Late November brought the sad news that DAVID ENLOE, who'd been hospitalized for several weeks, passed away. David sparked the Fabulous Knobs and the Woods with rock-star charisma, slippery-groove guitar heroics, and memorable songs. He could kick up some sand.
EYES TO SPACE bid adieu from the stage of Local 506, mild-mannered keytarist and vocalist Jay Cartwright smashing his signature instrument to close the set and the books on a Chapel Hill band who knew how to have fun.
As he finishes his first semester as an MFA student at Mills College in California, longtime Triangle musical force CHUCK JOHNSON (Spatula, Ivanovich, Pykrete) probably hasn't had time to look back on the Triangle much, but he remains a constant source of inspiration as a fearless experimenter and doer in all his bands and projects. Johnson believed in actions over words.
Singer-songwriter TIFT MERRITT moved to New York this year, but not before she stretched her musical chops with the N.C. Symphony. Performing with the Symphony at Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre, she premiered the title cut from Another Country, her third album due next year. At New York's Beacon Theatre in November, Merritt joined bands like Yo La Tengo and My Morning Jacket for an I'm Not There-based Dylan retrospective. New York Times critic Jon Pareles described Merritt as having "the night's purest voice."
SUGAR HILL artist SCOTT MILLER overnighted a bottle of whiskey to the Durham gang, the accompanying Smith Corona-born note instructing them to raise a toast to the work they'd done for the better part of three decades. Then, some of them headed to the label's new office in NASHVILLE.
SCHOOLKIDS RECORDS in Chapel Hill shut the doors in March to The Annex, a second storefront that housed used CDs and vinyl and hosted free pre-show day sets for nighttime gigs in town.
The weekend that it was confirmed KINGS would be leaving McDowell Street to make way for a parking deck coincided with WKNC's fifth annual DOUBLE BARREL BENEFIT: Megafaun consciously freaked the kids out; The Prayers and Tears told stories about wild beasts; The Old Ceremony danced; The Mountain Goats strummed hard. The next night, Annuals threw drumsticks, and the kids left The Nein lonely. Shame on them.
Of all the year's CD release shows, MIDTOWN DICKENS GET DOWN SHOWDOWN gathered the most ambition and community beneath one roof: 305 South's last major stand featured 17 bands and a few hundred fans. Antifolk star KIMYA DAWSON played two sets, tamales were served and eaten, and Midtown Dickens charmed with perfect songs and laughs for their mistakes. A month later, 307 Knox labelmates FUTURE KINGS OF NOWHERE turned Ringside into a rock fantasy land.
This April's NO FUTURE FESTIVAL was Nightlight's third annual sampling of American noise musicians. Exhausting but mostly worthwhile, the festival gathered more than two dozen artists in two days: Tom Grimley planted sound toys throughout Nightlight; Charlie Draheim punished with high-end suspension; Lexie Mountain table-crashed; Bloodyminded wore leather. Things got out of hand again, more as tradition than provocation.
Chapel Hill's clubs turn into dance floor sweat lodges during SIGNAL, everyone coming together in the name of that ever-growing sect of "electronic music." Detroit techno masters Derrick May and Stacy Pullen talked about techno as a black American art form, then blew out eardrums; new radicals like Tomas Phillips and Richard Chartier played across town from ravers until late; and Players opened their doors to dance freaks. Bigger and better.
TODD HERSHBERGER is a member of pulsoptional, Durham's composer collective. His Ph.D. thesis piece, "Concerto for Free Improvising Alto Saxophonist and Jazz Orchestra," for the Duke Department of Music featured the N.C. Jazz Repertory Orchestra and German soloist FRANK GRATKOWSKI performing a half-hour piece bridging free improv and experimental classical for Duke's Milestones Gala Concert. Ecstatic.
UNC's SOUTHERN FOLKLIFE COLLECTION released its first set of recordings from its colossal archives, a collection of fiddle music titled Marcus Martin: When I Get My New House Done, Western North Carolina Fiddle Tunes and Songs. They're planning one release each year now.
