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The show must go on

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Damn. A train is crossing the road to downtown Raleigh, so Lee Moore takes an alternate route. It's not a big deal. Finding detours has been a theme this week.

Moore is one of the organizers of 23 HOURS, a five-week-long exhibit of visual art, film, music and installation underway at Bickett Gallery near Five Points. After a successful opening party last Saturday, they ran into a major roadblock: It turns out they didn't have the right permits to present outdoor concerts at the gallery. Molly Miller, founder and owner of Bickett Gallery, says she filed paperwork back in May to get every possible permit that would allow live entertainment at her gallery. But it turns out the permit she received didn't cover outdoor amplified entertainment, "which we did not realize until the twenty-third hour," she jokes.

Construction on the outdoor stage area had just been finished last week. The space still has an industrial feel, with a rusty metal frame on concrete where the stage lights hang. The view looks out over the train tracks and down the hill to the capitol complex.

"Saturday night was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen," Moore says of the opening concert that brought together classic Raleigh punk bank The Black Girls with up-and-coming bands Utah! and Proof. It perfectly encapsulated the 23 HOURS mission, she said: Bring together the old and new of the Raleigh music scene, to show just how interconnected creative work and personal histories are in this community, and how much the genres thrive off one another, and off of the city.

But then something happened that has plagued rock and roll since the first amplifier blasted into the night air: Some neighbors called the cops.

Organizers are still hoping they'll be able to convince the Raleigh city manager to give them a temporary permit to allow the outdoor music events at the gallery. But for now, the outdoor, weekend music shows will move to Kings Barcade, a linchpin in the city's music scene.

Since the zoning problem reared its head, rumors have been circulating that the rock shows would be canceled--which isn't true. But rumors were enough to alarm the bands, all of whom are playing for free. (All 23 HOURS events are free, and any profit made off donations will be given to support educational programs and renovations for the Contemporary Art Museum.) To make matters worse, the project's Web site, 23hours.org, went down on the opening weekend. "This guy was doing a favor for us by letting us use his Web space, and now his server's down," Moore says as her car darts through the downtown streets. "It's a farce," she laughs.

So on Tuesday afternoon, Miller met with members of the city zoning board. As Moore was showing me the highlights of the exhibit--a wall of rock posters dating back to Raleigh's golden age of punk, photos of bands from the city's newest indie label, Pidgeon English--representatives from the Raleigh zoning board were walking around with clipboards, admiring the art as well.

The gallery is spacious and cozy, with painted concrete floors, paper lanterns and a pink couch. It feels both minimalist and cozy. Bickett is also one of the few galleries with a license to serve wine and beer, and features a cozy bar in the back next to a retail section that sells T-shirts, CDs, records and stickers from Patty Hurst Shifter and other bands featured in the exhibit.

"The city of Raleigh really wants to work with us and help us accomplish the mission of this show," Miller said after their meeting. "They've been great. And fortunately, we also have a huge amount of support from people in the neighborhood," many of whom have signed a petition to lobby the city on the gallery's behalf.

But not all the neighbors feel that way, unfortunately. "Some of the neighbors are calling saying that music isn't art," she says with a raised eyebrow. But, according to Miller, they've been calling the mayor's office, not the gallery. "They've never sat down with me and given me the opportunity to explain what we're trying to do." Miller says she wants to provide a venue "for the Raleigh art community and the vast amount of talent that we have here."

In spite of all the hurdles, most things are falling into place. This Sunday, there will be a special party (at Kings) to celebrate the release of the 23 HOURS 'zine, a beautifully designed document printed by another independent downtown Raleigh arts institution, Barefoot Press.

Having live music at the gallery is important to the project's mission, Moore explains. "It's just not a bar atmosphere. It's about meeting and talking and having conversations."

But art and music need not be separated entirely. Artists from Team Lump have agreed to bring art to the club by creating a mural there. Miller says she's immensely grateful for the way all the show's collaborators have been rolling with the punches this week. "It shows how intertwined and committed the art and music scene is in Raleigh."

As for the education in city zoning rules, Moore says she hopes some lasting good will come of it all, in that the 23 HOURS organization will become a resource for artists needing practical help with everything from permits to equipment to grants.

For updates to the weekend music schedule, go to 23hours.org or call Bickett Gallery at 836-5358.

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