A Look Back: The Come Hear NC Team Reflects on Key Moments from the North Carolina Year of Music

Come Hear North Carolina
December 29, 2019


The North Carolina Year of Music flew by. Between the hundreds of stories produced about North Carolina music and countless on-site participation at music events across the state, the Come Hear NC team is overcome with memories and stories about the year. As a part of our ongoing year-in-review series, we asked core members of the Come Hear NC team to share their favorite moments from the campaign. Find them below. 

Laura Casteel, Video Producer, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

Probably my favorite moment was G Yamazawa’s set at Shakori. The music, showmanship, and energy of that performance were incredible. 


Sandra Davidson, Content Strategist and Producer, N.C. Arts Council

Connections between past and present generations of North Carolina musicians revealed themselves in countless interviews and performances this year. Doc Watson’s legacy as a musician and, perhaps more profoundly, a good man, came up time and time again in the dozen or so interviews we collected at Merlefest and the stories we heard from musicians who performed for the Doc Watson tribute show at Americanafest. Similarly, Nina Simone’s impact as a musician, trailblazer, and Civil Rights leader was cited time and time, further proving just how deep the roots of American music run in the hearts of our state’s musicians. In an era when divisive generational and geographic thought pieces seem more prevalent than stories that examine the ties that bind us, that thread of reverence, respect for history, and desire to carry the torch has been without a doubt my favorite part of the campaign. Our story about Sister Lena Mae Perry and Phil Cook’s musical collaboration for provides a life-affirming example of this


Sam Gerweck, Come Hear NC Project Administrator and Producer, N.C. Arts Council

One of my favorite memories was going down to Johnston County to Sister Lena Perry’s church to watch her rehearsal with Phil Cook. To see the different walks of life – Phil and his bandmates, Sister Perry, her musical partner Wilbur Tharpe, and her family – come together to create music in such a sacred place felt like the perfect encapsulation of this project’s mission. No boundaries, no frills, just everyone taking in the power that is music. The fact that there was no audience besides each other was a testament to what a great performer Sister Perry and her bandmates are, just pouring their soul out into the world through song no matter the circumstances

My other favorite memory was working with Phonte Coleman to get the Little Brother documentary out into the world. From the initial meeting at Tupelo Honey in Raleigh to the interview feature at his old stomping grounds at NCCU to the live screening and discussion of the documentary mere hours before the Little Brother reunion at Hopscotch. He’s not only one of our state’s great musical talents, he’s also somewhat of a historian, with stories and tidbits on such a huge range of topics (evident in the playlist he made for Come Hear NC), plus he’s just one of the funniest people on the planet.


Carly Jones, Music Director, N.C. Arts Council

North Carolina musician’s authentic, heartfelt storytelling was an undercurrent throughout our Come Hear NC campaign, and the Music at The Mansion series created a space for special moments that brought together community through music and stories. It was so memorable to watch artists share stories about music, home, family and culture with their friends and family in the intimate, yet regal, surroundings of the North Carolina Executive Mansion’s golden ballroom. The ballroom was truly transformed into “The People’s House” on those evenings. 

Charly Lowry’s Music at the Mansion exemplified that Music at the Mansion magic.  Charly brought a talented group of musicians with her, and they created magic that night. Charly’s beautiful storytelling uplifted the history, traditions and culture of the Lumbee people. She shared stories about her experience as a brown-skinned Lumbee woman with a Robeson County accent during her first years at UNC-Chapel Hill; her experience being mentored by the legendary Pura Fe and the significance of being a Native women playing the drum; and she even shared the music of the great Willie French Lowery, who had a profound impact on the Lumbee community. That night, the ballroom felt like a family reunion and was filled with folks from all over Robeson County who knew and loved them. The feeling of warmth, pride and community was overwhelmingly beautiful. I felt honored to be there to witness such an incredible evening.


