Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Heavy Rebel Weekender Story

  The Heavy Rebel Weekender is an over the top rockabilly/punkabilly/garage/punk festival held every Fourth of July weekend.  Dave Quick and his friends have constructed a great three day gathering of the faithful to the temple of boots, sideburns, Pabst, hot rods, and bona fide rock n roll in the otherwise sleepy town of Winston Salem, North Carolina.  This is always a good place for a band like the Whiskey Daredevils as our twangy slop n’ roll always plays better to folks below the sweet tea line. Plus, the chance to re-connect with friends of ours in bands scattered across the United States is rare in our vagabond lifestyle.  Let me recount to you the first trip the Daredevils made to play the festival a number of years ago.  

  Winston Salem is a small town with limited choices in lodging, but the Festival had set up a discount rate directly across the street from the facility.  Usually we stay at discount hotels like Red Roof or Motel 6, so this would be a chance to relax in relative luxury.  As we planned for the trip, our gregarious former rhythm guitar player Dave Bowling informed us he had old friends that lived in the area with promises of an after party Shangri La…Multiple bedrooms, cases of cold beer glistening in iced down coolers, bar-b-que, local ladies, and a swimming pool.  Visions of a Motley Crue video set danced in our heads as Dave described visions of topless Southern Belles chicken fighting in the pool while we basked in the glory of our triumphantly received set.  A full pig would be rotating on a spit.  Comfortable lounge chairs would host various music luminaries as we would have some sort of mythic jam session playing country standards.  It was all coming together now...

  We made the long drive in our van (The Whiskey Wagon) killing the eight hours listening to a random mix of punk and country music on the iPod.  As it was July 4th weekend, traffic was brutal and the temperature quickly climbed to 90 degrees.  In my head, I always know that Winston Salem in July is going to be like visiting the surface of the sun, but every time I have stepped out of the air conditioned Whiskey Wagon upon arrival, I always think "Fuck!  Is it hot!".  This was no exception.  Our arrival at Heavy Rebel in the early afternoon was greeted with a collective yawn as most of the patrons were struggling to rid themselves of last night’s hangovers with long pulls from Pabst tallboys.  With nothing but time to kill, we cracked open the first of many cold complimentary Pabst in an attempt to beat the heat.

  The scene at Heavy Rebel can be overwhelming.  At any one time a band can be playing on one of the three stages in the large vacated government building used to house the show.  Each stage is in a different room, and a large vendor area sprawls across the main floor.  Our set was later in the evening in “The Dungeon”, a stage downstairs in what used to house a temporary holding cell in the old Courthouse.  People packed the room right up to the stage, and at the risk of sounding immodest, we delivered the goods.  Beer flew everywhere, girls danced on stage, and rock and roll was performed the way it was intended.  Taking our gear off stage in the afterglow of the performance, it was apparent that many of the Daredevils had been “over served”.  Normally this might be a problem, but with our incredible accommodations nearby and at the ready, it really didn’t appear to be an issue.

  All of the Daredevils were scattered throughout the festival enjoying themselves.  Leo had set up camp with the Crank County Daredevils and God-knows-what narcotics.  Bob moved from bar to bar checking out the scene.  Ken came and went from the various stages.  Dave and his friends from Winston Salem sequestered themselves in the main bar, and got down to some serious drinking.  The evening wound to a close as I attempted to catch as many bands as possible.  What a great night… But all nights must end, and so did this one.  It was time to get our gear out of the basement, track down Dave and his friends, and head on over to the after party.  It was when I first started to look for a stage hand to give us the elevator key that I realized something might be amiss…

  Bob shuffled over to me at the loading dock in his characteristic way.  From his posture I could tell something was wrong, and I also knew that there was NO CHANCE he had done anything to remedy the situation.  “Hey… I think our accommodations might have been…compromised.  I haven’t seen Dave in awhile, and I think his friends left a couple hours ago.  I think we might be fucked.”  And he shuffled off.  The problem was now mine.  I would now have to somehow figure out how to get to a house which we had no idea of the location, owner of, or even general direction.  Time appeared to be of the essence, so I tried to find everyone to do a quick load out.  With luck we’d be able to find Dave, get the directions to his friend’s house, and make our way on over.  Ken appeared to be up for the challenge of finding the elevator key holder and getting us out of Dodge.  Bob was dispatched to find Dave.  (Leo was getting high with the Crank County Daredevils.  Those guys were like the vices of 1987 Guns N Roses without the budget.  And I mean that as a compliment.)

