Pictured above are items from The Attic, the iconic downtown nightclub owned and managed for 20 years by Tom Haines, who has donated boxes of memorabilia to ECU's Joyner Library. (Photo by Jay Clark)
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REMEMBERING THE ATTIC
Fans of the iconic Greenville music venue can look back at its history thanks to a collection of memorabilia that’s been donated to Joyner Library
By Steve Tuttle and Doug Boyd
ECU News Services
Among the estimated 2 million people who passed through the doors of Greenville’s iconic nightclub, The Attic, were E. Neal Crawford ’85 and his now-wife, Karen Bowyer Crawford ’85.
“(The) Attic really was a gathering place for my slightly ‘older’ crowd of friends,” Crawford says. “It was such a great venue for watching live up-and-coming acts. My ears are still ringing.”
From 1971 until 2002, The Attic was a magnet for East Carolina students such as Crawford and young people from a wide radius around Greenville. A cavernous space on the 200 block of Fifth Street downtown with a capacity of 650, The Attic was known for its concerts, its atmosphere and its widescreen TV—the first in eastern North Carolina. Magazines ranked it as one of the 100 best college bars in the country.
In May, its former owner donated several boxes of Attic memorabilia to Joyner Library, and the items are being sorted and readied for public use, according to Arthur Carlson ’07 ’11, the university archivist and records manager. He plans to make photos available online, giving people the chance to try to find themselves in the crowd at performances by stars such as Gregg Allman and the Dave Matthews Band.
Carlson is happy to have the collection on campus.
“As the institutional memory of East Carolina, University Archives seeks to preserve all aspects of campus life, including the student life experience,” Carlson says. “Without archiving, we potentially lose forever the opportunity to allow alumni and friends to reconnect and share memories which may have had a lasting impact on their lives.”
According to Carlson, a number of faculty members, many of them retired, have asked about the collection. A representative from a website dedicated to the Dave Matthews Band, which played at The Attic, has also contacted him about it. Alumni are also interested.
“The Attic was a very important social gathering place during my time at ECU,” says Trina Campbell ’93. “It provided a venue for all of our classmates to come together and see our favorite bands play.”
For the first roughly 20 years of its existence, the Attic was owned and managed by Tom Haines, a mile-a-minute talker and admitted packrat who says his business motto was “never get comfortable.”
Among the headline bands playing The Attic were the The Pointer Sisters, pictured below, who performed in January 1981.
During those years, Haines accumulated stacks of concert posters, scrapbooks, audio recordings, thousands of photographs and boxes of T-shirts chronicling The Attic’s history.
Now semi-retired and living in Charlotte, Haines says he donated the boxes of memorabilia to the university “because that’s where they belong.” He adds the memorabilia will bring back a lot of memories for the former students who worked at the club and alumni who managed it.
Meager beginnings, rapid growth
On a shoestring and on the site of a restaurant and nightclub that had recently closed, Haines opened The Attic on Friday, Sept. 7, 1971, with the band Flagstone, followed Saturday by Calabash Corporation.
The club mostly relied on local and regional bands throughout the next couple of decades –Heartwood, Brice Street, Sidewinder, Max Warrior, Nantucket, the Super Grit Cowboy Band, the Nighthawks, Sutters Gold Streak and the Skip Castro Band.
Later, bigger names such as Rare Earth, Firefall, Nicolette Larson, Black Oak Arkansas, the Romantics, the Chairmen of the Board, the Byrds, the Ramones, Tim Weisberg, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Delbert McClinton, the Black Crowes, .38 Special, Blue Oyster Cult, Maynard Ferguson, the Marshall Tucker Band, Foghat, Phish, Train and Hootie & the Blowfish played there.
A January 1981 concert at The Attic by the Pointer Sisters, who were then at the top of the musical charts with their song “He’s So Shy,” was broadcast on the “Blue Jean Network,” an NBC primetime series.
ECU students seemed to like the variety of music – bluegrass one night, heavy metal the next, beach music the next, then soul and maybe rock ’n’ roll. The club attracted healthy audiences, and the cash registers filled.
Continue reading below slideshow.
A selection of the many photographs from Haines' collection show activities at The Attic nightclub during the height of its popularity.
The Attic also supported several campus organizations, such as the annual art show staged by Rebel Magazine. For many years at Christmas, the Attic and the Elbo Room, another popular club downtown, collected food for the needy.
By the mid-1970s, business was strong and growing, and its management staff included several alumni.
It remained on Fifth Street until January 1976, when it moved about a block away to 103 E. Fourth St., the previous home of the Buccaneer. That larger facility had a capacity of 800.
Disaster struck in the wee hours of Sept. 9, 1984, when the building burst into flames. The Greenville Fire Department battled the blaze for five hours before firefighters could enter the building. The fire later was determined to have started from a smoldering cigarette.
Following a temporary move to a site across the Tar River, The Attic reopened in its original location on Fifth Street 43 days later. Moving back seemed to reinvigorate the staff.
Former attic owner Tom Haines is shown in front of materials from the '70s, '80s and '90s when The Attic nightclub was a popular nightspot for ECU students. (Photo by Steve Tuttle)
Staff member Janet Gaino ’79, who is now a TV producer based in Wilmington, began hosting a weekly radio show called “The Attic Midnight Hour” on WITN-FM.
“We were all like a family, the managers and the people who worked there,” Gaino recalls. “It was a special time and a special place.”
Mark Williams ’93 fronted Mother Nature, a band that played original music and covers around the region. He says the music-oriented Attic was a step above other clubs, where a live band might be little more than background noise.
“The atmosphere of The Attic was different,” he says. “It was more like a concert venue. People did not go to hang out. People went there to listen to music. That was the place you kind of measured yourself by. We knew it was hard … to get in there unless you were good.”
The secret show
One of the biggest events at The Attic was a concert no one could talk about.
Hootie & the Blowfish had played The Attic before the group’s 1994 album, “Cracked Rear View,” went platinum. To prepare for an upcoming European tour, the band decided to play some of their favorite smaller venues, including The Attic.
But the band had one ironclad restriction: The show could not be advertised or talked about.
On the day of the show, their bus pulled into the alley to unload, and after a while word spread. Soon more than 1,000 people were lined up to get in.
Keith Frazier ’94, an East Carolina Alumni Association board member, remembers it well.
“My wife and I …were dating at the time and were very excited when word leaked that Hootie was going to play at The Attic that evening,” he says. “They had just hit it big, so it was huge deal for them to stop by and play.”
Campbell remembers that show as well as performances by regional bands such as The Connells and Dillon Fence.
“There was so much amazing music happening during that time in North Carolina, it was wonderful that we had a great venue like the Attic to see our favorite bands play,” says Campbell, who now works in the music industry in Los Angeles.
Frazier, who now lives in Raleigh, says The Attic was a special part of the ECU experience. “It was always a good time hanging out with friends listening to some great rock ’n’ roll,” he says.
Joe Tronto '76 purchased The Attic in 1990 and now operates Attic Enterprises. Tronto had been involved with The Attic since he performed in a band there in 1971. He began working at The Attic in 1979 and became general manager in 1988.
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