Spring into North Carolina Music
Spring in North Carolina brings longer days and more time to experience our state's rich creative resources, including music. With the season for big outdoor music festivals gearing up, we asked some of our state's finest musicians where they go in the spring to hear and enjoy live music of all kinds — Americana, blues, bluegrass, old-time, classical, international, jazz — whether in a club or a restaurant, at an annual music convention, recital hall, library or other venue. You'll find lists of their personal picks in all genres of music in this edition of Artful Living.
Beautiful sounds are springing up everywhere in our state. Merlefest is now in its 23rd year at Wilkes Community College. It's the 30th anniversary of the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddler's Convention. And the Kruger Brothers will be celebrating Mother's Day at the historic Chapel of Rest in Happy Valley. Classic music performances receive a cutting edge treatment by creative industries like Zenph Audio Innovations in Durham.
There's never been a better time to get out and enjoy all kinds of music in all kinds of places across Creative North Carolina this spring.
Literature Director and Arts Editor
In this issue...
Question: What's your favorite music venue?
North Carolina Museum of Art
Where do N.C. musicians go when they want to hear great music in our state during the spring and early summer? Artful Living asked N.C. music makers to offer their personal picks for best places to experience Americana, blues, bluegrass, old-time, classical, international and jazz. Here are some of their recommendations.
Laurelyn Dosset founded the band Polecat Creek with singing partner Kari Sickenberger. Since then, she has written and performed music in a traditional style for innovative musicians, storytellers and playwrights including Triad Stage.
Saxapahaw River Mill, Saxapahaw
Music every Saturday evening through the spring and summer. Live music on the lawn and a farmer's market, too. Super sweet family fun, good music. Schedule: http://www.rivermillvillage.com/bands07.html
The Rooster's Wife, at Poplar Knight Spot, Aberdeen
Some of the best live acts in the country come to tiny Aberdeen. http://www.theroosterswife.org/
The Cook Shack, Union Grove
Traditional and folk music in a great diner setting. There is really nothing like this place.
Martha Bassett is a classically trained singer of jazz, classical vocals, sacred music and high-lonesome laments.
The Berkeley Café, Raleigh
Marianne Taylor is working hard to bring national touring artists into a small club in Raleigh. She has great taste and often books artists that you don't see elsewhere in N.C.
The Garage, Winston-Salem
It has a small, homey feel and comes with a great sound man, Brian Daub. It's like seeing live music in your living room.
Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, April 21–24, Silk Hope
This is the best little hippy festival around. It's not too big (only five stages), and not nearly as formal and expensive as some of our other cool festivals. Shakori happens twice per year, and if the weather's, good I recommend camping.
Eric Hirsch is coordinator of research and development for Zenph Audio Innovations in Durham as well as a jazz pianist and composer. He performs, records and tours with two Triangle bands: The Beast, a progressive hip-hop/jazz quartet, and Orquesta GarDel, a 13-member Cuban salsa ensemble. Learn more about Zenph in our featured article.
Lake Eden Arts Festival, May 12–15, Black Mountain
This semiannual outdoor festival near Black Mountain curates an extraordinarily diverse lineup. Their schedule this May includes some salsa bands, some African ensembles, a mariachi group, jamgrass and one of N.C.'s funkiest sons, Maceo Parker. http://www.theleaf.com/
Bimbé Festival, May 14, downtown Durham
This yearly festival in downtown Durham is a celebration of African and African American history and culture. That means you can expect to see some great jazz, reggae, and hip-hop, including a headline appearance by hip hop luminary Big Daddy Kane.
Guglhupf, Durham, Thursdays
The Triangle area's next generation of jazz performers and bandleaders have arrived on the scene. You can find them in places like Jack Sprat, Talulla's, Whiskey and the Beyu Caffe. Keeping with the outdoor theme, Guglhupf has recently begun to present live jazz and blues music every Thursday evening for dinner on their gorgeous outdoor patio. You'd swear you were in a European square, but you are right in the middle of N.C.
When Laura Boosinger is not singing or playing old-time music, she serves as the executive director of the Madison County Arts Council. Here are her favorite places to hear old-time music.
Fiddler's Grove, May 27–29, Union Grove
The oldest fiddler's convention in the country and still the nicest for families. I have been attending since 1980 and still love it.
Merlefest, April 28–May 1, Wilkesboro
I'm the master of ceremonies for the traditional tent there and get to hear the best from Doc Watson to The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Zuma Coffee, downtown Marshall
On Thursday nights a live music jam is hosted by N.C. native fiddler Bobby Hicks. You'll find 84-year-old Leonard Hollifield playing guitar and singing, along with four or five other fiddlers. Come for a good meal and good music.
