In a year when it felt like all hell broke loose at every turn, art has remained a crucial comfort and invaluable outlet for speaking truth to power. It was a busy but rewarding year for local music as we've wrestled with everything these twelve months threw at us.
At the beginning of JANUARY, Carolina Soul, which had operated its online retail business in Durham for years, celebrated the official grand opening of its brick-and-mortar store on Main Street. A few blocks away, community members rallied in four spectacular shows at the end of January and early FEBRUARY to save The Pinhook from an eighty-thousand-dollar accounting error that threatened to shutter the community hub. The Pinhook went on to settle its debt with the state department of revenue, and spent the rest of the year holding strong. In late September, The Pinhook welcomed a new upstairs neighbor: the sit-down restaurant iteration of the Pie Pushers food truck.
Chapel Hill also got a new record store—sort of—in late February. Local institution Schoolkids Records purchased CD Alley, which meant a Schoolkids would be back on Franklin Street after closing its original store there in 2008. CD Alley officially became Schoolkids on March 1.
Springtime found the Triangle music scene at its most hectic, thanks in large part to the passage of HB 2 at the end of MARCH. Artists including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Boston, Pearl Jam, Ani DiFranco, Maroon 5, and Itzhak Perlman canceled concerts in the Triangle, Greensboro, and Charlotte in protest of the bill. Others, like Rhiannon Giddens, the Dixie Chicks, Dead & Company, and Duran Duran used their shows as platforms for protest and fundraisers for organizations like Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign.
At the end of APRIL, Hopscotch announced its first 2016 headliner, Lavender Country, widely recognized as the first openly gay country band, as a protest against the bill; Lavender Country's festival set in September was equal parts concert and queer history lesson. The cancelations slowed down throughout the summer and fall, but on December 12, Carolina Performing Arts announced that the San Francisco Symphony was canceling its April 2017 performances over the bill. As last week's special sessions at the General Assembly demonstrated, it'll probably be a while before we're out of the woods with HB 2.
But spring wasn't all bad. Art of Cool and Moogfest both made strong showings in Durham in MAY—AoC for its third year, Moogfest for its first after relocating from Asheville. The festivals had clashed over uneven funding from the city of Durham, but the city granted the grassroots Art of Cool an additional twenty thousand dollars shortly before the festival arrived. Moogfest drew international attention to Durham for its high-minded approach to music, technology, and the future of both. And in Carrboro in early April, The Station reopened under new ownership after closing at the end of 2015. Once home to free live music every night of the week, the club now hosts regular shows and dance parties for a modest cover.
JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST were peppered with local acts, from MAKE to the Mountain Goats, throwing their own anti-HB 2 benefits, with proceeds going to organizations like the Southern Vision Alliance and Southerners on New Ground. Cary got a new music venue, the Sound Factory, an alcohol-free all-ages space that boasts a DIY approach to booking, though it's been quiet through much of the fall. Hopscotch descended on Raleigh for its seventh year in early SEPTEMBER, and festival director and cofounder Greg Lowenhagen announced that it would be his last. Nathan Price, who's worked with Hopscotch since 2012, took over Lowenhagen's position on September 16.
That same weekend, the Raleigh-based North Carolina Opera undertook an ambitious production for its season opener, staging Wagner's Das Rheingold in Meymandi Concert Hall; at the end of October, it staged Patrick Morganelli's delightfully creative Hercules vs. Vampires. For its consistently excellent efforts over the years, the institution was among this year's Indies Arts Awards winners. Musicians Sarah Shook and Erika Libero received one, too, in part for their anti-HB 2 Safe Space sticker initiative. The duo was also responsible for Manifest, a new music festival at Local 506, Nightlight, and The Cave in OCTOBER, which focused on spotlighting bands whose members were not exclusively men.
Things have slowed down as we've slid into the holiday season, but you've still got at least one more night stacked with shows to end the year (see p. 31). Next year won't be a cake walk, but one thing you can count on is a local community that's as responsive and engaged as ever.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Louder Now."
THE TEN BEST LOCAL ALBUMS OF 2016
Body Games: Damager Anchored by vocal duets by Kate Thompson and Dax Beaton, the dark electronic moods of Body Games' Damager are irresistible.
