As 2019 draws to a close, we are reflecting on some of the biggest moments of Come Hear North Carolina this year. We’ve compiled our favorite moments from every Music at the Mansion, a special concert series celebrating North Carolina’s vibrant and diverse musical traditions hosted by First Lady Kristin Cooper at the N.C. Executive Mansion, below.
The Harris Brothers
Near the end of an expansive inaugural Music at the Mansion performance, Reggie and Ryan Harris chatted with renowned sculptor Thomas Sayre from the stage, remarking on his sculpture in their hometown of Lenoir. Earlier in the set, Sayre called out a request for “Sultans of Swing.” He clearly knew something that most of the crowd didn’t, as the duo abided and broke into a smooth cover of the famous Dire Straits tune. While Mark Knopfler and his band hail from the United Kingdom, the way Reggie Harris translated the guitar parts from a Stratocaster to his Wayne Henderson flat-top acoustic makes you wonder if maybe Knopfler listened to a little Doc Watson in his early years. Find the moment at the 44:35 minute mark.
After apologizing for “looking really tacky” for using the tuner on her phone, Emily Frantz reflected on the pride she and her bandmate Andrew Marlin felt for performing in the Executive Mansion and being members of North Carolina’s music lineage. She then noted that being North Carolinians meant they had some opportunities to write protest songs, and that they were prepared to perform a few in the building that has historically housed decision- makers involved in controversial public policies. Abandoning the instrument that lent to their namesake, Frantz on fiddle and Marlin on guitar performed “Hey Adam,” a song that re-imagines Adam in the Garden of Eden keeping secret that he is a gay man. This song was written in response to 2012’s Amendment 1 that saw the Constitution of North Carolina prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. The amendment was overruled in federal court after then-Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to defend it. To perform that song in the house he now occupies was intentional, powerful, and indicative of how many North Carolina musicians feel a sense of civic duty to use their art and platforms to raise awareness about social justice issues across the state. Find the moment at the 13 minute mark.
After a standing ovation and calls for one more song, the Charlotte-based group agreed, but with an exception – the crowd had to remain on their feet and dance. This was a simple request, and First Lady Kristin Cooper led the effort, occupying the center aisle and dancing with her guests and friends, new and old. In what might be the most “you had to be there” moment from the year of performances at the Executive Mansion, the video is obscured by the bobbing heads and moving hips of attendees, but the rhythms provided by Chócala are there, and really, that’s all you need. Catch the dancing at the 35:50 mark.
Charly Lowry & Friends
Picking a favorite moment from this Music at the Mansion performance is a near impossible task, but the part that keeps standing out was not the music but the attendees. Charly Lowry invited many of her fellow Lumbee tribespeople, recognizing and bantering with them from the stage. At the end of her stunning performance, Governor Roy Cooper arrived back at his home after a day on the road and took the time to meet, talk with, and take photos with the guests who, as Charly Lowry’s bandmate Alexis Raeana pointed out earlier in the day, were recent descendants of Native Americans who were likely not even allowed to visit the N.C. Executive Mansion in their lifetimes.
The day of Jim Lauderdale’s Music at the Mansion performance, the music world was shaken by the news of the passing of Robert Hunter. Most folks know Robert Hunter as the esteemed lyricist and muse for the Grateful Dead, but Jim Lauderdale knew him as a friend. Choking back tears, he recalled the time they spent together, the hundreds of songs they wrote, and told the audience what a “fierce, gentle, kind, and brilliant” man he was before celebrating his life with one of their many co-written tunes, “Trashcan Tomcat.” Catch the tribute at the 28 minute mark.
Sidney Outlaw ft. Warren Jones
For the final Music at the Mansion of the year, we went back to basics. No amplifiers. No drums. No frills. Only the Executive Mansion’s Steinway grand piano and an end table with a cup of tea filled the performance area before acclaimed baritone Sidney Outlaw and his accompanist Warren Jones took their places. About 30 seconds into their performance, you knew this was all you really needed. Opening the night with a rousing rendition of “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s opera buffa The Barber of Seville, Sidney Outlaw used every bit of space allowed to him, gliding from stage left to stage right, leaning casually on the open Steinway, and even breaking out the stereotypical “one arm in the air” opera pose during the crescendos of the piece. Most people in the audience probably recognized this piece from their younger years watching Looney Tunes, and his dynamic interpretation of this classic was the perfect way to rope us into what was one of the most jaw-dropping performances of the year.