Arrogance: Remembering The Village Subway Music Scene
Cameron Village is preparing to uncork musical memories sealed away for decades. When the Village Subway underneath Raleigh’s Cameron Village reopens to the public for the first time in over 30 years on May 16th its walls will echo with the sounds of the distant past.
When locals remember magical nights in the Village Subway, they remember Arrogance, whose ties to the Subway run as deep as the Cameron Village Underground itself.
Arrogance, along with country-rock band Heartwood, holds the distinction of being the first to bash out a few chords at the Pier back in 1973. Who realized then that they were making history?
Arrogance held court there once a month for the next 9 years, while also reigning at Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill.
Their relationship to the Subway–as well as hundreds of other performers, employees, and fans–is a huge part of why the Underground era is so fondly remembered.
Don Dixon Vocals and Bassist with Arrogance
Don, tell us about The Pier, why was it so magical?
- We had so many special nights at The Pier it’s hard to single one out. We would do things at The Pier we wouldn’t do anywhere else.
- I remember one time we worked up a bunch of Fabulous Knobs songs and they worked up a bunch of ours, except we really did play the hell out of their stuff and they completely phoned it in!
And the Underground itself?
- Not only the Pier, but the whole Underground was special. Cafe Deja Vu was another joint we played. I played a few times at The Frog & Nightgown, with everyone from jazz legends to female impersonators. It was owned and operated by transplanted music lover, Peter Ingram.
- I don’t hear anyone mention that club much, but it was an amazing place that brought unfathomable talent to Raleigh!
How about your final shows?
- Our last real shows as a band were performances at The Bear’s Den, located where The Frog & Nightgown had been. September 1983. I’m not sure how much longer the Underground stayed open. The crowds in there were definitely a different cut from others.
- Scott Davison probably has the most lucid memories of the place, and he often acts as our historian. He and Robert Kirkland (guitarist, vocalist, songwriter) spent a lot of time there since they lived in Raleigh.
Finally, what made the Village Subway such a classic icon?
- It can only be attributed to the massive amount of talent that played down there; the boundless energy of lots of musicians, both famous and unknown. The collective consciousness of thousands of people spending thousands of hours immersed in the sound and the spectacle of performances that live on in their minds and are passed down, like folklore, to their children.
Scott Davison Drummer with Arrogance
Scott, share some Subway history with us!
- I lived right around around the corner and and had a lot of friends in the area, so I was a frequent visitor. The Village Subway had easy parking, and you could wander to all the different clubs holding your beer.
- I visited the Underground during the making of Mike Allen and Herb Campbell’s still unreleased locally-based documentary Bring It Home and was surprised to find graffiti still on the walls of what used to be the dressing room for the Pier.
- The Bear’s Den opened in either 1981 or 1982. The owner currently runs Angus Barn in Raleigh. The Bear’s Den was previously called Skyline. The Cameron Village Subway was halfway between DC and Atlanta so it was attractive to up and coming acts of all genres, not just rock. Chick Corea, Vassar Clements, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Steve Martin, all came through. At one time the Pier was known as “the Class Club of the Mid-Atlantic.”
- The Village Subway was meant to emulate Underground Atlanta, and there was a Record Bar right above ground in Cameron Village. It was a serious music scene in it’s hey day.
How did you hook up with Arrogance?
- At the first Arrogance show at the Pier, I was playing at the Frog and Nightgown and came over on break to catch Arrogance. Arrogance played the Village Subway at least one weekend per month from 1973 – 1982. Same for the Cat’s Cradle. I ended up joining Arrogance in 1974.
What was the comradery like between bands?
- Sometimes the Fabulous Knobs would come over from finishing a gig at Cafe Deja Vu to join Arrogance on stage.
- Th’ Cigaretz, North Carolina’s first punk band, opened a show for Arrogance at Town Hall in Chapel Hill once. Some of our fans didn’t receive them well.
- Post-Arrogance, I played drums in DeMilo with Arms with Debra DeMilo of the Fabulous Knobs.
Finally, what made the Village Subway such a classic icon?
- Once here, few people leave the Triangle region because they fall in love with it. Even the youngest concert-goers from that era are now in their late 40’s. Most have settled here. People tend to remember the music of their youth most fondly.
- WQDR provided support for local artists. Regular airplay created the impression that many artists were also well known outside of the region when that was actually only true of a few. The Village Subway era remained a microcosm of the regional scene.
For those with a keen ear, faint strains of Mike Cross, Th’ Cigaretz, the Fabulous Knobs, Arrogance and countless others that performed in the Subway will be heard in soft whispers reverberating off the hallowed, paint-chipped walls.
Those classic names barely scratch the surface of local and regional bands that performed in the Subway. Fans of these artists reserve a rare sense of loyalty and pride for those from their own turf.
With the sealed gates opening up for one last time, Raleigh’s music fans have been reminiscing about classic local bands whose songs provided the backdrop to younger days, fast cars, and old flames. Just 400 tickets were made available for this last hooray at The Subway, and those were snapped up in just 12 hours. Hopefully you are one of the lucky few who will get to experience the underground this one last time!