Though some might think that modern country is the dodo bird of music, the 21,000 or so who regularly sell out Alltel Pavilion obviously think otherwise. Once again this summer, the area's biggest venue is thick with the stuff, including the boot-in-the-ass-kickin' Toby Keith on June 11, the way-too-embarrassed-about-his-baldness Kenny Chesney on Aug. 12 and the "Red Dirt Road" trailblazers Brooks & Dunn on Aug. 27. The Drive-By Truckers--more country than any aforementioned hat-wearers--open for the Dave Matthews Band on June 29. Charlottesville's boys of summer released an abysmal album two weeks ago, but they remain more filling live than any other shed-heading act. Many Daveheads will be at Alltel 11 days earlier, too, catching the inaugural Zooma Tour (presented by the Bonnaroo folks) with headliners Trey Anastasio and Ben Harper and the fantastically eclectic Innocent Criminals. Gomez, Les Claypool, Brazilian Girls and Medeski, Martin & Wood all populate the second stage, which is where the real party will be.
Other highlights: Carole King on July 17, Johns Fogerty and Mellencamp on July 22, Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago on July 23, James Taylor on July 29 and the impossibly twisted lineup of Avril Lavigne, Gavin Degraw and Butch Walker on Aug. 24. Coldplay makes its first Triangle appearance on Sept. 10 with indie sunbeams Rilo Kiley in the one-slot. I can wait all summer for that one, I suppose ( www.alltelpavilion.com ).
Oh boy, it's party time. My favorite American Idol runner-up and Rolling Stone cover boy (well, if there's only one, he has to be my favorite, doesn't he?) Clay Aiken comes back home to Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary's Regency Park on Aug. 5, just in time for security guards to remove the drinkers and smokers from the O.A.R. concert the previous evening.
A month later Jack Johnson, touring on the success of a near-perfect third album, returns for the first time since his rainy day triumph with Ben Harper two years ago.
Other top shows at Koka's place are this Sunday's concert by Alison Krauss & Union Station, followed into early July by Aretha Franklin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and a Grand Ole Opry jamboree featuring Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury and several others. Kenny Rogers will join the North Carolina Symphony on July 16. In fact, members of the N.C. Symphony--under the inspired leadership of Grant Llewellyn--will be regulars in Cary with several choice evenings ( www.boothamphitheatre.com ).
N. C. Museum of Art
The most enticing lineup of the summer probably falls to the N.C. Museum of Art's Bryan Theater. Local gal Tift Merritt opens the season with some help from her Music Maker blues pals Cool John Ferguson and John Dee Holeman. Aimee Mann, whose latest The Forgotten Arm pairs her customary and paradoxical dry lushness with some of her darkest characters yet in a twisted concept record, comes June 18 with a "Really, I'm too nice to hate" kiwi named Ben Lee, followed by France's Les Primitifs du Futur on June 25, Cajun/jazz/zydeco fusionists BeauSoleil on July 16 and Ireland's Dervish on July 29. The divine Lucinda Williams--who just released a hit-and-miss live recording from a three-night Fillmore stint--plays the museum on Aug. 10, with the hard-nosed, hard-living survivor Steve Earle ("F the CC, man") coming through with Allison Moorer on Aug. 27 (www.ncartmuseum.org).
Bynum's General Store returns with another great 2005 lineup, stretching clear from April to November with the likes of Tift Merritt and Hobart Willis & The Back Forty's reunion for Jerry's Birthday (July 30), The Malpass Family (July 15) and Cub Country (June 24). For more, see carrboro.com/bynummusic.
Alive After Five kicks off June 2 with a Bon Jovi tribute band, followed by Dave Matthews, Journey and Jimmy Buffet cover bands, interspersed with several bands that might as well include the word "cover" in their name (with respectful exception to you, General Johnson). Plus, Raleigh gets a little free live music apart from the customary Alive After Five this summer: Downtown Live kicked off late last month with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but Better Than Ezra (June 11), The Violent Femmes, Naughty by Nature and Little Texas play through September. Visit www.raleighdowntownlive.com for more.
Of course, if you're allergic to the outdoors or if none of the above really excites you, local clubs--particularly the Cat's Cradle (www.catscradle.com)--have booked one of the strongest summers in memory. Cradle highlights include Spoon, Rilo Kiley, My Morning Jacket, Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk, Architecture in Helsinki, Alejandro Escovedo, Iron & Wine, Cannibal Ox sort-of, Blowfly, Tegan & Sara and Kasey Chambers. Back in Chapel Hill, Local 506 (www.local506.com) offers Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck, Rubber City Rebels, Rogue Wave, Aqualung and Gang Gang Dance, while Raleigh gets Galactic, Luciano, Hot Tuna, The Clarks, Kevn Kinney, Robbie Fulks, The Gourds, Laura Cantrell and The Backyard Babies via Lincoln Theatre (www.lincolntheatre.com), The Pour House (www.the-pour-house.com) and Martin Street Music Hall (www.martinstreetmusichall.com).
Of course, the next two weeks offer a flurry of shows that would make any area blush, and plenty more are still being booked: Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (Meymandi Hall, June 8), Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt (Artscenter, June 9), Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson (Five County Stadium, June 12), The Pixies and The Bellrays (Disco Rodeo, June 12), Camper Van Beethoven and Modest Mouse (Raleigh Convention Center, June 14), Lil Jon' & The East side Boyz (RBC Center, June 18). And that's just June. Enjoy.
Next week, look for Grant Britt's rundown of Alltel Pavillion's new two-sidestage setup.