Monday, September 14, 2015

Back in the ’90s: The Charlotte music scene

From September 2015 Issue Of Tangents Magazine

The way that many people viewed the Charlotte music scene was put in motion on September 18th of 1990, when GWAR performed at the 4808 Club. Local police arrested band frontman Dave Brockie and club owner Michael Plumides on obscenity charges. In statements given to the media after the arrests, the arresting officers made themselves and the city look like the prudish, backwards southern city that Charlotte was struggling to emerge from. There was also more to the arrest than just that night’s entertainment. It has since been suggested that the arrest was motivated by another club owner to remove his competition, and for the police to remove another music venue that they saw as a noisy nuisance. This event, along with other factors, kept many new and emerging artists from making stops in Charlotte. Despite this, the local music scene continued to thrive and find outlets as the decade pushed on.

Rock & Roll bands from Charlotte were already known to many as the decade began. Fetchin’ Bones, led by Hope Nicholls, had recorded three albums for Capitol Records before they broke up in 1990. The Spongetones saw their Beatlesque pop distributed by Sony Records in Japan. ANTiSEEN would carry their southern punk message throughout the world during the 1990s. Animal Bag would record two albums for Mercury Records and tour throughout the Southeast. Other bands that emerged from the Charlotte area during the first part of the decade included Thurn & Taxis, Hardsoul Poets, Blind Dates, Neglected Sheep, Kudzu Ganja, and many others.

Music venues in Charlotte kept changing throughout the decade. Local bands played at mainstays like the Double Door Inn and the Milestone Club. Many of the emerging Rock & Roll bands in town played places like the 4808 Club, the Pterodactyl Club, Jeremiah’s, and Amos’ (in its original location). Other smaller venues, such as Fat City, the Moon Room, and Jack Straw’s would also cater to local musicians. Larger venues, such as what was then the new Charlotte Coliseum, the old Coliseum (now known as Bojangles Coliseum), Ovens Auditorium, and Blockbuster Pavilion continued to draw national acts, but rarely featured local acts. There were also no music venues in the downtown area with the exception of Spirit Square. The venue featured touring theater and musical acts, such as Johnny Cash in 1994, and occasionally featured local musicians. The loss of festivals such as Springfest and Charlotte Jazzfest gave way to more regionalized festivals such as Center Cityfest.

During the 1990s, North Carolina’s music scene began to get more national notice. The rise of Chapel Hill’s alternative rock scene, and the emergence of record labels such as Merge Records and Mammoth Records, drew a lot of attention to the Triangle area of the state. By the mid-1990s, a number of Chapel Hill-based bands had songs on the radio. Ben Folds Five, Southern Culture On The Skids, Squirrel Nut Zippers and others showed one could be based out of North Carolina and hit the national charts. With that backdrop, a number of record labels came calling to Charlotte.

Sire Records alone signed three Charlotte bands during this time. This included Sugarsmack, led by former Fetchin’ Bones frontwoman Hope Nicholls, as well as Muscadine, which spawned future solo stars Jonathan Wilson and Benji Hughes. Jolene, which had emerged from Hardsoul Poets, also released one album on Sire, with their single “Pensacola” getting a good amount of national airplay. Also releasing major label albums during this time was Lustre, who formerly known as Shiner. Other groups such as Sound Of Mine, Spite, Come On Thunderchild, Sunny Ledford, Lou Ford, and Laburnum also received nationwide distribution through various record labels. The Charlotte music scene was especially strong during the mid-1990s, with bands such as Doubting Thomas, 2nd Skin (later known as Violet Strange), It Could Be Nothing, My So-Called Band, Peralta, X-Periment, Five Times Down, Poprocket, Major Nelson, Mercury Dime, David Childers, Gideon Smith, Draggin’ Flowers, Ublisch and others vying for listeners eager to hear the next new sound.

Despite the endless stream of bands in the Charlotte area during this time, it took longer for the city to provide the amount of venues necessary to support all of this music. Like many other music scenes, there was not always a lot of crossover with bands, and their various genres. Bands like ANTiSEEN and Spite might attract punk and metal fans to Tabloids, while rock and Americana fans might see their favorite bands at the Double Door Inn. If these bands played the same venues, such at Fat City or Tremont Music Hall, they rarely played together. For multi-genre acts such as X-Periment and Peralta, building up an audience took time. Much like the city itself, Charlotte’s music scene was just beginning to expand its views on where to go, and what was available to them. In time, the venues and audiences began to catch up to that need.

Clubs like the Pterodactyl gave way to venues such as the Baha Club and more underground venues like the Septic Tank. Some venues, like Tabloids, Cafe Dada, the Capri Theater, Atlantic Beer & Ice and others, came and went in a matter of a couple of years. New and larger venues for Rock & Roll music began to emerge, such as Tremont Music Hall when it opened in 1995. The Neighborhood Theater opened in 1997, utilizing a former movie theater that had originally opened in 1945. In another part of town the Visulite Theater, which had originally opened in 1939, opened as a music venue in 1999.

Looking back, the music scene in Charlotte during the 1990s had a lot to offer, and the quality of that music still holds up with any music scene during that time. The 1990s brought a lot of change and eventual growth to Charlotte, and the music reflected those times. With bands such as Hardsoul Poets and Fetchin Bones holding sellout reunion shows in recent years, the proof is there that people were listening to what was being created, and still care about it, all these years on.

-Daniel Coston


  1. Peralta was one of my favorite "local" bands in the nineties. I would go see them almost every time they played in Greensboro.

  2. And let's not forget about Rocky's, too, up the street from Jeremiah's. I once interviewed Keith Caputo of Life of Agony in the lobby there, but I had to wait until he finished dinner at the Olive Garden next door! Nice to see you here, my Indie File alumnus!

    1. I worked at Rocky's and was glad you mentioned the venue.

    2. Was Rocky’s the club that where the entrance was towards the back of the building? Like behind the Piece Goods Shop?

    3. Was Rocky’s the club that where the entrance was towards the back of the building? Like behind the Piece Goods Shop?

    4. Was Rocky’s the club that where the entrance was towards the back of the building? Like behind the Piece Goods Shop?

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  5. Daniel, my husband collected Springfest tshirts for years back in the day. Brand new. Know of anyone interested in them?

  6. Let's not forget about The Magpies!