My View

Pierce Freelon: Skew it on the Bar-B

July 15, 2014 

Pierce Freelon

My mother-in-law calls me “a man about town.” It’s an antiquated term, but I’ll take it. I’ve been here for 30 years and I know things.

A few years ago, I begged a woman for her dormant Twitter handle @durhamite. Why? Because I’m supposed to have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the City of Medicine. And while I feel, for the most part, up to speed on many things, I’m always being put on to something new.

Recently, I’ve been hanging with my close friends and business partners Addis and Mazuba, who are here from Ethiopia and South Africa, respectively. They introduced me to a hookah spot called Skewers at 1013 W. Main St. The building has changed names and owners several times over the years (most recently, it was an Afghani restaurant called Bread and Kabob), but it looks like Skewers is in for the long haul.

My friends found the restaurant/bar when they were looking for a place to smoke sheehsa – the best options were either Skewers or International Delights. Skewers is a little closer to downtown, and had a nice vibe, so it became their home base.

My first visit to Skewers was on a Wednesday, when they host their weekly Open Mic. I was blown away by the thriving community of emcees, poets, DJs and other artists who call Skewers home.

People like Iggy

I’ve been to many an open mic. This one is special. Don’t get me wrong – like any open mic, there are a fair share of average artists who sign up to perform, but there is also a solid community of regulars that just come through and shut the place down.

People like Iggy – southern and Jamaican; soul singer and reggae artist; battle rapper and poet – this brother does it all. He is so humble, you would never realize he owns a stage like he does.

Another sister, named Aja, is a fearless vocalist and emcee. She solicits topics from the crowd for her freestyles; and has a voice, like she grew up in a gospel choir. The combination of heavy bars and deep pipes is reminiscent of CeeLo Green, Phonte and Lauryn Hill.

Noah is another jack of all trades. The 20-year-old emcee, poet, singer and guitar player absolutely wrecks the venue every time she takes the stage. Her versatile band adds fuel to the fire and gets the crowd as lively as I’ve ever seen it.

Other emcees including Anonymous Jones, my homie Defacto Thezpian, Randle Trandle, a young emcee and multi-instrumentalist who runs with the Durty Durham collective, and a host of other young Durhamites make the night very interesting.

Part of what makes the open mic so dope is the diversity of artists. Beat box flutist Abram rocks the mic both individually and with other musicians. It is also common to see a violin player or cellist sit in with a rapper or singer-songwriter. I love seeing guitarist Seea perform. She moves with the music, plays as if the guitar is an extension of her own body, and is one of the most vibrant performers I’ve seen out at Skewers.

Hold onto your hookah!

An altogether dope ensemble of artists converge at Skewers every Wednesday, and I rarely leave disappointed. Fair warning: it usually takes a few hours to heat up. The open mic starts around 9 or 10 p.m., but the heavy hitters rarely take the stage before midnight. But once they do – hold onto your hookah!

In addition to the open mic, there are other great events that make Skewers one of the more interesting venues in Durham. Just last week, Skewers hosted their first in a monthly series of drag shows. Decadently dressed Black Queens took the stage, while excited patrons threw dollar bills at their corsets and high heels.

Skewers also attracts some of Durham’s more veteran performers. I’ve run into DJ Bro Rab of Durham original DJ crew The Butta Team, as well as producer Apple Juice Kid and emcee J-Gunn. One night, I was surprised to see the legendary Davey DMX DJing on the boards – he tours the globe with Public Enemy, and is one of the many hidden gems, that just happens to rock at Skewers on the regular.

Co-owners Justin Barton (a UNC grad and African-American studies major like me) and his partner Darryl Scott are interested in growing the business to include more community events. We talked about a potential Labor Day event, where Main Street is blocked off, so Skewers and other local business can stage a community block-party. There are other ambitious opportunities ahead for this up and coming, young black-owned business.

Skewers is special – it’s young, black, international, queer and hip hop. And that makes it Durham.

You can reach Pierce Freelon at pfreelon@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @durhamite.

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