Tag Archives: The Blue Note Grill

Hitting the Right Notes







So excited to have been asked to write an “ode to the Blue Note Grill” for Durham Magazine. Easiest assignment EVER!

Enjoy, y’all!

Packin’ Light – Josh Preslar Band

Josh Preslar newI’m confessing right up front that Josh and the band are personal friends and that I worried a little when Josh asked me to write a review. Live, they are as much fun and as tight as any national touring band out there. What if that didn’t translate to a record? What if I didn’t like the album? What would I have to say? Needless worry.

If Josh Preslar can pack the house and have everyone near ‘bout hanging from the rafters song after song, it stands to reason that he can pack an album. He’s done just that with his new CD, and don’t let the title fool you.

Packin’ Light is an eleven-song collection stacked end-to-end with original tunes tastefully played by his “house band,” who just happen to be a handful of Triangle favorites – T.A. James (bass and guitar), Chuck Cotton (drums), Clark Stern (keyboards), and Mike “Howlin’ Wind” Davis (harmonica/vocals). With special guests Tad Walters (harmonica), David Richards (trumpet, Tim Smith (tenor sax), Neal Chapman (guitar) and Chris Bennett (guitar) sitting in, he really did turn the studio into a juke joint. And those of us who are regular fans know exactly what that means.

Preslar, a generous front man with a guitar style and voice as smooth and caressive as a fine bourbon (not to mention an enviable hat collection) lets each of his players shine throughout, often stepping back and sharing guitar space with James, Chapman, and Bennett.  Part of Preslar’s talent, aside from his vocal and guitar playing, is his ability to manage a room full of multi-instrumentalists and still make everything come out sounding spare and full all at the same time. It’s pure musical joy to hear the results when he seamlessly and expertly moves each into the spotlight.


Favorite cuts? “Housekeepin’.”  It’s basic relationship truth that gets in a groove you don’t want to leave. Leave that useless stuff behind. As long as it is, at nearly 6 and a half minutes, you don’t really want it end.  “Josh’s Boogie” feels good from the first note to the last. On second thought, don’t make me pick. The CD has been playing in my car and house for 4 solid weeks and, with each listen, my appreciation for the collection grows.

A self-proclaimed road warrior, Preslar’s been playing blues all his life and loves being out with a band. Packin’ Light is a reverent testament to the “grab what you need and it better fit in a matchbox or it’s getting left behind” simplicity of early blues along with the necessity of being able to hit the road traveling light whenever the notion strikes.

The songs on Packin’ Light tell a story. Whether it’s a town or a woman who talks too much or a dusty broom, life is often about what you leave behind in search of what’s in front of you.  Musically, it’s also a serious nod to the often miss-attributed Miles Davis quote “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”

The Josh Preslar Band knows exactly which ones those are and the wisdom to know just which to leave behind.

Catch Josh Preslar Band at one of these upcoming CD release shows
Sat., June 6, 2015 – Walker’s Bar, Greensboro, NC
Sat., June 13, 2015 – Rock Harbor Grill, Apex NC
Fri., June 26, 2015 – Blue Note Grill, Durham, NC

Take a listen on ReverbNation!

Brice Street Band = Good Vibrations + Life on Shuffle

I love fall. Maybe because it’s the season of my birth. My energy level crackles and I get incredibly nostalgic. Something uncontainable gets let loose at exactly the same time as I’m craving familiarity.

When I heard that Brice Street Band was playing in Durham, it was as if the 70’s snuck right up and tapped me on the shoulder. If I close my eyes just right, I can almost conjure up the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in Chapel Hill. Like when Halloween meant families and their children came to Fowler’s parking lot at the foot of Mallette Street to ride on the back of a fire truck. Orchestrating ways to sneak on to campus every fall to hear Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts play at Granville Towers or some frat party. All those years of UNC’s Jubilee music festival that everyone still talks about with reverent pride. Cat’s Cradle opened and Robbin’s Department Store became Town Hall offering perfect venues for local area bands like Arrogance, Southwing, Heartwood, Bro T. Holla, and Brice Street Band, who trucked over regularly from Greensboro. Town Hall regulars and favorites, though not local, were Blackhawk/Hi Ho Silver and Flood. Seeing several of these bands reunite is a real treat, especially to watch the fun they are clearly having. Hearing them is even better. So what if they aren’t all intact with exactly the same members? (Aside: stay tuned for a possible Southwing gig, along with a column, in February.)

I wish my camera and I had done a better job of documenting those days.

