but anyone who recalls this town 10 years ago will always remember the spot as the Flying Anvil music club, which flourished, floundered and finally gasped its last during a nine-month stretch in the halcyon year of 2006.
This was before the Mellow Mushroom, before the Railyard, before the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, before CityView and just as Elon Law School opened its doors. The Downtown Greenway was simply a drawing on a board somewhere. It was before Facebook became the virtual town square. And it was before everything went to hell in October 2008, from which we are still recovering.
But that spring was a time of optimism in downtown Greensboro. Natty Greene’s had exploded on the corner of Elm and McGee streets. Elsewhere was new, and so was the ballpark on the north side. Roy Carroll had yet to convert the derelict Wachovia Building into CenterPointe luxury condominiums, and there was some talk of a public park being built across the street.
The “Positive Greensboro Attitude” Mayor Keith Holliday was talking about that year took root in the minds of a crew of successful young entrepreneurs and a seasoned downtown developer, who thought it was time to bring a big rock club to this part of the city.
And thus the Flying Anvil was born,officially launching on May 11 with a three-night grand opening featuring the likes of Tiger Bear Wolf, the Avett Brothers and Walrus after a soft opening a few weeks earlier with the Urban Sophisticates. It came to an end on Dec. 30 with Langhorne Slim and Mad Tea Party. The months in between saw dozens of shows by the big names of the day — Leon Russell, Cat Power, the Mountain Goats, the Legendary Shack Shakers, Of Montreal, Dexter Romweber, Cities, Bombadil and the Hackensaw Boys. Eastern Music Festival events, B-boy battles, an installment of Joe G’s Cover Band Extravaganza, the big stage of GreensboroFest and a rock-paper-scissors tournament all went down within the cavernous space.
It was like a long fireworks show that lasted until winter set in, leaving nothing but streamers of smoke descending from the sky.
Pete Schroth, majority partner in the Flying Anvil, owner the Green Bean (2002-2007): The Green Bean, I think that was my experience. We had live music pretty much every single weekend and we had jazz jams every Monday night. When I opened the Green Bean, it wasn’t so much that I loved coffee, it was more the art and the music I was interested in and I knew the coffee shop would lend itself to that.
After doing that for years you definitely see there are a lot of bands that we were missing that I wanted to see and share with other people. There’s always that complaint about why do we have to drive to Chapel Hill, so we decided to try and do it here.
It seemed like an evolutionary step coming from the Green Bean. We did so many live shows there that we kind of wanted to have another space to do shows on a bigger scale. It totally seemed to make sense at the time.
Brian Crean, investor and proprietor of the Flying Anvil: Pete Schroth and I were good friends from graduate school at UNCG. He opened the Green Bean and I was a regular there, I was close friends with the family, helped babysit the kids and helped his wife Anne at Red Canary. Pete was talking about doing the music venue… and at the time I was just thinking it was great to be involved. I scrounged up some money and actually took out a small business loan. Pete owned 51 percent, I owned about 15, and there were a handful of other investors that owned about 5 percent
I’ve always been a big music fan. I lived in Atlanta and Athens, Ga. before moving to Greensboro, so I went to live shows all the time. I worked in Little Five Points in Atlanta and I worked at Variety Playhouse, which is a music venue. I worked there for a couple years, worked at CD stores and that kind of thing, and was always very interested in music. I thought, “Yeah this would be great.”
To me it was about creating interesting, vibrant businesses that appeal to people my own age instead of always going other places to do that. I’d seen shows at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem and Cat’s Cradle [in Carrboro], and like I said I’d lived in Athens right before moving to Greensboro. Having always lived in a place that always had a great music venue and not seeing one in Greensboro, I thought, “Well, let’s do one here.”
Erik Beerbower, investor in the Flying Anvil, proprietor of Lyndon Street ArtWorks (2003-2011): Greensboro was at that time trying to find its artistic identity. They had just started promoting First Friday, Elsewhere had come in. It was a good time to try something like that.
I thought it would be a logical extension to Lyndon Street. I saw us having art shows in there, a large venue to start combining art and music. Unfortunately, it failed.
Andrew Dudek, investor in the Flying Anvil, proprietor of Gate City Noise (2001-2006): Pete Schroth came to me and said, “Hey, I want you to invest in this project. It’s gonna be fantastic. It’s gonna be big.”
I had been doing live shows [at Gate City Noise] and I could broaden the acts by having a bigger stage. I could get the bigger bands I wanted to get. Pete knew this.
If I was to move Gate City Noise to the Flying Anvil and kind of marry the two, then we would both benefit from that. I saw the decline of the record store and saw that live shows would be the catalyst to sell records.
For me it was a win-win. I could bring in some bigger acts and try to move some records, and Pete being an entrepreneur also to me was a catalyst. We thought it was gonna be massively successful.