Blue Ridge Old-time Music Week at Mars Hill College,
Great instructors, great jamming and a great week of getting together with folks from all over the country who love our music of western N.C.
Bluff Mountain Music Festival in Hot Springs, usually held the second Saturday in June
A mixture of traditional and bluegrass music, mostly homegrown in Madison and Buncombe counties. Occasionally there is a special guest “left over” from Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week at Mars Hill College.
David Holt is a four-time Grammy Award–winning musician, storyteller, historian, television host and entertainer, dedicated to performing and preserving traditional American music and stories. He performs solo, with Doc Watson or with his band, The Lightning Bolts.
Jack of the Wood, Asheville, every Wednesday night.
Local old-time musicians gather in this comfortable brew pub and jam from 6 p.m. until late.
Shindig on the Green, Downtown Asheville, long about sundown every Saturday from July 4 through Sept.1.
Later in the summer, this is a free event where musicians come from around western N.C. and play just for the joy of it. You can listen to the music presented on the stage or walk around and stand right in the midst of a rollicking jam session. Don't miss this one.
Mt. Airy Fiddler's Convention, June 3–4, Mt. Airy
Old-time musicians come from all over the country to meet up and play at this fiddler's convention. If you want to hear what is going on in old time music today, this is the festival to attend.
Real live jam sessions
The best place to hear traditional music is in a private jam session. You'll have to ask around, see what is going on and who is getting together, but it will be worth the effort. Jam sessions take place every night of the week all over N.C. If you can get invited you'll be able to hear the music as it was meant to be played — unamplified, up close and personal.
Karen Mann is the originator of Mann's World, a blog featuring music news, reviews and videos covering Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
The granddaddy of N.C. rock night venues, Cat's Cradle is internationally known for being the best place to see great touring acts that are just before getting too big to play the clubs. Sonic Youth gave the club a shout-out in the song Chapel Hill 20 years ago, sealing its legendary status.
Kings Mach II (the previous version closed a few years ago to make way for a downtown parking deck) is such a hit that it's already gotten a write-up in The New York Times. The reason is simple: The owners are themselves touring musicians who book cutting-edge acts from a variety of genres, treat the bands right and make sure the sound is top-notch. The bands they book remain loyal, even when they're big enough to play the larger clubs.
The Pour House, Raleigh
The Pour House hands down has the best sound of any club I've ever been to, and it's all due to one man: Soundman Jac Cain. I've witnessed him make some terrible bands sound great, and some great bands sound out of this world. The Pour House books a variety of genres, but alt-country and bluegrass bands seem most at home there.
The Dive Bar, Raleigh
Far from living up to its name, Dive Bar is a nice, but very small club that rarely charges cover for its shows, which are about 80 percent metal. The club is known for giving local metal bands a chance, and fostering a community of metal lovers. The booking agent, Robby Rodwell, will actually go on Facebook and talk up shows at other clubs simply because he loves music so much.
One of two great new clubs to open in Durham in the last year, Casbah benefits from the superb booking skills of Steve Gardner, known for booking alt-country house shows for years. Steve has the connections to bring in bands that could be playing larger venues. And since he's a new metal convert, he's also booking some of the best metal shows around — including the inaugural Bull City Metal Fest.
In many ways, Reservoir is Carrboro's answer to the Dive Bar. It's fairly small, shows are inexpensive or free, and it serves as a home base for a devoted local metal scene. They do book other genres, but metal is what they do best.
Slim's is my favorite place to see a band in Raleigh for the simple fact that I feel at home there. Even with the recent new paint job, it's a dank, dirty rock bar at its finest. I don't think I've ever seen a bad show there.
The Orange Peel, Asheville
Asheville's answer to Cat's Cradle is large, clean and books a lot of great shows from a variety of genres. It hasn't attained the Cradle's legendary status, but it's a cornerstone in Asheville's exploding music scene.
Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Part nightclub and part community center, Nightlight's offerings for the next couple of months include yoga classes, discussions on vermicomposting and nuclear power, and a noise festival with more than 50 bands from around the U.S.
Motorco is the other nightclub to open to great acclaim in Durham in the last year. Housed in a former car dealership (and located directly across from the excellent Fullsteam Brewery), Motorco offers a great, spacious spot to see touring and live bands.
Mike “Lightnin'” Wells is an avid collector of country and blues recordings, and plays a variety of acoustic instruments, including the guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele and harmonica. http://www.lightninwells.com/
R. A. Fountain General Store, Fountain
An interesting venue that was once a general store built in 1914, Fountain Store offers live music on the weekends mainly of the acoustic kind, featuring bluegrass, country and blues. This venue is family-friendly with ice cream and soft drinks for sale. The walls are loaded with antiques and bric-a-brac, and proprietor Alex Albright offers books and CDs for sale by regional authors and artists.
