The Milestone Club’s walls have so much graffiti, they seem to remain upright by the strength of musical history more than structural engineering. Thousands of musicians have played the club across the past five decades, leaving a palimpsest of scrawled names and band stickers. A Bad Brains tag, commemorating a visit from the punk-reggae pioneers, is showcased in a gilt picture frame so it won’t get covered up. An R.E.M. graffito—the band played here frequently in the early 1980s—is hidden behind a flag for the same reason.

Stepping into the Milestone, at 3400 Tuckaseegee Road, you can smell the past: Every surface is covered in a residual sheen of sweat and loud guitars and spilled beer. On a recent Saturday night, between a half-hour of hazy guitar music by Rocks for Lizards and an up-tempo set by the emo-folk band Convalescent, a young woman walks around the club, staring at the grungy floors, asking the least hygienic question possible: “Has anybody seen my septum piercing?”

A cluster of strangers help her search for a small, shiny metal ball. When you talk to people at the Milestone about why they frequent a small black room with no heating or air conditioning, they talk about the music first, but they are quick to mention the people: a community united by its enthusiasm for really loud self-expression.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Milestone owner Wyley Buck Boswell oversees beer delivery, surrounded by cases of Yuengling and Pabst Blue Ribbon. He’s sporting a knit cap and a robust beard, and he remembers the 2021 weekend when the Milestone reopened after the coronavirus quarantine was lifted: “These 20-year-old kids are onstage playing some of the most gnarly, intense, passionate, hardcore punk rock that I had heard in literally years. I got behind the bar, and I helped them get through the rush, and then I got to go in there and bounce around with people who are 15 years younger than me.”

Milestone Club in Charlotte

Wyley Buck Boswell booked his first show at the Milestone when he was 14 and now owns the joint. Photo by Andy McMillan

The Milestone’s west-side neighborhood is much safer now than in the days when the club’s website warned patrons “DO NOT GET LOST” and cars routinely got broken into. But Boswell knows that gentrification is a mixed blessing: “There’s a rich history all around the country of condos going up in cultural districts and then people complaining that the culture is going too late or being too loud.” 

To celebrate a musical landmark in the present tense, local filmmakers Liz McLaughlin and Jason Arthurs recently finished a years-in-the-making documentary about the club, How to Save a Milestone. Once audiences see it, the Milestone may become a mecca known beyond locals and touring musicians. Even without the movie, Boswell’s enjoying the club’s post-COVID renaissance: The Milestone is now generally open five nights a week with healthy crowds and sells out roughly once a week. It even regularly features bands that don’t belong to the hardcore or punk genres. “Charlotte is a vastly overlooked music community,” Boswell says. “We don’t need international recognition—it feels very vibrant to me.”

Local author Jeff Jackson (not the congressman) loves the Milestone so much that he made a thinly fictionalized version, renamed Echo Echo, a central location in his 2018 novel Destroy All Monsters. “The club was too good not to include,” Jackson says. “When that place is sold out and rocking, you can feel the floor move.” He particularly admires how the Milestone’s lack of a backstage area enforces an egalitarian vibe—musicians freely mingle with fans, and if they want to do an encore, they have to commit to the faintly ridiculous move of walking offstage through the crowd, then walking back on.

Grace Nelson, one of the resident sound engineers—or “soundtenders,” as the club calls them—loves being able to play electronic music on the PA between sets, but she’s also witnessed legendary nights of rock. “I’ve seen people climb the poles and crowd-surf,” she says.

The bathrooms have often been disgusting. Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance once rated them among the three nastiest she had encountered worldwide, along with the legendarily vile toilets at CBGB in New York City and the facilities in a Brazilian club. Despite (because of?) the lack of luxury, the Milestone has hosted an astonishing array of musical acts.

Dead Boys and the Dead Milkmen played here, not to mention Superchunk, Superdrag, and the Supersuckers. Alumni like Nirvana and the Go-Go’s topped the album charts, while the Bangles scored No. 1 singles. When R.E.M. first started playing gigs away from the band’s home in Athens, Georgia, the group regularly headed up I-85 to the Milestone and once slept on the stage before they drove home. 

Milestone Club Charlotte music

Photo by Andy McMillan

The Milestone is among a handful of old-school punk venues, like 924 Gilman in Berkeley, California, that have persisted for decades even as punk pioneers become eligible for Social Security. CBGB closed in 2006 and now exists only as a bar at the Newark airport. Some bands, like the Melvins, have played the Milestone just out of respect for its history, even after they could draw larger crowds than its 170-person capacity.

Over the years, only a few acts have bailed on a gig when they first laid eyes on the venue, Boswell says. “Brand of Julez,” he says scornfully. “I have no problem calling them out because they seem like the kind of people that wouldn’t make it through a harsh winter.”

The Milestone, a small brick building painted white and green, was originally a family home and store called Hoover’s Grocery until a nearby A&P supermarket put it out of business in the 1940s, then Hoover Brothers Hardware until Ace Hardware kiboshed that market. Some artifacts of the Milestone’s previous existence remain; for example, a couple of bathtubs are stashed in the corner of the building’s outdoor patio. The Hoover family sold the building in 1962, and Bill Flowers bought the club in 1969 and started hosting music. It started with irregular acoustic guitar nights, but by the early 1980s, the calendar had a full menu of rock bands. 

“I grew up a straight-up freak,” Boswell says. “I had the dyed hair and the piercings and the alternative clothes, but I discovered places like the Milestone and the Tremont (Music Hall, which closed in 2015), where that was common in the best way possible.” When he was 14, Boswell booked his first show at the Milestone for a date in January 2000: three local bands (Babyshaker, Liquid Candy, and a group with a name that can’t be printed in this magazine but describes someone with an unusual degree of affection for pigs). Unfortunately, that particular show was a casualty of the Milestone’s ancient plumbing: “Bill Flowers called me up the day before the show and said, ‘My pipes are frozen, the show’s canceled.’”

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Gigs can be loose: One night in September 2016, the scheduled band canceled, and staff opened the stage to whoever wanted to play. Photo by Daniel Coston

The Milestone has changed ownership several times over the years—some owners have taken better care of it than others. Boswell bought it in 2018 after years of booking bands (and often letting them crash on his couches after the show). “I never bargained to be an employer, so that’s a little odd,” he says. “I never had an LLC before.”

Boswell hoists another case of beer onto the bar. “We’re on a roll, and I’m going to ride it until the wheels fall off,” he says. “This place is not for everybody, but it is for anybody.”

GAVIN EDWARDS, a contributing editor, is the author of 14 books, including the bestselling MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios.

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