my surrender. nights like These. The Keep. The Break-Ups. Even around Midtown, most of these bands are well-kept secrets. While clubs like the Hi-Tone Café and Young Avenue Deli are regular purveyors of alternative music, a subculture of venues like The Caravan and XY&Z exists on the fringes of the local scene.
"It's imperative to have alternative venues in town," says David Sparks, the sound man at the Caravan (1337 Madison Avenue, 278-4610). "Our facility is like a community center. We have a real laid-back atmosphere, where you can do whatever you want."
With the exception of drinking alcohol, of course: The Caravan lacks a liquor license, although that's just fine with Sparks and club owner David Renfro. "Everyone here is friends, mostly suburban kids who are under 18," Sparks explains. "The Caravan gives them a place to escape and learn about themselves."
Sparks' band, My Surrender, and other local underground acts are fixtures at the Madison Avenue club. "Indie rock is pretty dead right now, but on average nights we draw between 50 and 80 people with hard-core and metal bands," Sparks says.
When the Madison Avenue trolley line opened a few months ago, the Caravan's landlord threatened to raise the rent, and Renfro planned to relocate the club to a new location. "Ultimately, it was better to stay where we were," Sparks explains. "Our current landlord doesn't care what we do, as long as we fix whatever gets broken at shows.
"For some reason, kids love to get up on the roof, which causes leaks in other buildings, and kids like to spray paint on things," he says. "We've put a stop to that with a few heated debates. And since we decided to stay put, David has been making the club destruction-proof.
"Word has gotten out," Sparks continues. "We get hundreds of e-mails a day from bands wanting to play here. Lately, we just book the bands we know the kids will come out for."
The club depends on Sparks' Web site, OurMemphis.net, to spread the word about shows. "Originally, we spent a lot of time doing flyers," he says. "Now, OurMemphis.net is it."
In spite of his involvement, Sparks refuses to take any credit for the Caravan's recent success. "I'm not the only person who could do this," he says. "I want everyone to feel involved. I'm 21, and I'm one of the old guys at these shows. Some of the kids on this scene might move on after a while, but there are kids who I look at and know: In a few years, they'll be the ones replacing me."
On Saturday, August 7th, My Surrender will play an all-ages show at the Caravan with Crippled Nation and Nights Like These. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Just a few blocks north of the Caravan, the scene at XY&Z (394 North Watkins, 722-8225) is decidedly more adult-oriented. "In Memphis, there are so many places that are either gay or straight or white or black, but nobody had a place where you could just go and have fun. That was my intent when I opened," explains owner Matthew Gillispie, who opened the club last Halloween.
"During the daytime, we get a neighborhood crowd who come in and eat," Gillispie says. "At night, we get younger people who want to hang out and talk. After midnight, when the music starts, people are running around like crazy."
That's right. At XY&Z, shows begin at the witching hour, or later. "We have the Electric Soul Patrol DJs on Friday nights. Then Matthew Melton came by and asked to book Saturdays. I'd like to start a jazz thing on Thursday nights too," Gillispie says.
Melton, who booked his first gig with the Keep and his own band, the Break-Ups, last month, says he was attracted to XY&Z because of the late hours. "Before it opened, bars like Printer's Alley and The Two-Way Inn were the only late-night options in Midtown," Melton says. "Why not charge a $3 cover and have some dirty late-night rock-and-roll?"
Although Melton also works at the Young Avenue Deli, he doesn't see XY&Z as competition for the popular Cooper-Young venue. "The late-night crowd is more diverse -- a hilarious cross-section of Memphis, from Mexican construction workers to gays and lesbians to garage rockers. It's total debauchery," he says. "You can get away with murder -- musically, that is."
Basil Bayne, the Keep's frontman, agrees. "We're unofficially playing XY&Z on a weekly basis, and it's a really interesting scene. It's time for some things to change around here," he says. "The current scene, with groups like Lucero and Snowglobe, has been going on for years. There are a lot more bands that would like an opportunity to play [at local clubs]. At XY&Z, we can develop our set and work on new songs. Hopefully, we're part of something that's gonna turn this town upside down."