Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Story Behind the Spazz

Spazz Fest 2 will be held on March 24-26 in
Greenville, NC
For nearly seven years Jeff Blinder has been putting on shows in Greenville, North Carolina and for as many years he's been one of the driving forces behind the eastern part of the state's music scene.  This weekend marks the second Spazz Fest, an event that's chock full of some of North Carolina's best and brightest, and some excellent names from out of state as well.  The Greenville scene has a lot to owe to The Spazz and while the city of Greenville is home to ECU one would assume that theres plenty of college kids down to come out and support a local scene to help fuel live music around the area...not necessarily true.  Though it's been a bit of a struggle, Jeff Blinder and the tightly knit Greenville community of musicians and promoters have helped push through and create a pretty awesome place for bands to come through and play.  When talking with North Carolina artists in Bottom String Sessions the one place that bands always mentioned loving to play at was The Spazz, so I talked a bit with Jeff about the origins of the Spazz and some of it's shining accomplishments.

The origins of The Spazzatorium Galleria (it's full name) start with Jeff Blinder's bedroom in a small duplex which quickly became known as The Spazz Haus.  When the Greenville scene had dried up theres was only one option, house shows, house shows, house shows.  But with house shows often lies the problem of noise violations, and sure enough there came the reoccurring problem with The Spazz.  After getting shut down and fined for noise violations one too many times the team of Jeff, Garrett Mills, and Jae Thomas rented a storefront location in downtown Greenville.  Shows went on for nearly a year and a half before a fire marshall came in yet again with warnings of fines if the location didn't register as a club.  As Jeff put it, "[The Spazz] was a completely donation-based venture and didn't really fit with their description of a 'club'".  Jeff decided not to heed the warnings and instead put a hold on shows for a few months until the steam died down a bit.  Mills and Thomas "decided the risk was too high," and Jeff stood alone until new individuals became dedicated to the cause as well.  The Spazz held yet another year of successful shows until there was another visit from the law, this time with fines to hand out, forcing The Spazz to close it's doors.

While the Spazz may not be able to pull the numbers that venues in the Triangle can, don't count out the dedication of the Greenville kids to their cause.  The Spazz wasn't the only great venue of Greenville, but it certainly spiked an interest in live music in the area.  Venues like Peasant's and Backdoor Skatepark had their  fair share of excellent shows that helped to build a niche for people like Jeff, people who are dedicated to bringing live music to the town.  Artists like The Avett Brothers, Valient Thorr, and Art Lord & The Self Portraits (pre-Future Islands project) were seen at Peasants and bred a thirst for more, which lead to great acts like Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, Matt & Kim and Jamie Stewart (of Xiu Xiu) playing shows oftentimes to maybe even 20 people.  However all of these bands who are used to playing at gigantic venues always say that Greenville's audience, regardless of its size, always shares a special connection with the bands.  Maybe that's what lead to such great house venues like The Spazz Haus, The Turducken Haus, The Bonque House, The Wii Haus, The Crack Haus to help bring live music to the city.

Though the scene was still active before The Spazzatorium came along with venues like Backdoor Skatepark and Peasant's, the scene has felt the effects of what the Spazz brought to Greenville.  Jeff Blinder spoke a bit about the effect that the Spazz had on Greenville, "I was so busy I didn't [see an effect], but in retrospect and being on the outside these days I know it had it's ripple effect. Every show I threw was magical to me. Every one could have been the last so that's how I took it. Never for granted."  It's that dedication to the live music that keeps not only bringing bands through Greenville, but also keeps everyone coming out to the shows.  And when you take that dedication and passion for live music and throw in a plethora of talent across a state then you can get some amazing outcomes.  Take for example the lineup of Spazz Fest this year, featuring acts like Lonnie Walker (the Greenville favorites), The Love Language, Veelee, and Future Islands.  Blinder consistently brings amazing talents to whatever stage available, and it's truly a commendable act.  To top it all off, the festival this year has combined with the "Screw Cancer Benefit", an event held in Greenville in 2010 to raise money for Justin Flythe, member of Lonnie Walker, to help pay for his cancer treatment.

Battling through the fines and failed efforts, Blinder continues to bring bands through the area whether it be acts like Royal Bangs (coming through Greenville Wednesday March 30), who are playing on David Letterman just days after their show in Greenville, or revered hip-hop acts like Awol One who will be playing at Spazz Fest this weekend.  From bedroom concerts to three night music festivals, Blinder's been pushing through to help cultivate one of the brightest shining scenes in Eastern North Carolina.  With bands like Lonnie Walker, Embarrassing Fruits, and other Triangle mainstays touting the praises of The Spazzatorium Galleria it's certainly a hard thing to ignore.  Blinder brings up the point of community and hits the nail on the head, "Greenville lacks the community, that's the main thing that drags it down.  No one wants to do anything, they just want it done for them.  In the Triangle you have groups of people committed to a cause.  However, there's no audience like Greenville kids."  But what better way to build a community than from the ground up?  Blinder is a part of something special, and coming from the Eastern parts of North Carolina I can say that it's because of individuals like Jeff and ideas like The Spazz that make me want to keep going out to local shows above anything else.

For more information on Spazz Fest check out their official page at:

Jeff Blinders NC Bands to Watch For:
Lonnie Walker, Veelee, NAPS, The Charming Youngsters


  1. Yes, Grant. Yes. Someday, live music in Greenville will flourish once again. Until then, we'll all keep fighting the good fight; pushing for what we all love and need here in Eastern NC.

  2. I've seen dozens of articles like this on the Spazzatorium and while this one gets more right then most by ACTUALLY mentioning myself and Jae Thomas it does so with the completely wrong context and history.

    The follow through for the Dickinson Ave Spazz was done completely by myself and Jae Thomas. We were the ones who planned it out, found the space, went to city hall, and came up with the 'donation based' model that it ran on.
    Our names were the ONLY ones on the lease and all of the start up money came out of our pockets.
    Jeff Blinder, while a great guy, was only originally part of the Dickinson space as someone who booked shows and handled bands.

    We were the ones who worked the door, cleaned up after every show, and kept the space open during the day as an art gallery.

    Jeff DID have a hand in helping us prepare the space before it opened, as did many other fantastic individuals, but he was not a part of any of the actual footwork or planning that opened that venue.

    The Spazzatiroum was originally closed down by the fire Marshall because it wasn't up to several of the cities building codes, not because it wasn't a legitimate venue. To re-open the space with any sort of legality would have required tens of thousands of dollars that we didn't have.

    Jae and I didn't leave because it 'was too much of a risk' we left because we knew the space would ultimately (and did) close down if it continued to operate so far outside of legal limit. That and we were tired of, basically, not getting any credit for the work we did to make the place happen.

    A trend that still continues years after the place has closed.

  3. In case anyone out there is looking for a Spazz show and doesn't know where to find one...Most of the shows are now held at the bar Live, and at The Tipsy Teapot....

    1. Tipsy Teapot is now known as Crave.