This article appears in the July issue of 400 Life.
Story by Jennifer Colosimo, for 400 Life
What is it about music that makes it so universal?
According to Rick Hall, co-owner of Cumming’s new Wild Wing Café at The Collection at Forsyth, it’s something intrinsic. It’s also not something that’s been found too often around Forsyth County. But that’s changed since they opened in late November last year. Now, residents get a rotation of bands delivering favorite music for fans of rock ‘n’ roll, good company and awesome food.
“People were waiting on us here in Cumming, because the places that people compare us to are still smoking environments,” said Hall, who owns both the Cumming Gainesville locations with his wife, Trish. “When we opened, we had a built-in bar clientele [ready for a] non-smoking sports bar-type atmosphere.”
That clientele gets live music from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night. There’s no age restriction, it remains smoke-free all the time and they serve a full menu until 1 a.m. (If you haven’t tried the made-from-scratch sauces on never-frozen jumbo wings and hand cut crinkle fries, you’re more than missing out). When you finish your wings (and wipe your fingers) you could even take a stab at the stage yourself on Tuesday’s karaoke nights. For something more low key, Wednesdays are acoustic nights.
The real key, according to Hall is that everything on the (state-of-the-art) sound system remains local and live. That means no DJs and no bands from more than a few miles away. And those bands that the crowd loves stay on a 6 to 8 week rotation — just enough time for everyone to miss them a little bit before bringing them back, according to Hall — if that, as his waiting list is in the double digits. Hall books all of the bands himself, listening to demos and CDs, watching video clips and scrolling through Facebook pages from bands out of Cumming and the immediate surrounding areas. He vets them out and then books them, to leave the restaurant patrons as judge for who they want back.
“I like to think of us as everybody’s place,” said Hall. “Over 10 years I’ve just gotten to where I know so many guys, that most of the bands are in my place during the week eating lunch or dinner. When we first took over in Gainesville, they [had been] booking bands from Atlanta, and people didn’t really know them, and the people who did know them weren’t driving up from Atlanta to go see them. That’s how I got started finding local bands, and now that we’re open in Cumming, those bands have started coming out of the woodwork.”
Every now and then, bands will offer the people some of their original songs, if they have them. But overwhelmingly, people come to a Wild Wing Café to hear great covers — songs that everybody knows, says Hall, and songs that make you want to get up and dance. It’s not necessarily dance music, if we’re getting into definitions, but it’s music that makes you want to move and sing along because chances are you know all of the words to it.
“Wild Wing was always based on cover bands, and playing classic rock ‘n’ roll,” said Hall. “Eighties music, classic rock or country. I started dabbling in country a few years ago in Gainesville. It has just exploded. Over here I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but that’s what they want more than anything.”
That means songs by artists like Bon Jovi, Journey and Jason Aldean are heard every single weekend from the northeast corner of The Collection’s epicenter, but if you’re a regular you’re starting to know who sings the covers by their own names. North Main is a local high school group with a 14-year-old lead singer to rival Janis Joplin. The band Lovett stays in the rotation appealing to mass audiences with a unique sound to tunes of The Eagles and Aerosmith, The Neon Trees and Daft Punk (among some original tunes) and returns again this month. Moby Dick, Pickup Line and Audio Vault have been playing in Hall’s venues for a decade. That just skims the top of the — er — list.
And while all Wild Wing Cafes have live music, the Cumming location brings a floor-level stage that redefines the idea of a local, live music hangout.
“We’re a restaurant, first and foremost, but we play some really good music,” admits Hall. “My wife and I have been in the restaurant business for a long time, and we fell in love with Wild Wing for the live music. I’ve loved music my whole life. Everybody just loves music. There are so many guys still out there putting on shows, so many shows in Atlanta every weekend, and we just like to be a small part of that.”