Brice Street Band

Brice Street Band

But back to Brice Street Band. Throughout the 70’s, In hopes of a record deal, they focused on the studio, playing out only a couple of times a week. But a record deal doesn’t come without a following, which they built by hitting the predictable college circuit which included Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Greenville, plus every beach joint between Wrightsville and Virginia Beach. Before long, they were filling clubs everywhere they went becoming known for their Beach Boys covers.

When I asked Jack Atchison (drums and lead vocals) if there was a single most memorable night playing in Chapel Hill in the 70’s, he laughed and reminded me of their very first booking at Town Hall. The place was fairly new and the entrance still had the left over department store glassed-in window displays. While playing “Gimme Shelter,” a handful of bikers got in a fight out front and someone got thrown through the windows. “We evoked the spirit of Altamont,” said Jack, laughing at the memory. I was there. Town Hall owner Michael Strong ultimately got them their album deal with the Record Bar’s fledgling label, Dolphin Records and they would record two albums Rise up in the Night (1980) and Imagination (1983).

Though the original band was all but disbanded by 1986, Atchison would keep Brice Street alive and well with varying members, most recently with another original member, Doug Dennis (bass and vocals), and newest addition Jack King (guitar and vocals). But don’t for a second discount the power of a trio. Just like back then, they rock the house and pack them in still performing all those songs that make you get up out of your chair and dance like no one is watching – Van Morrison, ZZ Top, Hendrix, Cream, The Police, and, yes, they still do the Beach Boys. Get out there this weekend and revisit. As Van would so eloquently say “my, how you have grown.”

BNG1Sat. Nov. 9
Brice Street Band
8pm – $8
The Blue Note Grill
4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 401-1979

We are not even going to talk about those 18 days in the hospital. Not yet anyway.
Music on ShuffleLife on shuffle
No Woman, No Cry (Bob Marley & the Wailers)
Right as Rain (Adele)
It Ain’t Right (John Mayall & the Blues Breakers)
Gravity/Falling Down Again (Alejandro Escovedo)
November Blue (The Avett Bros.)

What’s New? Spring? Speakers? Sofas? Shuffle?

Where is spring? My toes are cold.  I can hear my flip-flops whimpering from behind the closet door.

BNG1One Saturday in March

Morning at my favorite table at the Blue Note Grill talking to Bill.

No, I’m not here watching live music or drinking before noon, I say, because I can hear you wondering.  Over the last two years, I’ve been hearing the speakers in my car snap-crackle-pop. Enough to drive a music lover bonkers. So I started a stash – $5 here, $10 there. Good thing too, because then the CD player started skipping. Uh-oh. Not good, and likely not cheap.  $10 here, $20 there.  Then I discovered Auto Acoustics lives right behind BNG. And who am I to ignore a sign when I see – or hear – one?

Speaker inauguration song:  Midnight in Harlem (Tedeschi Trucks Band)

sofa2One Saturday in April

Riding in a red truck with Keith.  Looking at sofas at consignment stores since there is not a real furniture store between here and Raleigh.

Keith: You know you can buy sofas online, right?
Me:  Are you crazy? I’m not buying a sofa online.  <— I say to the guy I met online.
Keith:  (silence for about 20 seconds too long)
Me:  (silence followed by)  wow … I’d get a man online, but not a sofa.
Guitars_McGuinn1One Friday in May

I’ve talked about interviewing Roger McGuinn so much, even I’m sick of hearing me go on and on about it.  Just go read the interview, ya’ hear?
Here’s what ran in Chapel Hill Magazine’s The WEEKLY:  http://www.chapelhillmagazine.com/blogs/chapel-hill-magazine-blog/byrd-call/

Here’s what ran in my head before an editor got to it:

The show was amazing. I can’t remember the last time I had goosebumps at a music show.  Oh, wait, it was Itzak Perlman and Pinkus Zukerman.
ShuffleSofa Shopping Shuffle:
Down on Me (Janis Joplin)
Torn & Frayed (Stones)
Red House (Jimi Hendrix)
Please Call Home (Allman Bros.)