Beaufort County Traditional Music Festival, April 15–16, Washington
Though only in its third year, this is a nice little festival held in downtown Washington, N.C. It features various acts on several stages indoors and out (including the historic Turnage Theatre) who play folk, bluegrass, old-time and blues music. Beaufort County has an active Traditional Music Society who help sponsor this event, and they meet on a regular basis for jam sessions as well as running The Union Alley Coffee House.
SOOTS Annual Blues Festival Benefit, Raleigh
The students at the Raleigh Charter School, under the direction of their teacher Charles Montague, have formed an organization to honor the traditional blues music from the region called SOOTS (Sustaining Roots Music). They have been quite active in the past few years documenting the music, releasing recordings and sponsoring live music events. This is the fifth year for their annual blues benefit in Raleigh in conjunction with the Music Maker Relief foundation and will feature a strong line-up of regional traditional blues artists. http://www.sootsblues.org/
Gaston County Public Library Live @ Your Library Project, Gastonia
The public library in Gastonia.has sponsored live music on its premises for a number of years now through the tireless efforts of program coordinator Carol Reinhardt. A varied selection of programs is offered this season including African music, puppetry, folk music and blues. These programs are free and open to the public and are educational as well as entertaining.
Eastern North Carolina
There's a lot of music to enjoy down east this spring. Here's some suggestions from Joey Toler, executive director, Beaufort County Arts Council; Holly Garriott, executive director, Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge; and Laura Martier, executive director, Dare County Arts Council.
Billy Taylor Jazz Festival, April 14–16, Greenville
This annual festival at East Carolina University is not only a critiquing session for eight or more high school and middle school jazz bands, but also a chance for the public to hear three concerts and a free jam session.
Beaufort County Music Festival, April 15–16, Washington
The “BoCO” Music Festival has something for everyone: kids, indie/rock/alternative music lovers and traditional music fans in Washington's Festival Park. http://www.beaufortcountyartscouncil.org/bcmf/index_fest.html
Happening on the Common, May 21, Tarboro
This 40th annual outdoor arts festival on Tarboro's historic Town Common features jazz, bluegrass, gospel and country music throughout the day along with displays of fine art, photography, beading, pottery and other arts and crafts for sale.
Art on the Neuse Outdoor Festival/Art Exhibition, June 18, Oriental
This 8th annual festival on the harbor in Oriental will feature folk and bluegrass musicians along with art in a variety of media including paintings, prints, graphics, photos, sculpture, ceramics, fiber, handwoven wearable art, wood, glass, fine jewelry, metal work, pottery and mixed media.
Kruger Brothers Mark Mother's Day at the Chapel
The Kruger Brothers celebrate Mother's Day with a concert and barbecue at the Chapel of Rest on Sunday, May 8 at 4 p.m. The admission fee of $30 includes music and a meal and supports the the Chapel's ongoing Joan and Robert Rogers Memorial Concert series.
Born in Switzerland and playing music professionally since 1973, the Kruger Brothers, featuring Jens on banjo and Uwe on guitar, made their first visit to N.C. to play at Merlefest in Wilkesboro in 1997. Their love of traditional music kept them coming back, and since 2003 they have made their homes in the region.
The chapel is open as a place for the public to meditate during daylight hours, although it does not host regular religious services. It features annual spring and fall music concerts and holiday services as well as music every Easter eve, Thanksgiving eve and Christmas Eve.
For more information about the Mother's Day concert and barbecue, contact the Chapel of Rest at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 758-8619 or (828) 758-0906.
Innovative Sounds from Zenph
Zenph Sound Innovations in Durham brings jazz and classical recordings to life through a process called "re-performance" and shares them with audiences old and new via digital releases and productions like Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here at Raleigh's Kennedy Theatre. The company's software captures the essence and nuances of original recordings which are played anew on piano and other instruments in high fidelity, earning its releases multiple Grammy nominations.
Businesses like Zenph are an important part of the creative industry in N.C. Innovative companies in the state's music industry keep musicians and composers employed. Even during the recession, jobs in music increased 17 percent. Several members of the Zenph staff are accomplished musicians in their own right who also perform regularly for the public.
Patrick Litterst, director of software product management, performs with the North Carolina Symphony, the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and the Durham Symphony Orchestra. Eric Hirsch performs, records and tours with two Triangle bands: The Beast, a progressive hip-hop/jazz quartet, and Orquesta GarDel, a 13-member Cuban salsa ensemble. Jeff Aldridgeis a singer/actor who performs with the N.C. Opera Company, North Carolina State University Theatre and others.
Learn about the musical talents of these and other Zenph staffers, and find an events calendar listing of their upcoming performances at the Zenph website, http://www.zenph.com.
Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddler's Convention Marks 40th Year
Now in its 40th year, the annual Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddler's Convention will draw visitors and competitors from around the world to the town's Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday, June 3, and Friday, June 4. Special guests Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver mark the convention's anniversary with a performance Thursday night.
Attendees are known to start arriving more than a week early to jam with each other in campsites and parking areas. “It's a place for old friends to gather each year,” says Gary Willard, event manager. “And a lot of new people come hoping to play with some of the more seasoned musicians.”
Attendance in 2010 was the highest in the history of the convention, and Willard anticipates as many as 3,000 people will return this year. “I think it's the economy,” he says. “More people are staying closer to home and the area in general rather than traveling.” Nevertheless, the gathering draws visitors from eight or nine foreign countries, including Italy, Japan, Ireland, Germany and Russia. “They come over here to learn the music,” Willard reports, “and some of them even compete.”
Contests are held for best bluegrass band and old-time band, and individuals compete on instruments including fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, dobro, dulcimer, autoharp and in categories including folk song and dance. About 800 people entered competitions last year.
Although the convention began with a 50/50 split between bluegrass and old-time players, 75 percent of the music is now-old time, Willard says. This sustained interest in traditional music, along with improvements to make the park more welcoming, point to another good session of jamming, picking and listening.
“The talent each year seems to get better and better,” Willard says. “We're getting more of the younger generation involved.” For more information, visit http://www.mtairyfiddlersconvention.com/.
Photo by Jason Meyer
Merlefest, the music festival and fundraiser established in 1988 to honor N.C. Heritage Award–winning guitarist Doc Watson's late son, Merle, is an internationally renowned event and one of the largest of its kind in the nation. The four-day festival of Americana music is scheduled April 28 – May 1. Learn more about this year's Merlefest, watch Merle and Doc play and view videos of some of this year's artists by visiting our Arts Everyday blog at http://www.ncartseveryday.org.
Festival Highlights Cherokee Music and Heritage
Held since 1998 on the grounds of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Cherokee Voices Festival will welcome 1,000 visitors on Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The free event typically features 30 people demonstrating Cherokee arts and crafts, five or six people in living history encampments, five or six dance groups, a half dozen storytellers and an equal number of musical groups.
“This is one of very few events where members of the public can see people who are all members of a federally recognized Indian tribe, presenting traditions that go back hundreds or thousands of years, on the land that they come from,” says Barbara R. Duncan, education director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. She co-authored (with Brett H. Riggs) the Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook, published by UNC Press in conjunction with the N.C. Arts Council.
The festival will feature several N.C. Arts Council Folk Heritage Award winners, including 94 year-old Walker Calhoun, a dance leader and traditional singer who also will be playing the five-string banjo. Other Heritage Award winners include storyteller Jerry Wolf and potter Amanda Swimmer. Many Cherokee elders typically are unable to perform or present at festivals, and this local event gives them an opportunity to do so.
There also will be Cherokee flute players as well as gospel groups singing shape note songs in the Cherokee language dating back 200 years. “It's mostly family groups, singing in three or four part harmonies,” Duncan says. “You don't usually get to hear this unless you go to sings in the community and in the churches, so it's a unique opportunity for the public to experience it.”
The festival draws local Cherokee people but mostly brings visitors from outside the community, including groups from schools, summer camps, scouts and others. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian typically welcomes guests from all 50 states and 30 foreign countries.
“It's a chance not only to see these things, but also to interact one-on-one with Cherokee people,” Duncan says. “You can talk to them on a personal level and learn more about the Cherokee culture, face-to-face.” For more information, visit http://www.cherokeemuseum.org/.
Take a Survey, Support the Arts
Wondering how your favorite arts or cultural activity will fare in challenging economic times? You can help document how much the arts return to your community by completing an Arts and Economic Prosperity Audience Survey at various events during 2011.
Arts and other organizations will be conducting a short, one-page survey that asks about your spending habits on tickets, meals, transportation and lodging at arts events. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey — your opinion and participation in the arts matters!
If you are planning an arts or cultural program during 2011, make sure you collect surveys from your audiences. Go to our Arts and Economic Prosperity Study portal at http://www.ncarts.org/afta for the audience survey collector orientation packet with complete instructions and survey forms.
A report on the findings will be available in early summer 2012.
About the North Carolina Arts Council
The North Carolina Arts Council works to make North Carolina The Creative State where a robust arts industry produces a creative economy, vibrant communities, children prepared for the 21st century and lives filled with discovery and learning. The Arts Council accomplishes this in partnership with artists and arts organizations, other organizations that use the arts to make their communities stronger and North Carolinians — young and old — who enjoy and participate in the arts. For more information, visit www.ncarts.org.
The N.C. Arts Council is a division of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, a state agency dedicated to the promotion and protection of North Carolina's arts, history and culture. www.ncculture.com