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Raleigh music's hall of mirrors

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"It was a pretty typical night at Kings," said Brad Farran. He, Spencer Brantley and Lee Moore were sitting at a table, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller High Life and a bourbon and ginger, respectively. "Shadow of a Great Name was playing and they were great." About 150 people were there, he guessed, as the three sat greeting writers and artists and selling copies of the 23 Hours 'zine that had just come from Barefoot Press.

Farran, who is one of three partners in the Raleigh-based Pidgeon English record label, is used to playing this kind of role. "I've done the merch thing where you're sitting at a table trying to sell stuff to people," he said. "People were gracious and excited that we were there."

It was a natural place to celebrate the release of a 'zine commemorating a five-week-long art exhibit that documents 30 years of local music in Raleigh. Contributors came for free copies, and Moore estimates they sold 20 of the 1,000 copies printed that night and 30 more at the gallery over the weekend. Copies are available for $5.

"It was very successful for us," Farran said, "and also very humbling to be sitting at Kings and selling the 'zine instead of doing what we thought we'd be doing a month ago, which was sitting in the back of Bickett Gallery and rocking out."

Confusion about zoning permits--and some unhappy neighbors complaining about the noise--put an abrupt halt to the outdoor music events that had been planned for 23 Hours on the freshly constructed outdoor deck at the Five Points gallery in Raleigh. Last week, talks with the city's zoning officials had borne no fruit, so Kings stepped in to offer their stage from 6-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, so the weekend's music festivities wouldn't be lost.

But bands and organizers quickly realized that wasn't going to work.

Most of the bands already play Kings regularly, and some would have been playing there twice in one weekend. When Farran first approached Schooner, for instance, they already had a Kings gig lined up for that night. "I told them, you guys, it's totally rock 'n' roll to play two shows in one night." But the prospect of playing both shows on the same stage in one night wasn't so cool. "It just became sort of logistically untenable," Farran said.

Besides, the point was always to bring audiences in touch with the art. Now all music will happen inside Bickett Gallery. That fits with the original plan, which was to keep the wall art, music and installations in the same context.

Bands have been invited to play inside. For some, this option won't work. Local favorite The Cherry Valence, for instance, have five members, two drum sets and a big sound. Plus, Farran says, "They draw a huge crowd. It wouldn't make any sense for us to ask them to play inside a gallery that holds 40 people."

But you can catch more intimate acts The Ohio Farm Cats and The Ready Set on Friday, and on Saturday hear The Gaze, Le Machine and local favorite Sara Bell. (Check www.23hours.org for schedule changes.)

Farran says he's grateful to all of the bands for hanging in there--they're playing for free, after all. (All 23 Hours events are free, with donations going to benefit the Contemporary Art Museum.) And he's grateful that news about the canceled events traveled fast. But artists and organizers made sure to greet the fans that did come to Kings.

Ann Polesnak of the bands Utah! and The Ready Set was there Friday getting her free copy of the 'zine. Her article focused on the migration of Michigan artists and musicians who've infused the Raleigh scene in the past few years. Brian Donahoe, who was playing that night in Shadow of a Great Name, is also in The Ready Set, a band that's featured in the photography on the Bickett Gallery walls and scheduled to play inside this Friday. Musician, poet and artist Shirlette Ammons was also there hanging out with her 23 Hours compatriots. "It's very interconnected," Farran said.

When you come to Bickett, you'll find Farran sitting at another table at another Raleigh bar: Kristin Matwiczyk's painting of the three Pidgeon English Records partners documents one of their early meetings at the Jackpot. The colorful portrait is just one of the show's mirrors of the past and present Raleigh music community, a web of folks who know how to roll with the punches and still have a good time.

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