   The problem we faced is we couldn’t get the gear up the elevator without the key to turn on the power.  On top of that, we had another band’s gear stacked up in front of us.  When we asked around the venue where the stage hand was with the key, it was rumored he was a) going to be back in a minute b) grabbing a smoke with "Jason" (whoever the fuck that was) or c) I haven’t seen him in an hour.  Needless to say, it took quite some time to sort through all of this nonsense, but with some effort we got moving towards our goal of loading the van.  We wound up loading out the other band’s gear that was lined up in front of us to get to ours, and then finally doing ours as most of the remaining patrons and performers inside were way too drunk to focus on taking care of any gear.  The wheels had come completely off for most of the patrons of Heavy Rebel. 

  Bob appeared on the loading dock with Dave in tow, and it wasn’t pretty.  Dave was in that special drunken condition where you repeat the same thing over and over again.  In this case, he was going to call his friends to see why they had left him (undoubtedly when they realized having this totally shitfaced cowboy and his deadbeat friends over to their house was a horrible idea).  We had no directions, no idea where they lived, and between you and I, probably no invitation over there in the first place.  I think Dave wanted to believe that this Shangri La accomodation existed so badly, he just figured it would all somehow organically come together in the mists of the end of the night.  This was not the case.  We had nothing.

  I pulled out of the parking lot at 0300am with the plan of pulling over at the first chance for a hotel.  We had seen literally dozens of hotels off the highway on our way into town, so how tough could it be to find lodging?  I drove north with Bob as co-pilot as Leo and Dave drunkenly screamed for us to stop for a pizza.  Ken immediately fell fast asleep in “the possum seat” of the very back of the van.  Thankfully a Red Roof Inn appeared on the horizon, and I exited.  No vacancy.  Next door a Holiday Inn. No vacancy.

  Undeterred, I decided to continue North on the highway.  Surely every hotel in North Carolina couldn’t be full, could it?  It was at our third stop at a forlourn Knights Inn when we encountered a sad old man in a sour dress shirt smoking a cigarette outside his little motel office.  “There isn’t an open room between here and West Virginia.  There’s a Jehova Witness convention in Winston Salem this weekend.  They got every room off of I-75.”  This was obviously very bad news.  Making matters more depressing was that by this time Dave and Leo had joined Ken in peaceful slumber in the back of the van.  Bob and I were running out of steam, running out of options, and found ourselves in the unlikely position of being fucked over by a bunch of Jehovah Witnesses.

   “Your only chance might be to cut across Route 19, take 352, and cut up Old Route 44 and see if Rusty’s got a room open.  He’s my Brother In Law, and he’s got a little motel off the beaten path.  It’s about 10 minutes up the way.”

   With no other choice, we drove off into the rural North Carolina night looking for “Rusty’s”.  This would have been a simple trip at Noon.  It wasn’t so easy at 4am with a low fog forming, a bunch of Pabst Tall Boys working their way out of your system, and a complete lack of sleep.  Your mind starts to get a little sluggish.  Bob and I conferred on rights, lefts, double backs, and circle arounds as the van careened around the countryside.  Remarkably, we approached the saddest little motel of all time 25 minutes later.  Yes, it was Rusty’s.

  Abandoned cars mixed with cheap campers, and redneck chariots (aka Old Chevy Novas, Grand Ams, and various domestic pick up trucks in varying states of disrepair).  A satellite dish sat on its side abandoned covered with kudzu.  A vending machine with vintage 1970s Pepsi logo flickered as moths and strange insects swirled around it.  At this point I would sleep anywhere, but this scene still gave me pause.  “Bob, go see if they have a room.”

 “I’m not going over there.  You go!”