Nathan Bowles: Whole & Cloven Bowles is a relatively recent transplant to the Triangle, and his latest album on Paradise of Bachelors finds the banjo picker taking his instrument to intricate new ends.
The Dead Tongues: Montana On his second record as The Dead Tongues, Ryan Gustafson delivers another clutch of scintillating songs that raise the bar for folk-rock in a flooded market and find Gustafson further strengthening his instrumental and lyrical chops.
Skylar Gudasz: Oleander Gudasz finally released her first proper full-length in February, and Oleander is a collection of even-keeled tunes that bridge classic folk, pop, and rock in a gleaming new package.
MAKE: Pilgrimage of Loathing The Chapel Hill metal trio MAKE leaned harder into politically inspired songwriting on this summer's Pilgrimage of Loathing, which offers a kind of heavy catharsis that's proved necessary in a tumultuous year.
Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC: Blues from WHAT Jenks Miller's first "official" release with Rose Cross NC burns slowly across its forty-two minutes, but its hypnotic, drone-driven intensity will help you drop out of life for a spell.
No One Mind: No One Mind A band that rose from the ashes of Toddlers, No One Mind's shoegazey self-titled album is one of the strongest local rock releases of the year.
Some Army: One Stone and Too Many Birds Another long-awaited LP, Some Army's dense One Stone and Too Many Birds is a fuzzed-out rock record that satisfies from start to finish.
Joe Westerlund: Mojave Interlude Conceived as a score for a dance piece, the two-part Mojave Interlude is a brain-tickling electronic endeavor from percussionist Joe Westerlund that keeeps you on your toes with its unexpected twists and turns.
- Photo by Ben McKeown
ZenSoFly: Little Miss Perfect EP ZenSoFly rose up as a powerful force in local hip-hop this year, and her debut EP is as audacious as she is. She's a clever writer who shows off her skills well.
THE TEN BEST LOCAL SONGS OF 2016
Shirlette Ammons: "Dear Nora" Featuring Meshell Ndegeocello on vocals, "Dear Nora" is a dreamy cut from Ammons' February LP, Language Barrier. The song's sparkling simplicity is utterly gorgeous.
- Photo by Alex Boerner
- Beauty World
Beauty World: "Joypop Turbo" Beauty World once limited its instrumentation to mostly guitar and cello, but the band has blossomed by adding rich new layers to its sound on this fall's Joypop Turbo EP. Driven by a charming melody, the EP's title track is one of Beauty World's best songs yet.
Flock of Dimes: "Semaphore" Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner is another new face in Durham, and she issued her solo full-length debut as Flock of Dimes this fall. The electropop tune "Semaphore" alternately chugs and tiptoes, with Wasner maintaining an effortless grace.
Hiss Golden Messenger: "Biloxi" The lead single from Hiss Golden Messenger's Heart Like a Levee is a warm, big-hearted tune that strikes an easygoing balance between comfort and weariness.
Horseback: "Shape of the One Thing" We've heard the turn of phrase "ugly crying," but what about pretty anger? The dark and brooding second song from this summer's Dead Ringers, "Shape of the One Thing" shimmers as it seethes with its layers of guitars and electronic elements.
- Photo by Alex Boerner
- The Hot at Nights
The Hot at Nights: "O.R.G.Y" The Hot at Nights re-interpreted a small batch of local songs for its January EP, Cool It, and its version of this Hammer No More the Fingers tune is a brassy, twangy delight.
Loamlands: "Restless One" Kym Register powers the magnetic "Restless One" with a crunchy guitar riff, and the song's soaring chorus will have you shouting along with it in no time.
Mandolin Orange: "Gospel Shoes" "Gospel Shoes" might not sound like a protest song, but Mandolin Orange wryly pushes back against Bible-thumping, hypocritical American politicians over a tasteful and well-rounded full-band arrangement.
Mount Moriah: "Chiron (God in the Brier)" On this track from February's How to Dance, Heather McEntire sings, "Light came knockin' knockin' on my door, and I got no need for you no more." It's a strong, confident song that feels equally empowering and soothing.
Sylvan Esso: "Radio" The Durham duo's driving new single, released in November, is Sylvan Esso's most biting and aggressive songs to date, hinting at a muscular new LP next year.