When: Fri., Jan. 6, 9 p.m. 2017
No, Friday night's Piedmont Queens show in Durham doesn't feature any actual royalty, but it does present a slate of bright young talent with a twist: for this string of shows that includes stops in Greensboro and Roanoke, Virginia, each of four female singer-songwriters will be joined by a full band that includes horns, backing vocalists, and percussion. The shows were spearheaded by Durham's Alex Bingham, who has been one of the key members of the Greensboro music collective Dirty Laundry. Bingham cofounded the group about five years ago with musician friends at UNC-Greensboro, all of whom wanted to branch out from their jazz studies.
"After we all graduated and went our separate ways, we've gotten back together the past few years to support our favorite local artists," he explains.
The group arranges music for a full-band format, backing artists who usually only perform solo or as part of a duo. For this three-show run of regional gigs, that happened to be all female songwriters: Greensboro's Anne-Claire Niver, Boone's Kate Rhudy, Roanoke's Claire Hitchins, and Saxapahaw's Libby Rodenbough, who sings and plays fiddle in the folk outfit Mipso.
"When I realized it was all women that I had in mind, and I thought about what's going on today in terms of the political climate of North Carolina and America, I thought it was more important than ever to highlight what these artists are already doing really well," Bingham adds.
From Rodenbough's perspective, the Dirty Laundry collaboration is a new way to crack open her creativity.
"The thing I do with [Mipso] is so familiar now that I don't have that many vulnerable moments on stage anymore, for better or for worse. I think it's probably good to spook yourself on occasion, so I'm glad for that chance," she says. "On the other hand, this giant band with the horns and all is a whole different support system for me," Rodenbough continues, adding that she plans to play material that doesn't quite fit the Mipso format, along with a Dido cover that she describes as "a Christmas present" to herself.
Rodenbough, for her part, has contributed some of the most compelling moments in the Mipso catalog since joining the young Chapel Hill four-piece full-time in 2014, breathing new life into the modern string band with her inventive songcraft and haunting vocals. Hitchins and Rhudy add differing flavors of Appalachian folk; the former tends towards delicate intimacy, while tunes like "I Don't Like You (Or Your Band)" prove Rhudy's words to be more biting on occasion. Niver shakes up the show's rootsy undertones with an offbeat, ethereal sort of soul. —Spencer Griffith