Winston-Salem: Mum’s the Word
By Corbie Hill
Winston-Salem’s Burglar Fucker, whose descriptors are just as hyphenated as the town’s name (noise-scuzz, psych-punk, space-gutter-jazz), paint their scene as a healthy, supportive underground community that scuttles from one hush-hush venue to the next. In fact, all they can say about the current coolest room in town is that it exists. They won’t talk details, for fear of drawing unwanted attention to an illicit show space.
“I’d be a shit if I ruined the whole thing,” saxophonist Ryan Pritts explains apologetically. But his reluctance makes sense. To him, a tour of Winston-Salem starts in 2008 or 2009, with 444 — a huge Victorian house on Hawthorne Road that hosted weekly underground concerts.
“The basement was 10-foot ceilings, totally soundproof,” he recalls of the spot where art students rented rooms month-to-month. But 444 died an ignoble death when an absentee landlord showed up and found evidence of near-constant shenanigans. Everyone was evicted. Pritts says the new spot is a bigger, better continuation of 444’s vibe.
“It’s just kind of a mum’s-the-word sort of place,” says Burglar Fucker hollerer and baritone guitarist Anthony Petrovic.
As with the best places for music, it also takes word-of-mouth to locate the finest food in Winston.
“If you’re constantly touring, doing that grind, and all you can find is bullshit, this place is just chock-full of great little, tucked away, been-here-for-a-hundred years (restaurants),” Pritts says of his beloved local Southern diners. “They still serve this sandwich on a napkin and you eat standing up at the counter.”
Pritts mentions traditional Southern spots, like the 50-year-old Mr. Barbecue and J S Pulliam Barbeque, which opened in 1910, as well as Bib’s Downtown — a newer spot that boasts a large menu and nontraditional recipes.
Beyond that, Skippy’s serves hot dogs on pretzel rolls, and there are bakeries, Mediterranean cafés, and coffee shops. With spots like Washington Perk, La Providencia, Mooney’s, and Camino Bakery, it sounds like Pritts eats well.
Petrovic, who relocated from San Francisco about two years ago, says it was one of the only proper venues in town that helped endear Winston to him.
“Krankies, it was one of the first places I went here,” Petrovic says of the combination coffee shop, hangout and rock club. But what is now a healthy business was once a derelict industrial building, which Pritts says the owners saved from destruction — or gentrification.
“It’s really warm,” he says. “It’s all wood floors, and big, giant, they-don’t-make-trees-like-this-anymore wood columns. Like an old tobacco warehouse kind of joint.” With a decent PA that’ll get loud and still sound nice, it’s an essential room. Only a few blocks away is the Garage, which has been known for some time as a country-blues and Americana-friendly stage..
Drummer Ian Lockey doesn’t seem to share his bandmates’ optimism. But like Petrovic, he also champions Winston-Salem’s low cost of living. Plus, he says, the town is equidistant to Asheville, Charlotte, and Chapel Hill. “I go to Carrboro to buy music,” he says. “I go to Carrboro to go to shows.”
Still, there’s something about Winston’s semi-legit community spaces that he digs. Lockey mentions Hussein’s, a practice and party spot that holds pot lucks and motorcycle workshops.
It also helps to have Wake Forest and the School of the Arts around. Even if Lockey doesn’t necessarily see his town as a music hub, he says performance art is alive and well via these schools.
“There is a multi-faceted culture here that, if you’re not in Winston, you haven’t really been exposed to,” he says. During the school year, there’s everything from operas and ballets to small plays at little independent spaces, he says.
Pritts says downtown has lost much of the menace it had when he first started coming to Winston in the late 90s. It’s been developed, and the city subsequently updated the streetlights, reversing the decaying, ominous vibe.
“It’s insane what difference that timeframe has made,” he says. “It’s way more acceptable and friendly and okay and safe, even if you’re kind of a young person.”
It isn’t any specific room that keeps these guys here. It’s open-minded locals — though the low cost of living sure doesn’t hurt. Pritts and Petrovic played music in Detroit, during the garage-rock revival that spawned the White Stripes), and Pritts rarely noticed audiences crossing genre lines. He says Winston is a refreshing reversal.
“It’s a really small scene,” says Petrovic. “There’s a couple of rockabilly kids and New Wave dudes and, like, seven metal people. But everyone comes out and is supportive.”