Milton Kern, downtown developer, property owner: I found out that Pete was looking for a place to open up a music venue and went and bought this building for Pete Schroth and upfitted it for him to his instructions and specifications within reason. Something about six months into it he said he had to quit. They did great for quite a while.
Crean: There was a group of us. Andrew Dudek was not a business partner but he helped us book bands. Pete handled our booking and marketing, I handled our operations so I managed the bar and employees and made sure everything ran smoothly. Andrew was a sort of a booking partner, he tended to book some of the indie rock shows. Pete booked some of the bigger names we had.
Ben Singer, Greensboro music professional: I had just landed in Greensboro in 2005, and I was working at Notion Software at Elm and February 1. I was just working, not playing [music], and definitely didn’t know any musicians around town, didn’t have any associations in the scene even for several years after that.
I remember seeing Dave Rawlings Machine there — I was like, Oh my god, he’s gonna be down there. I remember how exciting it was to have people doing interesting stuff because in Greensboro there was so little. When I saw the club I was like, This is amazing and perfect and I can’t see how it will survive. The club, it’s just too big. There’s not enough people here to fill it up.
Dudek: We needed it. A successful town has a few music venues and a few that have different capacities. The Flying Anvil was 854 capacity, and that’s big. That was bigger at the time than Cat’s Cradle. We were gonna break it into several stages, the main stage and the small stage but the cost of two soundboards [was too much]. We decided to put all our chips in and do one big room.
Diarra Crckt Leggett, bartender at the Flying Anvil: It was kind of pitched as Pete, Crean and Dudek being like the face men and how they were gonna have a first-rate live music venue and did I want to be a part of it? It was an enthusiastic, “Hell yeah! I definitely want to be a part of it.”
We mostly served just highballs and beer and wine. This was before craft beer got big, but Natty Greene’s had a stake so we stocked Natty’s beer. Remember that Burn energy drink? We had Burn instead of Red Bull. People were like, “Awwwww….”
I remember Little Brother played there; I recall a lot of rum and cokes — we didn’t have any cognac. The indie kids were of course drinking PBR. The Leon Russell show, that was one of the early shows that illustrated the nightmare of having a liquor bar without food. You had to buy a membership to get in, and there was a three-day wait. That was problematic for buying tickets at the door.
Schroth: Everybody that was involved in that place, everybody that was a partner and that worked there was in it for the right reasons. It was totally about the music and the community. It’s a shame that that didn’t work but the intentions of everyone that stayed involved were pure. it was meant to be something incredible.
Crean: Pete came up with that.
Schroth: It’s an old blacksmith tradition where they would pack an anvil full of gunpowder and it was almost like a competition to see who could launch the anvil the highest…. It’s just one of those things that doesn’t sound like a very good idea but it does work. I came out of a sculpture background and Brian came out of an art background. And it’s like the whole Led Zeppelin thing, like an impossible task. We were presented a task and we were going to try and make it fly.
Dudek: It was the space that we had envisioned. Me and Pete and Brian Crean, the three of us were in there from December  to May cutting pipes out of the ceiling, trying to speed up the process to start booking acts.
Beerbower: We had to gut all the bathrooms — the occupancy being what it was, there had to be proportional bathrooms. I think there were 9-11 stalls in each bathroom. It was a huge expense that wasn’t necessarily factored in the beginning. We were like, “Why can’t everybody pee in a trough?”
Kern: I think between buying the building and putting a new heating and air conditioning system, some roof work and putting in something like 16 toilets I think we had something like $350,000 in it.
Benton James, bandleader of the Urban Sophisticates (2002-2013): I remember the venue well. [It] had a metal ceiling and it was like hell on our ears. I remember it was set up like Cat’s Cradle. It had a lot of potential. The ceiling was pretty high, they had a backstage area that was pretty cool and a pool table. They were talking about building a bookstore.
I remember not knowing how the night was gonna go, but if I remember correctly it was pretty packed. It felt so much like the Cradle that I really wanted it to become that. It felt like that club that you went to where all the big bands came before they were huge.
Singer: I don’t think I knew him at the time, but Andrew Dudek moved his record store down there; that seemed really cool but it closed down. It was on the middle of record stores starting to be a historical thing.
James: That was a very hot time in the ’Boro. Us, and the House of Fools, a bunch of other bands [were] crushing it. That was when Walrus was Evan [Olson] and Ray [Loughran] and Steve [Graham] and Eddie [Walker]. We sold out Greene Street two or three times, almost a thousand people, which is insane compared to now. I don’t know a band in Greensboro that does 1,000 people anymore.
Singer: Now either there are no more people or people have coalesced more into the scene, but it just seemed ahead of its time. For a certain circle of people it would be great right now, or at least it would have a good shot.
