As I settled into my table at After Hours on the night of Oct. 25, 2011 to see a band play that I had seen many times before in much bigger venues, only one thought was going through my mind, “This isn’t right.”
The band was Holy Ghost Tent Revival (HGTR), a folk rock band that plays a genre-bending mix of bluegrass and the popular rock that has made bands like The Avett Brothers and Old Crowe Medicine Show so popular. The best way I have heard it described is “newgrass.”
HGTR, hailing from Greensboro, has made quite a name for themselves over the last few years with their mix of banjos, a trombone and electric guitars. I have seen them twice in NoDa over the past year alone and whether they were playing at The Evening Muse or Neighbor Theatre, the house was packed. The word was buzzing around the neighborhood for at least a week before they showed. This is what was so unsettling as I sat down in After Hours that night as one of the only 20 or so people in the room. It soon became clear that nobody else was coming.
This problem started to bother me even before the day of the concert. Whether or not you’ve ever heard of this band, I am willing to bet this is the first you’ve heard of the on-campus “Last Tuesday Concert.” Where was the promotion? The first flyer I saw for this concert was when I went to the bathroom in After Hours during the show. A flyer stared me in the face, struggling to hold on to the wall but doomed to inevitably fall into the urinal I was using. A search of the UNC Charlotte website for a mention of the concert tells students to attend a cool night of folk and bluegrass on the West Quad “as we welcome Holy Ghost Tent Revival!”
“Welcomed” was hardly the way HGTR guitarist and lead vocalist Stephen Murray described the way he felt about the concert over the phone the next day as his band headed for West Virginia.
“We have played college shows with a lot of hype and great turnouts before and that’s what you hope for when you show up at a show like that,” he said. As far as the preceding night’s show? “Yeah, you definitely hope to play less of those.”
Whether or not you care about this particular band or bluegrass rock music in general, does anyone really want to attend a college that sends any popular music act away making comments like that?
The set up in After Hours doomed the gig from the beginning as the worst venues I’ve come across in a long time. The dizzying, rainbow-colored disco lights over a checkerboard dance floor made it feel like I was chaperoning a middle school dance instead of waiting for a band to play.
There were two opening acts. The first was a respectable folk singer who travels with the group and the second was a local band consisting of three young teenagers, including an overexcited, banjo-playing lead vocalist and a small female guitarist with a show-stealing voice, destined for some sort of future in music.
Between each set the default music came blasting back on. It was inescapably ill-fitting pop music that belonged as far from a show like this as it could get. The crowd, what totaled to be a maximum of 30 people, was made up mostly of parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents of the opening act.
“Besides the fact that basically nobody showed up and there was horrible pop music blasting at every stop, I would say it was a pretty good practice,” said Murray. From a selfish standpoint, that stood well with me. As someone who has seen HGTR in crowded venues involving lots of drinking and dancing, it’s not so bad to sit back and watch a really good band experiment and play songs that they admittedly have hardly even played together at all yet.
The set lasted a little over an hour and included some of their old songs but also some new tracks such as “Po’ Jenny,” a song that was written two days before the show, and “Walk You Home” which makes you want to swing-dance by starting with a riff reminiscent of Beach Boys then moves faster into a ska-like song.
Throughout the show the guys of HGTR were good sports about the low turnout. As they tuned for their set a couple of them broke into jigs and played guitar along to an earsplitting Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha collaboration that was blasting over the speakers. As uninspiring as the night was, Murray hasn’t given up on UNC Charlotte.
“We only found out [the day of the concert] that it was switched indoors. We sometimes have someone involved with promotion ahead of us before shows like that. We need to maybe find a way to do that and find a better place to play next time we are at UNCC,” said Murray.
My question is, how many times can this happen before bands start giving up on our campus?