love + love x 32 years = love again

I don’t even know where to start, but …  I. Fell. In. Love. Twice.  I know I’m about to go out of order here, but when have I ever been one to do what’s expected?  Ever? _______________________________________________________ The 2nd Falling (aka The Epiphany)  Early afternoon Saturday, May 19 The Music Loft Carrboro, NC with Finney I spy with my little eye … a set of used conga drums. Black and shiny. Drawn like a raven to bling that glints and sparkles, I circle. I thump. Go through the want v. need discussion in my head. Circle some more. Tap. Sigh. Covet. Mine. The price tag dangles provocatively. Cost includes the stand and travel bags, which is a good thing ’cause I’m surely going to need those when I go on the road with Santana.  That thought makes me laugh at myself out loud. The musician behind the counter and Finney, who is deep in bass accessories, turn to look at me. Suddenly it hits me. All this time … the boomerang drummer mojo was pointing me toward PLAYING drums, not playing WITH drummers. Instruments of mass percussion have been hollering at me my entire life and I wasn’t listening. No. They didn’t come live with me yet, and I’m fighting the urge. Yay’s or nay’s? ________________________________________________________ The 1st Falling (aka what really could be considered The 2nd Falling if you want to get technical about these things) Late evening Tuesday, April 2 What goes around … comes right back ‘atcha.  Back in February, right around V Day, I got up on my lovelorn high horse and rode around a bit.  It feels funny quoting me, but if you can’t quote yourself, then who? “From the view from my heart, I’ve been lucky in love.  Lucky enough to have fallen world-spinning, vision-blinding, crazy-making in love three (okay, five, maybe six) times in my life.  You could say it’s unlucky that I’m not with any of them, but that would diminish the original statement.  Lucky that I’m still good friends with almost all of them … those that are still alive with a sense of humor and forgiveness anyway. A couple who left a sweet space in my heart just went permanently missing. The bass player with the crooked smile and the long blonde hair. The cowboy D.J with a heart of gold and a voice to melt … well … anything, including me.  The one from art school that broke my heart in a gazillion pieces. He’ll surface one day. I just feel it. ” Exactly 50 days later. My bestie in Richmond calls. “Guess who I’ve just spent 2 hours with?”  Never a big fan of guessing games, I made some attempts knowing that she’d never be able to out-wait my wrong answers before the name of the “one from art school” rolled off her tongue. “And he’s looking for you.” My heart did some crazy acrobatics and my brain turned to puffed rice. The three of us were roommates together way back in the early 70’s when I was studying painting at VCU.  One of us (he and I can’t remember who, but it was probably me) picked the other up in a bar. After all, he was exactly my long-dark-hair-mustachio’d type.  A bad boy bass player (yep, I’m recognizing a type here).  He just never went home after that first night; that’s how he became a roommate.  We pulled my twin bed mattress underneath the bay window so we could see the stars and lay there every night talking ’til dawn about everything under the sun, moon, and stars while listening to 8-tracks  (Peaceful Easy Feeling,  South City Midnight Lady, Can’t You See,  Dream On, etc.) and an old Roberts reel-to-reel.  He was my first reckless love and he was trouble plenty. The last time I saw him was in Nashville 1980 when I watched him ride off back to Macon on his big blue Harley. That’s not all that long ago, right? Armed with a phone number, a glass of Vinho Verde, and a healthy sprinkling of cautious curiosity, I dialed.  Two hours later and something I didn’t see coming was going on.  Or fixin’ to.  For the next ten days and ten nights we spent two or more hours every night on phones in separate beds under windows looking at stars talking about everything under the sun = crazy time. Then 170 miles, 38 songs on the IPOD, up I-85/I-95 into the arms of a man who years before at the age of 23 made the ultimate sacrifice for me.  Familiar, as if 32 years was really just last week, we held hands and jumped right over that edge one more time.  Me and Finney … all giggly and goofy like teenagers.  Go figure. On second thought, don’t.  Just let it be. _______________________________________________________

The Blue Note Grill X 3 Last week was a 3 night Blue Note Grill week starting with EG Kight. Goodness gracious, can that lady sing and play guitar!  From the first note of “At Last” I got chills and had to hold back tears (some of which had to do with sitting there with this long-lost, newly revived love).   We had such a good time, I dragged him back on Friday and Saturday night. The BNG is my second living room.  Ok, ok, I know that it’s really Bill and Andrea’s living room, but they seem content to share it with the likes of me and all the other regulars.  I keep threatening to move into the Boom-Boom Room (their back room.)  Thank you both for letting us hang out and feed our musical souls and mouths!  By the way, that bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog with chili and slaw is a wonderous thing. COMING UP AT BNG and you don’t want to miss this!

