Located on Charlotte's west side, more Southern-fried than gentrified, the Milestone Club remains a magnet for adventurous, live music-goers. The end of this month is, believe it or not, the club's 40th anniversary. For the uninitiated, the Milestone is located on Tuckaseegee Road, next door to the Last Pitcher Show. It's most definitely Charlotte's answer to New York's no longer living but legendary CBGB's.
It's a tremendous sounding room for live music, capacity maybe 150, great for cutting edge music -- local, regional, national and imported, whatever your taste, week after week, year after year. It's a place to hear music in an intimate environment before the performers get famous, or while they're at their creative best, minus the crowds and without Ticketron. Generally priced under $10, you can see the world's greatest bands before anyone else. One example, R.E.M. played the Milestone on their first tour out of Athens. "Maybe before they even used the name R.E.M.," says current manager Neal MF Harper. Harper runs the club while partner Philip Shive does the booking.
Harper says long-time owner Bill Flowers gave him his big break. "I wouldn't be running the Milestone if it wasn't for Bill," he says. "He let me set up the sound when I was just 16. There was always something crazy happening there."
The most famous Milestone story was when R.E.M. first toured. They had no money, so Flowers let the band sleep for free on the stage. Only problem with that was he locked them in and the door can only be unlocked from the outside. Needless to say, the fellows were a little disturbed upon realizing they couldn't get out, so eventually they busted out. According to Neal, "That was around 1984 -- their first tour. Three stops in Georgia, one in South Carolina, then Charlotte and Chapel Hill." According to Neal, R.E.M.'s manager recently was reported saying about the Milestone, "Yeah we love that place. It's a proving ground for bands coming up in the South."
Even if you don't know the bands, you can still hear cool sounds ranging from head-banging metal to punk to folk to Andy the Door Bum, who runs the door on weekends and actually made a recording there while checking ID's. "The Door Booth Album" (on Neal's Afterbirth Casserole label) was recorded at the Milestone door alcove. According to him and many others, "The Milestone changed my life. Been working there now four-and-a-half years. Made my first recording there and it changed my life. We recorded in the door alcove, which was a pain because everyone kept coming in and we had to keep stopping." Andy continues, "Anyway, it changed my life because now I make music all the time and it's just great. The Milestone made it possible."
Wandering thru the Milestone early, on a Friday night, can make you feel like an anthropologist, clipboard in hand, unearthing artifacts while noting the hieroglyphic-like graffiti covering the walls. Between shots of whiskey and Jagermeister, Harper takes me to a back corner proudly showing me the Michael Stipe poem written on the wall:
"In these tears
I cry a bit
More and more
I shout for forgiveness
From these sins"
Visiting the club on an October night, soaking in the smoky atmosphere, I listen to a passionate set by local Charlotte band Grown Up Avenger Stuff. Wanna talk to the band? Sure, no problem at the Milestone. Next up was M.E.G.O, louder than God, who made the reinforced floors and walls vibrate.
Couple of nights later, I saw the screechy Holy Smokes and heard the good time sounds of Appalucia, playing jug band music, minus the jug. Should have stayed for Josh Roberts and the Hinges but that's how the Milestone goes; catch as many bands as you like on any given night; some are great, some are memorable and some not. And there's always time to throw down a few cold ones nearby at the bar.
Here's my list of favorites I've seen there ... My all-time favorite was watching Mo Tucker, that's Maureen Tucker, the drummer with the Velvet Underground, from about five feet away, backed by the incredible Half Japanese. Other great shows were the Bad Livers, the Melvins, the Go-Go's and the Brains ("Money Changes Everything"). I also liked the Lunachicks, Superchunk, Steel Pole Bathtub, Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns, the Accelerators and of course Eugene Chadbourne. (and his electric rake!)
The best combo show was the late Hasil Adkins, Southern Culture on the Skids and Cowboy Mouth. Other memorable shows were They Might Be Giants, Edie Brickell (Mrs. Paul Simon) and the New Bohemians, Swervedriver, Hawkwind, the tragic duo House of Freaks and the Bevis Frond. I saw Hole, along with maybe 10 others, but the set was short and the gargling-with-glass-throated Courtney Love spent half the night grousing at the bar complaining about Charlotte not being L.A. Well, some people never change. Nirvana played the Milestone in 1990.