Crean: I think trying to recreate a Haw River Ballroom or Cat’s Cradle in Greensboro, the mass isn’t there. You just don’t have that many 20-to-40-year olds who are going to go out. Of Montreal is an excellent example: We sold almost 500 tickets [and] they were a real hip. We did less than $1,000 at the bar and we broke even for the night. It’s really not about can you have cool shows once a month, but how do you pay the bills on the Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday nights, and when you have a big place in a downtown setting that your rent is so high, you’re not making any money on those nights, you’re not going to keep the doors open for long.
Crean: Our biggest show was the Avett Brothers. We had other shows that were very good. The Avett Brothers were a huge upcoming band, sold out show, and it was all optimism at that point. It was easier to kind of enjoy that early success. The Mountain Goats, Cat Power played… Of Montreal. We were mostly an indie rock club that tried to grow our appeal outside of that genre. In order to try to survive we had to be more diverse.
Dudek: The Avett Brothers was one of the first acts, and we knew that it was gonna be a sellout. Other than that they all kind of blended together. We tried to be creative and be open every day as a bar if there wasn’t gonna be any music acts.
We tried to do fun things: We had a skate night with ramps in there so people could drink and skate at the same time, which in hindsight was probably a bad idea. We had breakdance competitions with video screens showing what was happening live. We experimented with some up-and-coming bands that maybe didn’t do so hot, like Will Hoge. Some of the bigger acts really packed that place out.
Beerbower: Leon Russell rolled round the parking lot on one of those little scooters like you get in Walmart. Then he got up on stage, sat in a chair and was amazing.
Dudek: [Leon Russell] was packed. It was amazing. I think that show really helped give validity to the club. Cat Power was big. To me the missing element was the local scene. We couldn’t just book Cat Power and Leon Russell. We had to bring local bands, and they just didn’t draw like that. We’d have 100 people in there and it would feel completely empty. Huge room. If the crowd was like 250 people, which is a successful show in a lot of respects for a lot of bands, it felt empty.
Leggett: The Avett Brothers was awful — I don’t like that band. People were super pumped and it was a lot of fun but I just couldn’t stand the band. They sound like an over-caffeinated Violent Femmes. The Bindlestiff Family Circus came. Small circuses started becoming popular after Jim Rose. They did some freakshow and magic stuff. That was pretty cool.
Dudek: We all got ticketed by the ABC people at 2:30 in the morning for drinking beers with staff after a very successful show. I don’t even remember who it was.
It was 2:30, we were just closing up and someone knocked on the door. I let them in and they raided us. We were like, “It’s cool — we’re just having our end-of-the-night beers.”
Well, you can’t do that. We all had to go to court.
But even getting busted and getting the tickets, to us it wasn’t a big deal. It was a bummer but we felt alive that night. This was the new, hip spot and we ran it.
Leggett: It was very early on and we were just happy because the evening had gone very well so we’re all sitting around recollecting our good fortune and having a drink. I think maybe I was on my second beer — we weren’t getting hammered.
It was in between 2:30 and 3. There was a knock on the door so Andrew went to the door to see who was there. The cops burst in in SWAT fashion. They just swept the place, started taking drinks from people. We were dumbfounded. What the hell?
They started issuing citations, saying that alcohol could no longer be consumed after 2:30.
Having worked at College Hill, I was completely unaware of that law.
Crean: About halfway through the process I started feeling uneasy. We’d been open about three or four months. I started just putting every dollar I could back into paying off my loan and so I had paid off more than half of it by the time that we closed. I worked, with the exception of one night, I worked every night the Anvil was open. We were open usually four, five [days a week]. I was working 12 hours a day the days we were open. Early on it was a lot of fun. As we started going through our investment money it started getting much more stressful. You know, you try to put a good spin to it, but I just tried to make as much money as I could to pay down the loan.
Schroth: We probably could’ve started smaller and then grown into the space, but ego is a powerful thing. I think that was probably my Achilles, like, Hell yeah I can do this, hell yeah I can. That was probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned is that you really do have to check yourself and check in with reality every once and again. You can convince yourself of many things and I think that’s what I did there.
Crean: We could’ve had more startup capital. We thought we had enough for a full year safely when we crunched the numbers. Some of the bigger bands require guarantees. You can lose money on the night even for a big show. We had a lot of shows that were big, a lot of people in there having a good time and we lost money. That’s something I never thought of before we opened. It’s another thing to have less money at the end of the night than when you started.
Beerbower: The space itself was a challenge. You could put 100 people in there and it would look empty. It was just so vast. Another problem — it was away from the epicenter of the safe zone. That was close to being in “the other part of town.”
It’s hard to stay open as a music club when your demographic is indie kids. Some of them had like their parents dropping them off. They don’t come and spend a lot of money. It’s hard to make a profit on bottled water.
