No Dollar $hoes
Fri., 3/25, 10 p.m. • $5 cover
The Whiskey • 1 S. Front St.
“We play bar music,” Jesse Jewell of No Dollar $hoes begins. “Stuff that we can play and entertain drunk people with.” He couldn’t be more wrong. This band may play in bars, and they may entertain drunk people, but they are by no means making generic “bar music.”
Jesse, the vocal leader and songwriter of the band, is joined by his twin brother, Carson. They both play guitar, although in different styles, and Carson occasionally sings a couple tunes of his own. Filling out the trio is Benji Smith, a self-taught master of the upright bass. These three have played together for six years, and it’s been bluegrass bliss from the start.
I stopped by Duck and Dive last week to indulge in the country rock of No Dollar $hoes. The first song of the set proved surprising: Carson’s guitar erupts with seemingly Spanish-inspired melodies. His slick picking provides a Tex-Mex sound reminiscent of Brooks and Dunn, and his fingers move hurriedly yet gracefully along the strings.
In an interesting contrast, his brother strums heavily on the guitar. There is no drummer in the band, but Jesse provides a beat all his own. His style reminds one of a Southern man playing impromptu country songs at a summer bonfire.
The addition of Benji’s regal instrument adds an unexpected element to their so-called “bar music.” Like the final secret ingredient, the monstrous and magnificent upright bass blends with the twins’ guitars. Despite its grand size, like any other musician, Benji still tangos with it in its rhythym. “You can’t help but move while playing a non-fretted instrument,” he says. “You have to feel it.”
When it comes to singing, Jesse takes the spotlight. Comparable to Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers, he has a long drawl that helps him give the group a downhome, bluegrass appeal. My only complaint is that he seems to yield in most of his pieces, until either the crowd gets wild or he drinks a little more, or both. When Jesse allows his vibrato to flow freely in a powerful wail, goosebumps are guaranteed.
Benji, again, is the priceless finishing touch to the group. Bass or baritone, he supports where the twins need it. Much like his instrument, his smooth voice mixes seamlessly into the trio. It’s hidden, but it’s crucial.
Twice during the show, Carson explained to the audience how he just learned the tune outside during a break. Yet, if they were improvising, we never would have known. No Dollar $hoes has a professional sound and a humble mien. They order beers from the stage between songs and cover Rodney Carrington’s “Dear Penis.” But isn’t that part of the mystique of musicians? They can do as they damn well please. Perhaps that is why they sadly still believe they’re dishing out tunes barely good enough for drunken ears.
This band is bigger than the venues in which they perform. That is not to say that The Whiskey, Duck and Dive and 16 Taps are bad bars—they’re comfortable and welcoming—but they can’t house the type of audience No Dollar $hoes deserves. Jesse’s originals bleed the plight of a broken-hearted poet, and women would swoon with the all the green-eyed-lady references. As for sound, this group should be bellowing their rich three-part harmonies to the rafters of Kenan Auditorium.
But the boys are humble. They recognize that Wilmington is lacking in grandiose stages despite the amount of places that welcome bands, and they know their audiences are small. The most inspiring thing about this group is that they just don’t care.
“There are music venues that try, but people don’t come out,” Jesse shares. “I spend a lot of my time writing, and mainly people don’t care what you sing about. They just want to hear something fun. But I do it anyway. I don’t think ‘Wilmington is going to love this.’ If anything, I’m more sad for the rest of the arts scene.”
Their devotion to the close-knit arts community breeds the trio’s hopes that Port City residents will venture from their redundant weekend endeavors and experience all Wilmington has to offer. “If people would support the arts,” Jesse says, “they would be enriched.”
No Dollar $hoes performs Friday, March 25 at The Whiskey at 10 p.m. They will be playing several originals from their latest album “Extra Medium,” out soon.