Interim Director of Duke Performances AARON GREENWALD schedules an ambitious homage to Rocky Mount native and jazz giant THELONIOUS MONK. Beginning with a world premiere from the Kronos Quartet and wending through performances by Hank Jones and Charlie Haden, Jason Moran, Henry Butler, Randy Weston, Kenny Barron and more, the series drew record crowds to Duke. It even included a recreation of Monk's only home state performance and his 1959 Town Hall concert.
To begin its third year, the CAROLINA PERFORMING ARTS SERIES lost its season opener and marquee name, Aretha Franklin. As a testament to the Series' momentum, last-minute replacement AL GREEN testified and amazed.
When cultural critic GREIL MARCUS goes deep on a topic, you could suffer from the bends coming back out of the wormhole. He talked about how one song, Sam McGee's "Railroad Blues," can create its own world. When the crowd emerged from UNC's Wilson Library in September, it was hard not to hear things differently, especially during the subsequent set from THE HANDSOME FAMILY, who curate a self-made world of murderers and magical realism.
Palmer Stacy provides the shelter, Marianne Taylor provides the bookings, and HIDEAWAY BBQ now provides the best roots, roots-rock, and country-influenced music in town. Here's a starter cross-section: Wayne Hancock, Bottle Rockets, Sarah Borges, and the guy who made Rick Cornell's favorite record of the year, Tommy Womack. Our optimistic side chooses not to view the reduction of Hideaway's live music schedule as an ominous sign.
This year's fourth annual AMERICAN ROOTS SERIES at THE ARTSCENTER again championed the big-tent definition of "American roots," meaning that fans of old-time, honky-tonk, folk, bluegrass, sacred steel, and alt-country all got a turn. The centerpiece was an astonishing performance by soul queen Bettye LaVette, an overnight sensation some 40 years in the making.
Peter Case, Ian Hunter and Chuck Prophet were welcomed into an elder statesmen clubhouse called YEP ROC that had already admitted Dave Alvin, Doyle Bramhall, John Doe, Robyn Hitchcock, Jim Lauderdale, Nick Lowe, and Paul Weller. And congrats to Bramhall, Lauderdale and that new guy Case on the Grammy nominations.
CHATHAM COUNTY LINE first hooked up with Norwegian folk star JONAS FJELD in 2006, playing a series of theater shows back in Norway. The resulting live album, Amerikabesøk, was a best-seller in Norway, causing CCL to return to Norway this winter and to slate several stateside recording sessions with Fjeld early next year.
The young/ancient trio called CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS experienced a whirlwind of a year, including a Prairie Home Companion appearance, four songs on the soundtrack for Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters, and a blur of festivals. See "Old roots, new branches" on page 36 for more.
Raleigh's BOWERBIRDS joined fellow conversational songwriting outlets THE MOUNTAIN GOATS and John Vanderslice for three tours in support of its first LP, Hymns for a DarkHorse. In September, the album was nominated for a PLUG Award in the Americana Album of the Year category.
THE ROSEBUDS' SXSW performances sparkled with enough energy to cause one blogger to describe them as "the best hour at the festival" and their new album, Night of the Furies, as the year's breakout.
Bummer: You're in the middle of a national tour with Northeast jam-folkies AKRON/FAMILY and Vermont-based ambient soothsayer Greg Davis, and a few thousand dollars of your gear gets swiped. Non-Bummer: Joining the Dead-worshipping, Love is Simple authors (and Davis, who is brilliant) on stage every night of said tour as official members of the Family. Added bonus: doing it alongside a boob-obsessed Bob Log III. Quite the tittersweet fall for Durham trio Megafaun, whose debut, Bury The Square, is due early next year via Radium.
Three months after the release of his stellar Fat Cat debut Sharp Teeth, Chapel Hill songwriter DAVID KARSTEN DANIELS recorded a four-song session for music blog Daytrotter. Daniels' Fear of Flying will be relased on Fat Cat in April 2008. For now, download "Epilogue" at daytrotter.com.
