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.