In celebration of the Year of Music, WUNC Music launched a new series that explored North Carolina music one song at a time called Come Hear NC on the Songs We Love. All year they asked people from the music community to talk about a song that said something about our home state. They brought in musicians, writers and club owners to talk about the songs they love with WUNC’s Eric Hodge. We highlighted six of our favorite episodes (listed alphabetically) below.
Laura Ballance is the bassist for Chapel Hill based rock band Superchunk and co-founder of the acclaimed Durham-based indie label Merge Records. Back in March she talked with Eric Hodge about Black Mountain native Roberta Flack’s “Compared to What.” Her first exposure to North Carolina music was in second grade when she heard her parent’s Roberta Flack First Take record, which features the track. “This song to me is an expression of that frustration and powerlessness that people were feeling at the time,” says Laura. “It's a protest song against the lack of progress in the civil rights movement and the general kind of political climate going on at that time."
Typical Songs We Love episodes clock in at around 10 minutes, but that just isn’t enough time to dive into all of North Carolina’s musical offerings. To close out the decade, North Carolina Arts Council Music Director Carly Jones joined hip-hop DJ Mir.I.Am and Eric Hodge to talk for an hour about how the last 10 years shaped North Carolina’s music scene.
Dom Flemons has made a name for himself as someone prepared to correct the record. His time with the Carolina Chocolate Drops saw the group reclaiming string band music for the people of color who helped define the genre, and on his most recent album, the Grammy-nominated Black Cowboys, he tells the story of the Black, Latino, and American Indian people who helped shape the Wild West. On this episode of Songs We Love, he talks to Eric Hodge about the often overlooked Pete Seeger tune “Cindy,” recorded with North Carolinians Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. He describes the song as, “Pete Seeger’s party dance mix in a type of way, with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.”
Come Hear North Carolina was the main stage sponsor for IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass, and in preparation for her performance and tribute set at the festival, Alice Gerrard chatted with WUNC about Elizabeth Cotten’s folk-staple “Freight Train.” Written when she was just a teenager, Gerrard describes the song as, “Simple, but it conjures up beautiful images of after death, hearing that train that you love, and the train is such a feature of Southern music."
Early in the year, Come Hear North Carolina launched the podcast series “Director’s Cut” which saw N.C. Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Martin sit down with producer Sandra Davidson to premiere and discuss field recordings collected over the last three decades. In this episode of Songs We Love, Wayne Martin brings his recording of Etta Baker and John Dee Holeman’s performance of “Crow Jane,” which features a rare moment of Etta Baker singing.
Come Hear North Carolina partnered with Hopscotch this year, helping them celebrate the festival’s 10th birthday. Before the festivities kicked off, Hopscotch director Nathan Price stopped by WUNC to talk about the North Carolina anthem “Raise Up” by Snow Hill’s Petey Pablo. The perfect song to start a party with, Nathan reminisces on what it felt like as a young North Carolinian to hear a chart-topping song dedicated to his home state.
As 2019 draws to a close, we are reflecting on some of the biggest moments of Come Hear North Carolina this year. Over the last 12 months, we published dozens of video's profiling musicians venues and one-of-a-kind concert series in North Carolina. We’ve compiled the 10 most popular videos of the year below!
Musician Phonte Coleman and filmmaker Holland Randolph Gallagher, creator of the Durham, N.C. based web series Hype, produced two documentary shorts about the Little Brother for Come Hear North Carolina. Started in a college dorm room by a group of North Carolina Central students in 2001, Little Brother defined the sound of Durham hip-hop for years to come, constructing a style altogether distinct from everything to the north and south. This level of innovation turned heads with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, and the members of Little Brother (9th Wonder, Big Pooh and Phonte) have gone on to work with superstars like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Questlove, who appears in the documentary shorts. Through the use of extensive interviews with the group and never before seen archival footage, short films chronicle key moment in Little Brother’s past and present: the creation of their first album and their surprise reunion show at Art of Cool in 2018. Phonte and Holland have worked together before, on Hype and they reflect on their collaboration and Come Hear North Carolina in this clip.
For her In The Water session Greensboro, North Carolina's Rhiannon Giddens took the Come Hear North Carolina team across the state to Wilmington - to share the too-often-forgotten history of the Wilmington insurrection of 1898. The tragic events of that year saw a white supremacist mob take over the city of Wilmington, burn and destroy African American-owned businesses and take an untold number of African American lives. Before the insurrection, Wilmington was considered to be one of the South's great examples of a city coming together in Reconstruction.
Nina Simone was an integral part of the 2019 Year of North Carolina Music. Our campaign coincided with a national effort to restore the iconic musician and Civil Rights leader's childhood home in Tryon, N.C. In this moving In the Water performance - supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation - Vanessa Ferguson, a performer from Greensboro, N.C. who gained national fame and fans as a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice” in season 12, performs Nina Simone's work in the legend's childhood home which was designated a National Treasure in the summer of 2019.
"Music I would say is very central in our lives just because there so many talented people that it’s undeniable," said Charly. "I've had a love affair with music and wanting to entertain since I was a toddler. It's always been something that makes me feel alive." Charly interweaves stories about significant her musical roots, Robeson County, and indigenous music and cultural pioneers throughout her 60-minute set, which features support by a talented group of musicians from her home community.
The Harris Brothers are are steeped in the cultural traditions of their home region in the western Piedmont and foothills of Caldwell County. They started playing music through the influence of family members and neighbors, who tutored them in country, bluegrass, swing and blues music that you find in and around Lenoir, which was once a furniture making center in North Carolina. The kicked off the Music at the Mansion series, hosted by First Lady Kristin Cooper.
