Like many communities, the Triangle music scene has its problems, and with publications like this one and a legion of hard-working local blogs, there are plenty of watchdogs ready to point them out.
Our amphitheaters—through ordinances requiring excessively loud bands to play at a low volume (Cary's Koka Booth) or lackluster booking (Raleigh Downtown Amphitheater)—have been known to disappoint. And recently, some of our many well-loved rock clubs have ended up being demolished as part of sledgehammering urban progress.
Nonetheless, the Triangle remains a great place for the musically inclined. When it comes to booking shows, this area has strength in numbers. With myriad venues in three counties, the Triangle has become an incredibly reliable booking machine with a fully stocked collection of interchangeable parts. When one cog slips, another picks up the slack. With every miscue, the system naturally adapts and moves forward.
For example, when Concord, N.C., folk stars The Avett Brothers hit Koka Booth Amphitheatre in July 2008, they were so dissatisfied with the sound that they refused to return. Constrained by ordinances about music volume, the venue couldn't provide enough decibels to satisfy the group. Many cities might have waited a long time for a return visit. But the Triangle doesn't have just one amphitheater, it has three. And on Oct. 8, the Avetts return to the area, to Raleigh's Walnut Creek.
Indeed, the Triangle has so many places for live music that it's hard to imagine any taste going unsatisfied. The RBC Center in Raleigh holds 20,000 people, and with the opening of the Raleigh Downtown Amphitheater, we have large outdoor venues that range in capacity from 5,500 to 20,000. Add that to a wide selection of well-sized performing arts centers and a buffet of respected rock 'n' roll clubs, and you get quite a versatile list of venues.
And this fall, the Triangle gains two venues that, with wise booking, stand to make an immediate impact. Durham's Motorco Music Hall, which opens next month, fills the space formerly occupied by the Weeks-Allen Motor Company and brings a dedicated 450-plus-capacity music venue downtown. The new space should take pressure off The Pinhook, currently Durham's only full-time rock club, and its larger room will give Durham the chance to grab the mid-level touring bands that usually go to Cat's Cradle in Carrboro or the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh.
Last week in Raleigh, a lost treasure was resurrected. Kings, the rock club and bohemian hangout that closed in spring 2007, gets new life in a room at 14 W. Martin St. With room for 250 people, the new Kings will be an excellent fit for lower-profile touring acts and a new stepping stone for locals outgrowing smaller spaces. In its first few months, highlighted by solid metal bands Valient Thor and Nachtmystium and popular local pop acts The Old Ceremony and Annuals, the offerings are diverse and exciting—returning the venue to the "anything goes" niche that Raleigh sorely missed in its absence.
The new Downtown Raleigh Amphitheater, which has drawn so much flak for its naming fiasco and subpar booking, is pulling somewhat of a turnaround this fall. While it's still a huge concrete slab of an eyesore, the venue has booked indie pop sensation Vampire Weekend and reliable modern rock band Stone Temple Pilots for October. Granted, it's not enough to erase the memory of a summer filled with vapid bubblegum and repugnant grunge afterbirth, but it is a start. With additional big-ticket stops by the Avetts, whose 2009 major-label debut, I and Love and You, has sold more than 180,000 copies, and Lady Gaga's Monster Ball tour, one of the most discussed road shows of 2010, the Triangle is proving it can bring in big names with frequency.
Big-time popular entertainment isn't the only item on the menu this fall. Duke Performances, the university's excellently curated program of cultural events, is upping the ante. A standout on the fall schedule is Durham experimental folk trio Megafaun, which, with free jazz collective Fight the Big Bull, play three nights at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. With help from exceptionally voiced folksinger Sharon Van Etten and Justin Vernon, leader of brokenhearted folk outfit Bon Iver, the bands will put their spin on field recordings of American roots music made by anthropologist Alan Lomax. With additional appearances by instrumentally gifted pop band Dirty Projectors and legendary folksinger Loudon Wainwright III, Duke Performances has crafted an impressive lineup.
Several must-see club shows, highlighted as usual by Cat's Cradle (seriously, Deerhunter and Built to Spill in one weekend? How do you guys do it?), the Triangle music is hitting on all cylinders. And though I'm sure someone will complain soon, let's take a minute to rejoice in a fall schedule that's as diverse as it is consistently great.
Correction (Sept. 3, 2010): The Geer was a working name for Motorco Music Hall; the former occupant of the space was the Weeks-Allen Motor Company, hence the club name.