WillFest II

WILLFEST II, A Musical Celebration & Jam Sunday, June 3 3-8pm @ The Blue Note Grill in Durham Mike “Howlin’ Wind” Davis, harp player extraordinaire sent this open invitation: Will McFarlane’s big six-o birthday bash, jam and 2nd annual potluck dinner. Come early and bring your favorite dish. Free admission and specially priced birthday drink specials will be available.  Musicians please bring your instruments and come early to sign up. Music begins at 3pm. Equipment will be provided. Come rain or shine it will be fine. See y’all there!!! Peace and love, Howlin Wind *Will played with Bonnie Raitt and was a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. It’s free, like Mike said, but donations are encouraged to defray travel costs. _________________________________________________________ Shuffling through love in 3/4 time (flashbacks & flashforwards)  Click the links to open YouTube! Conversation (Atlanta Rhythm Section) Walkin’ to my Baby (The Fabulous Thunderbirds) Still Alive & Well (Johnny Winter) Moondance (Van Morrison) Can’t You See (Marshall Tucker Band)

Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees + the name game redux + shrimp & grits throwdown

We’re Too Busy Singing …
My friend Mississippi posted on Facebook this morning “Davey Jones has died. I thought the woman was joking when she told me, but then I saw her face and now I’m a bereaver.”   That made me smile so I’m stealing it.

Yesterday when I heard, I couldn’t ignore the ripple of sadness.

There goes yet another puzzle piece of my youth.  Got me puzzling about all the pieces. And how we often think they’re all in place, only to see them come undone.  Forcing new pieces in to the missing space just doesn’t work. What happens to us when we lose those pieces that have been so firmly in place for so long?

Misspent or not, my life was held in place by music.  Notice I didn’t say grounded … grounded was what happened when you got in trouble.  My parents, frequent grounders of me, did not like The Rolling Stones, but they loved the wholesome Monkees. Ha … little did they know.  They even took us  … well … I already wrote about this and couldn’t say it any better with new words, so I’m quoting/stealing from myself:

“But back to Dad … who Christmas of 1967 gave us four kids two tickets each, and piled eight kids in a car to see the Monkees in Winston-Salem, only to find me sitting out in the hall in a euphoric haze while the Monkees sugar-popped away inside. “You’re missing the Monkees,” he said. The opening act was Jimi Hendrix and I was now “experienced.” Had seen God. At seventeen, I was too young to recognize the gris-gris that Mitch Mitchell was throwing out there, but I caught it anyway. At the crossroads, I went left and never looked back.”
-excerpt from Come They Told Me. dpm 2011

My IPod carries a good portion of the soundtrack of my life – past and present. Most of it anyway … though there’s not a Monkee’s song to be found. Yet. But I still find myself singing along to “Daydream Believer,” and “I’m a Believer” whenever I hear them.  One of my favorites was the rarely, if ever heard, “I Wanna Be Free.”

Michael Nesmith

I was a Michael Nesmith fan. I don’t know why I liked that wool cap, but I did. He was my first “type” and would come to define the kinds of guys that made my knees weak and my resolve even weaker,  especially after he grew a moustache and beard.  Gotta love a man with a beautiful Gretsch guitar.

His mother invented Liquid Paper.

I even gave my virginity to a Michael Nesmith look-alike who worked at Harry’s on Franklin Street.  Whenever I saw a picture of Nesmith, it took me back to the note that Jim (the clone) wrote on an order pad sheet and handed to me when he came to take our order …  “coffee, tea, or me?”  I ordered and we went to his place.  I spent the whole time pretending it was Michael Nesmith. I still have that note.  No amount of White-Out will ever erase that.

Long story short. AT&T accidentally cut my phone line doing an install. Almost 2 weeks to get them back.  Assigned repair tech calls this  morning to confirm that he’ll be here between 1 & 6pm.  What’s his name?  Robert.

Lordy, Lordy … another phenomTuesday night blues jam at The Blue Note Grill!  Trust me. Just go. Be amazed.


After putting on my best  Shrimp & Grits Throwdown face for this sold-out event at The Carolina Inn here in Chapel Hill, I was ready to mingle with  5 of my favorite celebrity judges, 7 of my favorite local chefs, and over 225 guests. Can you  imagine anything other than a mouthwatering afternoon? I was even considering taking my favorite spoon, but that would verge on tacky.

We judges, sequestered in the Sun Room with bottles of wine and plates of cheese, were warned that plates would come every 7 minutes. And come they did … each a unique interpretation.  Or course we tried to match each dish to the participating chefs.  And the winner was Trey Cleveland from Top of the Hill. Following close on his heels by only one point was Jimmy Reale, Carolina Crossroads/The Carolina Inn.  Fan favorite went to Vimala Rajendran/Vimala’s Curry Blossom Café whose version was full of palate-teasing Indian spiciness.

The event raised it’s goal of $2,000 for TABLE, Inc., serving Chapel Hill and Carrboro children at risk for hunger.

Music on Shuffle