Billy Mellon is well-known around town for his fine-dining establishment, Manna, now going on its third year of business in Wilmington’s ever-evolving culinary scene. Before he managed and operated his own restaurant, he honed his skills behind the bar and did more than simply serve up cocktails to the masses. He worked toward bringing in great music at Bella Festa, once located beside Manna (then known as the restaurant Tango du Chat, where Mellon also worked). Since Bella Festa closed, Mellon not only moved up in the entrepreneurial world, he also continued to covet the local arts and music scene, founding Wilmington Unplugged, which provides an intimate “listening room” experience for fans who want to hone in on the musicality of every band or performer lucky enough to grace the stage. Now, thanks to Mellon’s newest upstart, Bourgie Nights—in Bella Festa’s old digs, nonetheless—once again Mellon’s love for solid, great music will have a place to shine.
“We won’t do music all the time,” Mellon concedes. Instead, he plans on being quite selective with whom the venue hosts, much like Wilmington Unplugged. “Initially, I want to focus on bringing great acts here,” he continues. “Likely, we’ll be doing four or five shows per month.” He also will stream homemade videos on the projection screen and play music through their system on nights they are band-free. “Hopefully, we’ll be more of a special musical event venue than one that books every night,” Mellon says. “I’ve done that before and it can wear on you.”
Mellon will host Wilmington Unplugged in the lounge, which has been outfitted in sound thanks to the help of Owen Dollar. Mellon wants to ensure audiences are provided the best in quality all-around. Thus Bourgie Nights essentially will be Manna’s answer to the craft-cocktail lounge. Here, Manna’s already praised mixologists will be bringing their magic potions to all, not just the patrons of Manna.
“We’ll focus a lot on the history of cocktails and spirits,” Mellon says. “We’ll do informal and formal tastings, and I want a more utilitarian bar where people don’t feel like they have to wear a suit to have a bourbon or a Gin Rickey. Wilmington certainly has taken a hold on the craft beer movement; I feel like there is a great chance to celebrate the cocktail in the same manner.”
Two shows will officially open Bourgie Nights (127 Princess St.) this weekend, with Howard Ivans (a.k.a. Ivan Howard of Rosebuds’ fame) and Summer Set opening Friday night, while Wilmington’s very own kaleidoscopic trip-rock of Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine will debut their holiday EP on Saturday evening.
Friday, December 13th, $10
Although Summer Set has been around since the late ‘90s/early Aughts, founder Brian Weeks is quite particular about how often they play. “We’ve never broken up,” Weeks tells encore. “I’ve been recording songs and having my friends play on the recordings.”
Last month, they showed up onstage after Weeks’ good friend and former CD Alley owner Fred Champion asked the band to open for Shannon and the Clams. “I thought it would be fun to get everyone together,” Weeks notes. “We pretty much only play when requested which seems to be about once or twice a year.”
Now consisting of Robert Rogan on bass, Seth Moody on guitar and keyboard, Kevin Rhodes on drums and Weeks on vocals/guitar, Summer Set has gone through many lineups over the years. Weeks, Moody and Ivan Howard played together first in a band called Reverse. When Weeks moved to California, he continued sending recordings he made on a four-track, labeled “Summer Set,” to Moody and Howard. Once he returned to Wilmington, he started the band with Moody, Rogan and drummer Jonathan Bass, who played with the Arquettes and Ivan’s band, the Rosebuds. “A lot of friends have played with us,” Weeks says of Summer Set. “Jeff Reardon had the longest tenure as our drummer, and he was crucial to our only official recording, a seven-song EP.”
In its latest incarnation, Weeks hopes to have a catalog of new work ready for release come spring 2014. More so, he’s especially happy to be opening for Howard—now going by Howard Ivans in his solo debut.
“I’ve known Ivan a long time,” Weeks says. “And in the last few years, we’ve reconnected musically, which has been great. He’s an incredible singer, songwriter, musician and friend. He works hard and pushes those around him to make good music.”
Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine
Saturday, December 14th, $5
In October, Justin Lacy began waking up at 6 a.m. daily, forcing himself to jot down lyrics in a freestyle writing format. He focused on Christmas memories, like his cat’s romp with discarded wrapping paper or his mother and father passing out gifts during the holiday, reciting, “This one’s for … and this one’s from…”
“I started plugging in different names,” Lacy remembers, “and tried ‘Tina,’ because I have an Aunt Tina who I only ever really see once a year at Christmastime.”
His aunt—who runs a Ugandan orphanage, Heal Ministries, and who has always supported Lacy’s music-making—essentially became the inspiration for Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine’s first Christmas EP. Titled “This One’s for Tina,” the EP will be released on www.TheSwimmingMachine.com and performed Saturday night at Bourgie Nights. Lacy and his bandmates, Michael Buckley, AJ Reynolds, Aaron Lane, Keith Butler Jr., Sam Candio, Whitney Lanier and Christa Faison, along with Wilmington singer-songwriter Dylan Linehan, recorded the EP at Trent Harrison’s Hourglass Studios in the fall.
“Harrison said a lot of his clients wanted to do session recordings,” Lacy says, “so he started upgrading the studio to be able to track multiple instruments at once. Since he had seen us perform numerous times with so many acoustic instruments, he offered to record one or two of our songs to test out the upgrades.”
Essentially, the band’s two recordings turned into three, four and five. Lacy already planned on doing a rendition of their popular Christmastime cover, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” as they’ve performed it for four years now to happy audiences. Yet, after finishing scoring Dylan Patterson’s short film, “Anhedonia”—and finding inspiration from Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas,” performed by locals Gordon and Celia (a.k.a. Nicholas Laudadio and Jessie Williams) in 2013—Lacy decided to do a little original holiday songwriting himself. He wrote four of the five tracks on “This One’s For Tina.”
With a propensity to utilize the most interesting musicality, the Swimming Machine spares no expense on the EP. Crumpled wrapping paper, sax, bells and celesta all are heard. “Their timbres can really bring a recording to life,” says Lacy. Even the bell-like singing Lanier and Faison do in the beginning of “80 Degree Yuletide High” continually challenges waves of sound that bounce and flip in a wonky yet pleasing unison.
“I can write out the whole structure and all the lyrics and have a strong idea for how to arrange the song,” Lacy says, “but it always evolves once we get together and practice the music . . . That collaboration is essential to our final product: No matter how much work I do alone at my desk, I couldn’t possibly come up with the same arrangement the Swimming Machine spits out.”
Aside from pushing and pulling perfectly askewed musicianship, clever lyrics become the final touch, like in “Eggnog Milkshake.” Lacy based it off a practice session and a falsetto melody he riffed on an earlier song about the band’s drummer, “Go to Sleep, Mr. Keith.”
“I worked out a finger-style guitar arrangement of the melody, and eventually figured it was appropriate [for] Christmastime,” Lacy says. “I improv-serenaded the first verse lyrics to Brittny Roller when she was craving ice cream. I thought they were sorta sweet, so I jotted them down and reworked them. Every year, I wind up getting a milkshake in December, even when it’s cold, and I always think how little sense it makes, drinking this ice-cold beverage in frigid temperatures.”
“January 2nd” rounds out the CD, inspired by an aftermath dreamy state in post-workout mode—very much time-stamping the month everyone returns to the gym after too many holiday indulgences.
Recorded on November 20th, “This One’s for Tina” will be the first release the band’s put out since last year’s LP debut, “Overgrown.” 2014 brings with it another possible Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine release, along with the continuation of the band’s side projects, including a hip-hop/jazz group called Temple 5.
“We’ll keep playing small tours around North Carolina and working up new material,” Lacy promises. “Maybe something Mariachi-inspired. Maybe something with bells. Maybe just an extended holiday LP for Christmas 2014. We’ll see.”
The Barnraisers will open the show this weekend, with only a $5 admission.