Jones Auditorium, Meredith College—Even if you're not a designer, you could benefit from listening to certain design visionaries. Surprising innovations can arise just from being in their atmosphere—inspirations or applications that inform other disciplines, including the art of living. I once heard design guru Bruce Mau speak. I still resonate with that experience, which was more than 10 years ago (check out his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth). Another epiphany design moment for me was the 2007 documentary, Helvetica, a feature-length film that explores the ubiquitous Swiss font.
One of Helvetica's brainiac interview subjects was with Stefan Sagmeister, who unleashes his vision that sees fonts and the whole design process as extensions of oneself, a self-reflexive, personal process. He's used his body in more than one project, alternately carving text into his flesh and displaying his body before and after consuming mass quantities. He's been a champion of the tactile and of the handmade. And no two projects look the same (compare work he's done for Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads). Now Sagmeister is on a worldwide book tour to promote his recent effort, Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. He'll be at Jones Auditorium at 5 p.m., sponsored by the Raleigh chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. It might end up being one of those life-altering experiences that sends your thinking in new directions. Or it might just be a cool thing to do, which isn't bad either. —Amy White
After a talk from 5-7 p.m., there is a reception until 8 p.m. Seating is limited, so advance registration is suggested. Visit raleigh.aiga.org/events/sagmeister/register.html. Admission prices range from $5-$25.
Alison Brown Quartet
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State—The first couple of times Grammy-winning banjo virtuoso Alison Brown played shows in North Carolina in the '90s, she was a bit intimidated. After all, she says, it is the "banjo-pickingest state," the place that gave the world Earl Scruggs. She's quite comfortable now, though, due to mutual respect: She appreciates the crowds' open-mindedness and warmth, and the crowds eat up her dazzling playing and the hybrid sounds that emerge from her group.
Brown describes those sounds as "folk music, first and foremost." However, an undeniable jazz presence stands alongside her bluegrass and Celtic influences. Maybe that seems like an odd bedfellow, but as Brown explains, the banjo was essential to early jazz and the Dixieland sound. Jazz and banjo-led bluegrass have a lot in common: "Both are styles of music where instrumentalists, and not just vocalists, can be solo artists. And improvisation is important to both. ... I'm just trying to bring the banjo back in the jazz direction."
Brown's exceptional quartet—augmented the last few years by David Grisman Quintet vet Joe Craven on mandolin and fiddle—helps her in that quest. Bassist Garry West (Brown's husband and, with her, co-founder of the eclectic Nashville-based Compass Records), pianist John R. Burr and drummer Larry Atamanuik round out the foursome. Their recent The Company You Keep aspires to document the unit's collaborative spirit. The results, like the band's inventive performances, are for "banjo fans and people who didn't know they liked banjo," says Brown. The acoustic fireworks start at 8 p.m., and tickets are $25-$28. —Rick Cornell
Duke Campus—Durham's Earth Day celebration will be especially colorful this year: Dan Brawley, a sculptor based in Wilmington, where he is head of the Cucalorus Film Festival, is the resident artist. Brawley, who has work featured in permanent collections across the state, will construct a large, welded steel armature woven from recycled industrial and household materials. Anyone can contribute to the creation by donating materials at sites throughout Durham, or help him weave the armature he will construct at Durham Central Park. In addition, Brawley gives a special lecture to Duke students about the project and his past work and influences. His visit should prove a learning experience, for artists and environmentalists alike. For more information on this and other Earth Day events, visit durhamnc.gov for more information. —Zack Smith
Koka Booth Amphitheatre—For the fifth straight year, Triangle residents have the opportunity to sample wines from all across the state at the annual Great Grapes! Wine, Arts & Food Festival. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Regency Park, and includes more than 150 wines from 19 North Carolina wineries, 50 unique artist and craft exhibits, live music and a grape-crushing "Stomp-Off." Admission is $20 at the door, $18 in advance and $10 for designated drivers. For more information, visit www.UncorktheFun.com. —Zack Smith
WCOM Benefit: Prayers & Tears, Violet Vector
Cat's Cradle—The most eloquent defenders of recently suspended, too-boorish-to-be-a-shock-jock G105 DJ Bob Dumas argue the Georgia native is a reminder of the diversity the new South should harbor: The native Southerner with his opinions coexisting with the translated Northerner (with his opinions, of course). That's as specious as calling Native Americans lazy because they've never worked at his house, which Dumas did on his morning-drive Showgram on April 1.
For diversity in local radio, turn your needed donations, deserves-better attention and malcontent dials to WCOM 103.5 FM, a low-power station that mixes music and opinion from a converted bank building in Carrboro. Causes célèbre come better in pairs: Help the radio station pay its operating costs by paying $8-$10 at 8:30 p.m. while hearing a handful of the better bands in the Triangle (that Dumbass has never heard): The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers sweep feelings into books and maths, while Sweater Weather lets emotion overshadow education, feelings flaring into grand acoustic rushes. Violet Vector pops perfectly, and Crash brings late-night rhymes over DJ Trizzak's beats. Also, The Water Callers, Stranger Spirits and Harmute. Oh, and fire that nincompoop already. —Grayson Currin