A couple of friends and I drove south this week for Merge 25, a four-day celebration of the Merge Records silver anniversary. For the fourth time we’re immersing ourselves in North Carolina’s Research Triangle (or more specifically its small-town neighbor, Carrboro) to toast the record label that has meant more to us than any other since 1989.
It’s been said that there’s something in the water in places like Chapel Hill and Athens, GA, that fuels the spirit and leads to fertile underground music scenes. For me there’s just something about heading south PERIOD. Sure it’s hot and more humid, but I like it when shade is valued and ceiling fans become indispensable. I get a feeling, a vibe, from certain locales to the south — the places where you can feel your hair getting a little messier, your cut-offs getting a little more frayed, and the beer getting a little colder. It’s The Flat Duo Jets. It’s The Rock*A*Teens. It’s the Elephant 6 Collective. It’s Superchunk.
I think I first felt it in a little burg called College Corner in southwest Ohio. It felt like a frontier at the edge of my buttoned-up college town. It was there at the Southgate House in Newport, KY. I’ve felt it in The Triangle, Richmond, Hampton Roads, and at a little treasure of a place called Mex-Econo in Kill Devil Hills. It was heavy in Austin, and I know it will be there someday when I get to Memphis, New Orleans, and Athens.
I have felt it as far north as Columbus, OH, where one of these same buddies (We’ll call him Rick) and I went to see Superchunk, Merge’s flagship band, play with Cowtown faves Scrawl almost exactly twenty years ago. That road trip expanded to two nights and included a Mekons show at Stache’s and an afternoon hanging out at the annual Boho-gathering Comfest. Heck, that trip gave me one of the final pushes to relocate there a couple months later.
OK. So I acknowledge that this whole feeling may not be defined by a place’s geographic relationship to the Mason-Dixon line. It also has to do with hitting the open road and usually involves a journey to a live music event and a temporary freedom from the daily grind. The fact is, too, when you’ve spent the larger part of your life in close proximity to Lake Erie — and what many around here call The North Coast — that journey has to almost always start by heading south.
Of course, one could head east to NYC or west toward Detroit or Chicago. I drive south. It just feels right.