The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, May 20, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Former Chapel Hill student bands remember a lifetime of music

20240225_Grau_lifestyle-music-ed-college-bands-then-and-now-1.jpg
Mega Yacht performs at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Dec. 9, 2023.

In the mid-'90s, MTV came to Chapel Hill.

At the time, the town hailed as the next big place for music, Martin Godwin, rhythm guitar player and lead singer of the grunge-funk-rock band Knocked Down Smilin’, said. 

MTV came to town for several days and had Godwin’s band — composed of himself and other UNC students — play at a fraternity house at 10 a.m., with all of the windows blacked out to make it give the appearance of nighttime. To this day, he is not sure if it ever made the air. 

After their potential TV debut, the band decided to try touring for a while. They traveled up and down the East Coast for five years, playing with a number of artists, among them Hootie & the Blowfish, Spin Doctors and Widespread Panic

“Unfortunately, we never quite got over the hump, as I tell folks,” Godwin said. “We did better than a lot of bands in terms of what we got to do and our success, but we never made it quite far enough to, you know, take the leap I don’t think.”

Knocked Down Smilin’ is one of countless bands started in Chapel Hill by college students whose love of music outlasted the groups themselves. 

After they broke up, two of the Knocked Down members continued with music professionally. Drummer Bogie Bowles moved to California and eventually played in blues artist Joe Bonamassa’s band. Bass player Mason Pitts eventually moved to Sweden and played in a band called Apollo Glide.

Godwin is currently the managing director of an executive search firm in Charlotte and is still friends with his former bandmates. 

Not every band lasts forever, but some get an encore. 

Mitch Bennett is an adjunct professor in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and the rhythm guitar player and singer of indie rock band Megayacht, which started as a band of college students in the '90s and recently got back together. When Bennett moved back to Chapel Hill two years ago, he called up his former bandmates, and they picked up where they left off.

“When I would visit, we’d play music, and hang out, and talk about music, and see shows and it really kept us connected for those 15 years or so while I was away,” Bennett said.

The band played at The Cave and other local venues, and has recorded and released songs on streaming services since reuniting last fall. Bennett said the biggest difference between then and now is how easy it is to get music out there. 

“It used to be such a high barrier to be able to put anything out, it was so expensive,” Bennett said. “And now, you just kind of release it, and it’s out. There’s something really nice about that. There’s no gatekeepers.”

David Shaw was the drummer of late '80s and early '90s band Wreckhouse. Back then, he said, bands needed to have demo tapes to get gigs, and he remembers recording theirs over a chaotic three days in a studio. 

One of their many gigs was attended by a reporter for The Daily Tar Heel after the band left a note in her DTH mailbox. Her 1990 review headline read: And those drums… Oooh those driving drums,” which Shaw said blew him away. 

The official band Wreckhouse only lasted about a year, but Shaw stayed in the industry. He is currently the co-general manager of Yep Roc Records in Hillsborough. 

“We did reunite, just the four of us alone, no one else witnessed it, and played in Brooklyn last August,” Shaw said. Some of the bands might be over, but for Bennett, Shaw and Godwin the music never really ends.

Godwin still plays for fun with a group in Charlotte. He has no big expectations anymore, but he still loves to perform. His son is a junior at UNC and plays in his own band, Cat Named Blue

“Every moment is precious,” Godwin said. “Every conversation you have with another musician onstage is unique and the opportunity to just have the opportunity to do that, you know, to get to do it. Not that I had to do it — I got to do it.”

@hamsinisiva3

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.