Rockafellas and Me, Part 4: Big Names, Small Names

With the responses I’ve received from the previous installments of these musical memoirs relating to the many great shows I saw at Rockafellas, my memory was jogged about a few that I have so far left out, so here they are in no particular order.

Some of the artists I was lucky enough to have seen at Rockafellas were pretty big names already, while some went on to become bigger names. One of my favorite shows there ever was when Roger McGuinn played a solo acoustic show—I’m drawing a blank on the year but I think it was around 1988 (He played twice, the second show a year or so later he played solo but with his electric Rickenbacker guitar, not the twelve-string acoustic.), and around a hundred or so people showed up for what was a pretty pricey show for the venue—I think it was fifteen dollars to get in. McGuinn, of course, was the voice of The Byrds, the classic California folk-rock band, and this show was at a time when McGuinn really wasn’t making albums (His first “comeback” album, 1990’s, Back From Rio, was still a couple of years off.).
The best way to describe the cozy, communal vibe at this show is to compare it to a campfire sing-along, where everyone knows the words to all of the songs. McGuinn played the hits, from, “Eight Miles High,” to, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and he played slightly lesser-known songs like, “Chestnut Mare.” That song he included in a little mini-set within the show where he told a story about aliens landing and all sorts of odd thing happening—“Hey, Mr. Spaceman,” was in this portion of the show, also.
The most memorable thing about this particular night, however, may have been how it ended. McGuinn stood outside the front of the club signing anything anyone had in their hands, from old Byrds album covers to the back of my torn yellow ticket stub. When the last person had finally wandered off to find their car, McGuinn himself put his guitar in the back of his Volkswagen Van and drove up Devine Street, all by himself, presumably to the next town and his next gig. I can’t recall another major rock musician I’ve ever been that close to who had absolutely no entourage, no pretentiousness, and just an utterly disarming thankfulness that people still came out to hear him play and sing.

My 21st birthday was spent inside Rockafellas, though I don’t remember much of the band playing that night. I remember who it was—Matt “Guitar” Murphy of the Blues Brothers Band fame—I just don’t remember much because it was 10 cent draft night before 10 pm those days, and my girlfriend at the time bought me enough cups of draft to last me until I puked or passed out, whichever came first. (For the record, I don’t recall doing either.) My parents actually came to town, bought me a birthday dinner down the hill at Yesterday’s, then walked up to Rockafellas with me to buy me my first legal drink. We walked inside, they looked around for a few minutes, bought my drink, and left me there. To this day, the only thing my mother remembers about it was that the floor was sticky.

Faith No More played Rockafellas a couple of times, including one show just as their song, “Epic,” was starting to get some major airplay nationwide. The crowd was a sweaty, over-capacity mass of people, with a mosh pit up front throughout the show. At one point, the pit consisted of a half-dozen girls (Including my future wife, wearing Army boots) and the guys they were with were all positioned around the edge of the pit slackjawed, watching the ladies rocking out.

The grunge epidemic didn’t leave Rockafellas unscathed, with several major figures in the flannel nation playing in the early 1990s. One memorable show included Mudhoney and the Fluid, which was a Sub Pop Records band that for my money was the best live band that label ever had. Another show included Das Damen, Firehose, and Screaming Trees. The Trees went on to fairly big things for a few years, while former Minuteman Mike Watt’s band Firehose didn’t last too long either. Das Damen is the one on that bill that nobody today remembers, yet they were a pretty intense, psychedelic band—not grunge in the least, though.

North Carolinian Don Dixon is best known these days for his reputation as a record producer, but even though he was already producing back in the 1980s, he was also putting out his own albums. One night at Rockafellas, Dixon played with a backing band that included Robert Crenshaw (Marshall’s brother) on drums, Angie Carlson (Let’s Active) on keyboard, Dixon himself on bass, and Spongetone Jamie Hoover on guitar. For the encore, Dixon got back on stage and looked behind him at the paintings of rock icons that hung on the wall above the original stage—pictures of John Lennon, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan. He then proceeded to announce that for the encore the band would play a song from each of the artists in those paintings. With Hoover in the band, “Revolution,” satisfied the Lennon requirement, while “Roll Over Beethoven,” took care of Chuck. I can’t remember what Elvis song they played, but when it came around to Dylan the band was almost stumped. Carlson made the mistake of claiming to know the chorus and melody to “Like a Rolling Stone,” and so Dixon made her play it—she only got through a chorus or two before the band collapsed into, “Hey, we don’t know the rest of this song,” territory.

Lava Love
was a cute, poppy little retro band from Atlanta, all Beach Blanket Bingo attitude and Jan & Dean guitar riffs. The best time I saw them at Rockafellas was when they were playing to a small crowd one evening and a drunk patron kept yelling for various Bon Jovi song requests. Rather than play an actual Bon Jovi song, Esta, the singer, just introduced every song, “This is a Bon Jovi song,” even though it was actually one of their own originals.

More to come….keep the responses coming

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