   Fuck…So I climb out of the van and ring the doorbell clumsily attached to the motel office window.  I ring it again.  Finally a scruffy good old boy in a tattered robe appears in the window scratching his three day old facial growth.  “I ain’t got no rooms.  We full up.”  It was then I realized we had sunk as low as possible from our glory of rocking Heavy Rebel a mere five hours before.  I came to a moment of clarity.  I realized I was disappointed that I couldn’t sleep at Rusty’s.  I was beyond disappointed.  I was crushed.  This was bad.  I had bottomed out.                        

  The van crunched the gravel of the dirt parking lot as we pulled out.  Neither Bob or I had any clue on how to get back to the highway.  We had taken so many turns, and were so overtired, our brains were useless.  We had no sense of direction, no idea where we were, and no idea of where to go.  The only plan was to keep moving and hope conditions improved.  Through all of this, Dave/Leo/Ken slept on, never stirring.

  I made the executive decision to drive north and hope for the best.  Within minutes I realized none of the terrain looked even vaguely familiar, we were lost, and committed to driving in this direction until something pointed us in another path.  A patchy fog had now completely settled into the hilly landscape.  I struggled to keep the van on the road as my body screamed for sleep.  Sleep whispered to me…yearned to cradle me in its warm embrace…and allow me to drive the van into a tree as I slept behind the wheel.

  The abandoned roadway came to a crossroads without almost any warning.  A blinking yellow light and a Sunoco station were the first signs of life we had seen in what seemed like forever.  I slammed on the brakes, and we slid into the station’s parking lot.  I went for the late night driver’s friend, the 24oz Mountain Dew wide mouth, and hoped for directions from the heavy lidded overweight woman manning the register.  Unfortunately she was no help. Whatsoever.  It was almost as if she didn't understand what language I was speaking.  She made a slight wheezing sound as I waited for any response to my questions.  There was nothing.  I turned and walked out.  I stood in the parking lot bathed in the yellow blinking light in a dreamlike state of overtiredness.  It felt like the end of a long acid trip.

  The van door slid open and Leo climbed out without a word.  He padded into the mini mart for what I guessed to be one of his patented “road game” shits.  Bob smoked a cigarette and shuffled over.  “Man, this sucks.  We’re totally fucked and Dave is out cold.”  Leo wordlessly emerged from the station, climbed back in the van, and went immediately back to sleep.  With no other choice, I kept driving.

  The fog had worsened during our brief stop at the Sunoco.  We headed into a small town that wasn’t indicated on any road sign.  The moon shone through the fog to create an almost comically spooky backlight to the horizon line.  A sudden movement a quarter mile ahead caught my eye.  Scampering across the road in an odd gait was a large dog.  But, it was too big and moved in a way I wouldn’t associate with a dog.  What the hell was it?  It wasn’t a coyote, but seemed to be a four legged mammal of some kind.  As my brain struggled with the concept of it looking like a werewolf, we roared by the spot where the animal had crossed the road.  I had never seen anything like it in the zoo much less the wild.

 “Bob…Did you see that?”

“You mean that werewolf looking thing?”

"What the fuck was that?"

  The road then started to make radical hairpin turns as the engine screamed in protest heading up foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  The fog grew heavier and heavier as I struggled to keep us on the road.  The absurdity of the situation and my complete over tiredness overcame me.  I started maniacally laughing as Bob looked over at me half horrified/half amused.  When it seemed like it couldn’t go on any longer, we crested the mountain and careened down the side.  Incredibly, we had stumbled back into the highway.  At 5:15 am I pulled into a parking lot of a Best Western and headed inside for a room.  Quickly I was dispatched from the hotel and back to the van. 

“What happened?”

“The bad news is they don’t have any rooms. The good news is we’re in Virginia.”

  With absolutely no energy left, Bob and I sat upright in the front seats and tried to catch a little sleep.  Dave has many redeeming qualities.  He’s funny, generous, and charming.  He also has horrible nightmares and talks in his sleep.  It couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes of sweet sleep passed out upright in the driver’s seat when it started.  “Oh God!  Oh Sweet Jesus No!!!  Noooooo!!!!  Oh God!!!  Oh God!!!” at full volume.  This went on and off until mercifully the sun rose about 30 minutes later.  Ken and Leo woke up reasonably refreshed and drove us the rest of the way home.

  We played Heavy Rebel the following year.  I booked a room at the Marriot.           



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