Sharps and the Flat

Sheets music and other fine musical notes

Photograph by Ben Singer

By Billy Eye

“Every artist has a tendency to throw himself into the world. To see if he floats.” — Arthur Miller

Enjoyed an outstanding evening of music at the Double Oaks bed and breakfast recently, there to catch singer songwriter Matty Sheets who has a new album out. Built in 1909 at 204 North Mendenhall Street for Harden Thomas Martin, Double Oaks is one of the most beautiful homes in Greensboro, a Colonial Revival mansion with front columns reminiscent of the White House.

After Matty’s set, one of those freak thunderstorms plunged the neighborhood into darkness midway through Katharine Whalen’s set. But the former Squirrel Nut Zippers vocalist was unfazed: She merely switched out her electric for an acoustic guitar and kept right on singing. This was followed by Megan Jean, a self-described “hard-touring, foot-stompin’, guitar-beatin’, upright-lickin’, washboard- scratchin’, banjo-pickin’ madness with a voice like the devil herself.” She was a true revelation, reminding me of Bette Midler as she was emerging in the 1970s. Powerful vocals, emotionally rich songs with a rapier wit Jean described her unsuccessful struggles at getting a record deal between tunes. One of the grave injustices of modern times.

I caught up with Matty Sheets over black coffee and fried-green-tomato sandwiches at Freeman’s Grub & Pub, where I asked about his new recording, Anxiety: The Lay Dog Sessions. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago, Matty recalls how once, “I hated playing shows because I hated people looking at me and seeing that my left arm won’t stop shaking and, you know, I’m missing chords.”  That was then. Now he says he, “wants to say yes to anything to do with music,”

Produced by Jeff Wysosky, Anxiety: The Lay Dog Sessions features a lineup of supporting players that reads like a who’s who of the Greensboro music scene. Laura Jane Vincent, Emily Stewart, Erin Hayes and Ali Fox contributed background vocals and play various instruments. Kelly Frick can be heard on violin while Ben Singer and Jerrod Smith banged out some drum tracks.

“And Taylor Bays came over to play synth on a recording,” Matty adds about our recently departed, beloved musical Puck. “Specifically he had this old, POS synthesizer. Some of the keys are actually broken off. He also brought over a really nice keyboard because he had a bunch of gear but I was like, ‘Play the piece-of-crap one, I love it.’ And Jeff made it sound nasty and distorted. While he was there I got Taylor to sing lead with me on a couple of songs. We had fun.”

This is only one of the recording projects Matty’s involved with currently. “I went from, ‘I don’t know if I can be a musician anymore’ to recording three records this year,” he says. “Myself, Laura Jane Vincent, and Ben Singer have been playing at Common Grounds every Wednesday for the last year. We love it. We said, ‘We’ve got to record this.’ So we just went over to Ben Singer’s where he’s got a bunch of cool recording equipment. It has a very live feeling.”

Longtime collaborator Laura Jane Vincent, who has her own solo musical forays, describes Matty’s style as, “Post-folk if you will. It’s not really your traditional love stories or even character stories. I like when I can’t predict where someone’s lyrics are going to go and I feel like Matty is like that. He’s a great writer and very comfortable performing in front of people.”

That ease in front of an audience may be because Matty has been hosting a Tuesday night Open Mic Night weekly for the last 17 years, currently at Westerwood Tavern. “I really love meeting people at Open Mic,” he says. “I feel like we’re instant friends. Like meeting another band on tour. It’s the best.”

Megan Jean and Vern Kly are producing Matty’s next release, engineered by Tom Troyer at Black Rabbit Audio. “They have some really cool ideas,” Matty says. “They say it’s going to be an Indy pop dance record. So I’m really excited about that.”

Anxiety: The Lazy Dog Sessions is available on all the usual digital platforms like Spotify and Amazon. Meanwhile, Matty’s taken up the ukulele, partly for therapeutic reasons, “It’s good for your brain to learn new instruments.”

* * *

The Tate Street Festival, the city’s longest running street fest, will be held on October 19th from 1 to 7 p.m. Jaime Coggins, who accompanied me for that Double Oaks concert, has been organizing this celebration of local music, arts and crafts since 2001. She tells me it originally got underway in the 1970s, billed as the Noon To Moon Festival, put together by the late Jim Clark. After a hiatus in the 1980s, it’s been a yearly tradition since at least the late-1990s. See you there, Eye never miss it.

* * *

What was once proudly a dive bar is now a live bar, risen like the proverbial phoenix, soaring higher than ever. Dusty Keene, proprietor of the aforementioned Common Grounds, has resuscitated the Flat Iron on Summit downtown. Opening in 1993, for the next two decades the Flat, as it’s affectionately known, was one of the city’s preeminent watering holes.

A dearth of medium-sized music venues prompted Keene to pry open the doors to this venerable institution, giving the place a concretely solid facelift. “When I was growing up in Greensboro, I discovered the music scene here when I was like 14 years old,” Keene tells me about the Flat. “I couldn’t believe how many great bands there were. Then this sort of odd, strange drought happened where there was not really a place for local bands to come up and get their start.”

The Flat Iron has a well-deserved reputation as a musical Valhalla: “When you walk in, you can kind of feel the history,” Keene says, and he’s right. “The idea is to attract national and regional acts then pair them with local talent. Bands here get more exposure, the other acts get more exposure . . .” After a month to work out any kinks, grand opening was just a few weeks ago. Step back in time to see the future.

* * *

Finally, you have the opportunity to enjoy the dulcet tones of Em and Ty on Sunday, October 13th, staged on the back lawn at Double Oaks. See for yourself what a magnificent corner of the world this is. Based in Greensboro, along with their solo efforts, this married folk/rock duo have been performing together for the last five years. Reserve tickets at Beer, wine, and homemade brick-oven pizzas are available for purchase.  OH

Billy Eye is O.G. — Original Greensboro.

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