TEAM DRESCH's fans are famously enthusiastic and fabulous, so having THE EX-MEMBERS in their warm-up slot only cranked the thermostat. The Exes are familiar with the party vibe in their own music: Check this year's killer dance-pop record, xoex_ep, for proof.
Raleigh hardcore favorites DOUBLE NEGATIVE sold through two pressings of its debut LP, released on No Way Records, in June, and drummer Brian Walsby instantly sold through the large first printing of his third collection of comics, Manchild 3.
Sweating and screaming and sporting like they always do, RED COLLAR found itself in front of a scant crowd at a SXSW showcase in March after winning a contest sponsored by Durham-based band-networking Web site Reverb Nation. "I've realized that the venue isn't the prize or the festival isn't the prize or the label isn't the prize ... the prize is the band itself," guitarist Jason Kutchma wrote post-fest on the band's blog.
The swingers of SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS reunited without Maxwell and Mosher for a handful of gigs, including one at Cat's Cradle and Durham's American Tobacco Campus. The show packed a mighty punch as the group rattled and rolled through their hits.
SUPERCHUNK played two shows in 2007, both in June, both outside of North Carolina: In Chicago, the Merge flagship split a benefit bill with Durham's The Mountain Goats and Chicago's Ponys; in New York four days later, they split a free bill in Brooklyn's McCarren Park with Oakley Hall. A small tour for the band's small 2007 release, a picture-disk, 7-inch single of a new (great) track, "Misfits and Mistakes."
In early November, POLVO announced it will reunite in May 2008 for an Explosions in the Sky-curated All Tomorrow's Parties. Brian Quast (The Cherry Valence) will replace Eddie Watkins and Brian Walsby on drums.
The ARCADE FIRE's Win Butler smashed his guitar on Saturday Night Live. The band hit No. 2 on Billboard. SPOON played it cool on Saturday Night Live, as usual. The band hit No. 10 on Billboard. Point being, both bands' label, Chapel Hill-born and Durham-headquartered MERGE RECORDS, had a pop culture-breakthrough sort of year. Congratulations.
Local labels are one of the unifying things a scene of substance needs. This year, at least four jumped out: POWER TEAM, SUPER FAN, CHURCHKEY, and HOLIDAYS FOR QUINCE.
The debut collection CAROLINA FUNK showcases late '60s and early '70s funk music from the Carolinas, as excavated and shared by Chapel Hill collector Jason Perlmutter. Frequently raw, occasionally uplifting, always invigorating.
Since changing its image from WETLANDS to BLEND in February, the space between Hell and Bub O'Malley's has shifted from only live music to booking DJ nights and opening as an espresso bar and bistro during the day.
BULL CITY HEADQUARTERS opened its doors in April, serving as a community center, bike co-op and venue. After 305 South closed its doors to music in June, BCHQ (and Broad Street Cafe and a host of local restaurants) allowed TROIKA to have a new set of homes.
Without a big Durham venue like 305 South, TROIKA could have potentially faltered, but it strode on, blanketing the town with shows. Its mix of local and national acts still seems like a crowd-pleaser, too.
BULL DURHAM BLUES FESTIVAL celebrated its 20th year with performances by Percy Sledge, Buddy Guy and Booker T. & the MGs. Its presenter, St. Joseph's Historic Foundation, announced plans to expand the Hayti Heritage Center, and Duke University's John Brown released his fantastic new album, Terms of Art, with a show at the space.
In early December, NIGHTLIGHT owner Alexis Mastromichalis announced that Skylight Exchange will be leaving the Rosemary Street space it shares with Nightlight. Nightlight updated its alcohol selection, booking staff and sound system this year.
Keep ears ready for these bands next year, as they were welcome, unexpected additions in 2008: THE SOFT COMPANY, MAX INDIAN, RICHARD BACCHUS + THE LUCKIEST GIRLS, HAMMER NO MORE THE FINGERS and VIOLET VECTOR & THE LOVELY LOVELIES.
Entries written by Rick Cornell, Grayson Currin, Margaret Hair, Kathy Justice, Robbie Mackey and Chris Toenes.