Brenna McCallum, Program Administrator, N.C. Arts Council 

The camaraderie of a shared love of music and the shared moments with colleagues gathering around and celebrating that music, has made the Year of Music a special year for me. Some of my highlights include seeing the Avett Brothers for the first time at MerleFest and sitting on a sun-drenched hillside listening to the MerleFest’s 2019 Hillside Album Hour. Every year at MerleFest The Waybacks devote an entire set to covering an iconic album, and this year they covered Led Zeppelin IV. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like I went to a Led Zeppelin concert. The music was powerful, the musicianship was incredible, and the atmosphere was electric. I get why this is a beloved MerleFest Tradition. 


Rebecca Moore, Marketing Director, N.C. Arts Council

One of the great parts of the Year of Music was our on-site booth presence at festivals and music events. This year Come Hear NC was the mainstage sponsor of the World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh, and our booth was located by the main entrance of the Red Hat Amphitheatre. Our production team curated a reel of video highlights that played on the jumbotron between bluegrass sets, and it was so exciting to watch attendees learn what our campaign was all about… the videos led to some great interaction with folks at the booth — especially those thanking us for celebrating North Carolina music. It felt good to chat with new fans and be thanked for our efforts, all while taking in some of the best bluegrass the world has to offer.


Tom Normanly, Executive Producer, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

My favorite memory this year from the Come Hear NC campaign was meeting Presley Barker at Merlefest. I knew nothing of him beyond that he was a young musician. When he walked in, he was personable and polite. My first thought was, “This kid has good parents and they raised him right.” There were “yes sirs” an “no ma’am’s” but not in an Eddie Haskill kind of way. 

He started to play his guitar, but to say he played it doesn’t do the moment justice. Music emanated from him like he’d invented that guitar, and we were hearing the instrument for the first time. Maybe I’m romanticizing it more on account of his age or his charm, but you could feel the room change when he played. His fingers were strumming and flying up and down the strings like a classically trained pianist would assault a piano in some fancy concert hall. It was as if he’d been playing guitar for forty years, and we were floored. Nevermind the twang when he sang, which was that upside-down loop midway through the coaster. This kid handled the guitar with ease, much the way other teenagers might handle a pencil, toothbrush, or cellphone.

I stopped adjusting the light or fiddling with the camera, it’s not important what I was doing. I stopped. I just sat there for a moment, knowing I’d always remember the first time I heard Presley Barker play. When he was finished, that little kid smile flashed across his face like nothing had happened. He seemed oblivious to the change in the room. It was a real treat to meet and listen to Presley Barker play for the first time and I’ll never forget it. 


Catherine Swain, Marketing Director, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

I loved seeing the artists backstage at MerleFest get starstruck by Governor Roy Cooper. 2019 is the first year a North Carolina Governor attended MerleFest and he had the privilege of introducing Steep Canyon Ranger’s North Carolina performance. Truly special and sweet! A great N.C. music moment. 


Matt Zeher, Video Producer, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

I'd say over the course of the year my favorite part was learning a lot about video production for music performances and recordings.  My previous experience before Come Hear NC involved passively recording musicians while they performed on stage, and at most taking in pre-mixed feeds from the house audio board to pair with video.  Specifically for "In The Water," but a few other productions as well, we graduated to working directly with the musicians to capture a recording of their performance, mixing in the instruments ourselves, learning how to balance levels and properly and adjust EQ, compression, and other dynamics as needed to achieve the desired effect.  This started with nothing but a small Zoom recorder at the most basic levels with solo artists and duo acts like Mary Lattimore and The Mountain Goats, and then advanced to capturing entire bands via multitrack recording in a DAW like Brooke Simpson.  I also learned a bit about live audio mixing with the "Music in the Mansion" series, where our goal was not only to record the band's performance in front of an audience, but to handle the entire sound and amplification logistics ourselves, again starting with small acts like the The Harris Brothers and building to large seven-piece ensembles like Charly Lowry.