Entertainment

Cameron Village Underground was once a Raleigh hot spot. Soon, it will have new life.

From left - Don Dixon, Rod Abernethy and Robert Kirkland of Arrogance, playing at the Pier in July 1980.
From left - Don Dixon, Rod Abernethy and Robert Kirkland of Arrogance, playing at the Pier in July 1980. Photo by Chris Seward

The Cameron Village Underground, once Raleigh’s hub for live music, might be on its way to becoming a live-music venue again.

Smedes York, president of Cameron Village owner York Properties, confirmed that a new, yet-to-be-named jazz club is in the works.

“We do have a plan we’re working on very hard to put in one nightspot,” York said in an interview. “It would utilize the tunnel, for a jazz club.”

The subterranean space, beneath Fresh Market at the corner of Clark and Woodburn streets, hasn’t been used as a club since the mid-1980s.

The Cameron Village Underground opened in September 1971 with the jazz club Frog & Nightgown as anchor tenant. The space came to be a complex of clubs, including The Pier and Deja Vu.

It was a bustling scene through the rest of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, with local acts like Arrogance and Fabulous Knobs, plus rising touring acts like R.E.M. and the Go-Go’s playing there. But the crowds and excitement didn’t always show up on the bottom line.

“We did everything we could to help the Frog & Nightgown stay in business,” York said. “They had a great following but they weren’t making any money. Same thing happened later with The Pier, huge following but that didn’t mean they were making money after paying the artists.”

The clubs began closing in the early 1980s and were all gone by the middle of that decade. By then, clubs had opened elsewhere in the city.

But memories of the Underground remain fond. Pictures from that time, taken by former News & Observer photographer Chris Seward, are on display in a current exhibit at the City of Raleigh Museum.

“I have regrets about it closing down,” York said. “It was such an exciting thing, and it’s such an iconic space. It faded away because it wasn’t working, but maybe we can bring some of it back.”

Currently, Fresh Market is using much of the space for storage.

“We’ve got some issues to work out with Fresh Market,” York said. “If we can get those resolved, it should be open by the end of next year, we hope. It’s something that would be great for Cameron Village.

“I’m personally involved in this as tenant as well,” York added. “So I’m working hard on it.”

The North American Video store in Cameron Village is closing its doors and selling everything. Long time customers Rosalie Boney, Philip Boyne and Jim Brusso talk about the loss of a brick and mortar video story. Video and photos by Ethan Hyman/

David Menconi: 919-829-4759 or @NCDavidMenconi
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