Crean: Our location at the time was not good for Greensboro. In other words, Greensboro is a big small town; it’s not really a city. People in cities understand that when you go to a show it might be in a transitional neighborhood or that you shouldn’t leave valuables visible in your car. People understand that in a bigger city. I think the community was quick to kind of label us a fringe indie rock venue in the sketchy part of town. This was before the Mellow Mushroom opened or any of the development. There was nothing back there when we just opened the Anvil and a lot of Greensboro didn’t feel comfortable going there on a regular basis. People who would drive in from out of town… would say, “This is amazing!” and they already sort of understood. The vast majority of people in Greensboro were not used to going to that sort of venue.
Dudek: We lost our parking, our rent doubled and nobody wanted to come to that side of town for their entertainment at that time.
We were spending more than we were making — in short, we were pretty generous with our guarantees. We had too many bad shows of those in a row. There was a time when it was just Pete, me and Brian running the entire place just so we could make money. I didn’t make a paycheck but maybe one month out of those seven.
We thought, If we build it they will come. But that’s not always the case.
Crean: I joke with friends now that it was my crash course MBA. I lost some money but it was a very valuable experience because it was a real-world MBA. I think it has helped me with my current job better now. I can manage people more effectively. I’m able to connect with upper management and my boss and understand his concerns much more now than I was [able to] back then. It’s just overall business maturity.
Schroth: No matter what business you open up, you’ve got to be around for more than nine months to catch on. The longer you’re around the more the word spreads and I think it would’ve caught on if we could’ve afforded to stay open longer and the more we could’ve learned what we were doing wrong. This was all before Facebook. The promotion of it was ads in Go Triad, it was all fliers and email blasts and stuff like that. I think if we could’ve stayed around longer Greensboro would’ve supported it. A lot of people didn’t know about it. There’s a lot of people in Greensboro who love music and a lot of those people did come out but a lot of people didn’t know we were there. I don’t think there’s any one fault of why it didn’t make it, but I think it could have.
James: They fought the good fight. They knew what they were getting into. It is what it is in Greensboro.
Beerbower: The big question is: What is the value of the failure of the Flying Anvil? Did we learn something from it, something we can take forward with us? Or is it just a forgotten blip in downtown history?
Singer: Pete? Like Green Bean Pete? He owned that place? I don’t think I knew that. I didn’t know anybody who did stuff back then. I was just this outsider. It’s kind of funny. I have an Erik Beerbower [piece] on my wall, and Milton Kern’s ex-wife is my landlord.
Dudek: I think it was a little ahead of its time in the scheme of Greensboro entertainment and Greensboro businesses.
Beerbower: I guess I could say we were before our time, but that would be a lie.
Kern: Here we are 10 years later. Hopefully Andy Zimmerman, with the old Lotus Lounge [near the former Flying Anvil], could figure out some way to put a music venue in there, but that’s Andy’s business.
Dudek: I think it was a beacon of a scene. It was a pinnacle. Greensboro was coming up, the music scene was alive for all the college students who hung at Gate City Noise during their formative years. They were like, I’m in a city that’s totally cool.
That beacon on top of a hill — that’s why the Flying Anvil still resonates in Greensboro. It made those long-lasting memories, they still have those friendships.
That’s one thing about Greensboro: Memories stick with you forever.
Kern: I still have one of their T-shirts. It’s a little bit snug on me right now. It’s a really cool T-shirt too, a black T-shirt with the Flying Anvil emblem. It was pretty cool.
Crean: I think time has treated us pretty well. The general sense I get from people is, “Oh wow, that was a cool spot,” or “I wish we still had it kind of thing.” For the most part, I feel proud of doing that with Pete. It was a cool thing we did, it just didn’t work with that formula… overall, I would do it again. It was such a learning experience, and we had a good little run. And I think people are appreciative, that hey, these guys actually tried to do something in Greensboro, they didn’t just talk about it.
Where are they now?
Erik Beerbower closed Lyndon Street ArtWorks in 2007 and now teaches art at New Garden Friends School.
Brian Crean returned to his job at ECS Conservation in Browns Summit after the Anvil closed. He still works there as a registrar and account manager.
Andrew Dudek left Greensboro in 2015 and now lives outside Atlanta. He worke for REI outdoor clothing company.
Benton James left Greensboro in 2013, and now works in artist management in New York City.
Milton Kern still owns a lot of property in downtown Greensboro, but not as much as he used to.
Diara Crckt Leggett works at Empire Books in Greensboro.
Pete Schroth is the road manager for the Avett Brothers and still lives in Greensboro.
Ben Singer lives in downtown Greensboro, still performs locally and works in just about every other aspect of the music business.
Were you there? Share your best Flying Anvil stories in the comment thread.