Durham, North Carolina's the Mountain Goats wanted to record their In The Water session in John Coltrane's hometown of Hamlet, N.C. The session was filmed at the beautiful Hamlet Depot, the only Victorian Queen Anne-style train station in the state.
The Mountain Goats premiered a brand new song in their In The Water concert, and to the surprise of anyone familiar with the band - their cult following of devoted fans loved the new song.
In 2018 Little Brother shocked the hip hop community with a surprise reunion at the Art of Cool music festival in Durham, N.C. Their unannounced reunion came together in a matter of hours, and marked the first time the group had performed together in over a decade. Through candid interviews with the founding members of Little Brother, this short film explores the story behind the band's estrangement and subsequent reunion show. It is the second of two short films about the group directed by Holland Randolph Gallagher, creator of the web series Hype, and produced in collaboration with Little Brother for Come Hear North Carolina.
Started in a college dorm room by a group of North Carolina Central students in 2001, the Justus League collective and offshoot trio Little Brother defined the sound of Durham hip-hop for years to come, constructing a style altogether distinct from everything to the north and south. This level of innovation turned heads with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, and the members of Little Brother (9th Wonder, Big Pooh and Phonte) have gone on to work with superstars like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Questlove, who appears in the documentary. Through the use of extensive interviews with the group and never before seen archival footage, The Listening chronicles a key moment in Little Brother’s past and present: the creation of their first album. It is the first of two short films about the group directed by Holland Randolph Gallagher, creator of the web series Hype, and produced in collaboration with Little Brother for Come Hear North Carolina.
It's fair to say that Chapel Hill's Mandolin Orange are darlings of the folk music scene. The duo played a beautiful set at the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh that helped usher in a partnership between Come Hear North Carolina and the Americana Music Association (AMA). Their performance featured intimate storytelling and a guest appearance by John Teer of Chatham County Line.
As the Year of Music comes to a close across North Carolina, the Come Hear NC campaign will continue into 2020 to further shine a light on the state’s thriving music ecosystem, and to celebrate North Carolinians love of our music heritage.
Launched Jan. 1, 2019, Come Hear NC is a project of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and the North Carolina Arts Council that included live performances, exclusive content, festival partnerships and philanthropic endeavors.
Come Hear North Carolina’s online content featured “365 Days of Music” — highlighting a different element of the state’s music story every day of the year, and the In The Water live session series, in which North Carolina musicians performed at hand-selected locations throughout the state that were personally meaningful to the musician. Episodes of In The Water gained national media attention from outlets including Rolling Stone, Billboard and The Root for episodes featuring North Carolina musicians: The Mountain Goats, Mary Lattimore, Rhiannon Giddens and more.
“This has been an amazing Year of Music in North Carolina, and we have been fortunate to work with some wonderful industry partners who have helped us celebrate North Carolina music and musicians and to unify the music industry in 2019,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “We have celebrated our state’s contributions to America’s music scene and showcased a new generation of artists who are continuing that legacy and taking us into the future. We still have many more stories to tell.”
Throughout the year, NPR Music ran pieces on the “10 Songs That Say Something About North Carolina” and “5 Festivals You Have To See In Raleigh.” WUNC collaborated with Come Hear NC to establish a special series, the Come Hear NC Songs We Love podcast, which reached 360,000 total people through its live radio broadcast and was downloaded 81,000 times.
The initiative also commissioned projects documenting and promoting N.C.’s musical impact, including From the Mountains to the Sea, a two-hour multimedia/live presentation about Anne and Frank Warner’s folk music collection in North Carolina and Holland Randolph Gallagher’s two-part documentary series on Durham hip-hop pioneers Little Brother. Overall, this resulted in the Come Hear North Carolina campaign developing an online reach of over 2 million to date, which continues to grow.
In the realm of live music, Come Hear North Carolina curated one-of-a-kind programming on stages across the state. This included the first-ever concert series at the North Carolina Executive Mansion, dubbed “Music at The Mansion,” envisioned by North Carolina First Lady Kristen Cooper. The series featured six performances in 2019, including riveting celebrations of the state’s Native American and Hispanic musical traditions. Because of its success to bring together musicians and community members from across the state the Governor and First Lady will continue to host Music at The Mansion in 2020.
Come Hear NC also helped establish a Nina Simone Weekend in Raleigh this year, which aided in raising $60,000 (along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the N.C. African American Heritage Commission) to rehabilitate and preserve the High Priestess of Soul’s childhood home in rural Tryon, N.C. The Nina Simone Weekend events included panels, workshops and a special big band performance from Nina’s daughter Lisa Simone.
Additional live events resulted from partnerships with the Americana Music Association, Yep Roc Records, Merge Records, MerleFest, Hopscotch Music Festival, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and WUNC.
With all of these Come Hear North Carolina milestones, the initiative is proud to continue through 2020 with content, sponsored events, festivals, educational programming and performances in rural counties across the state. and the initiative will unveil a new content plan and collaborations with the N.C. Museum of Art, Live Nation, WRAL and UNC-TV.
In 2020, Come Hear North Carolina will provide support for the promotion of the Blue Ridge Music Trails and the African American Music Trails while working to improve the preservation of North Carolina’s music heritage, the state’s musical education and investment in the North Carolina music industry.
TLDR: We'll be back soon. Until then, Happy New Year!
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.
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.