Above all, this year's Troika Music Festival felt less like a festival that happened to take place in Durham and more like one created specifically for Durham. This isn't to say that the festival wasn't welcoming—its embrace of all comers was apparent in the often larger-than-usual crowds greeting the festival's three-day pile-up of (mostly) local bands.
This year's Troika might not have had the marquee names of years past, but this mostly proved an opportunity for the locals to show their mettle. Saturday sets from Chatham County Line and Hammer No More The Fingers—both at the Motorco Music Hall, at 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., respectively—gathered room-cramping attention at the festival's largest venue.
But even as local stars shone their brightest, the festival's success came from its variety. Thursday's itinerary made up for a damp, chilly evening with the elegant chamber-folk of Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes, the burly gallop of metal foursome HOG, Wood Ear's twang-rock, Double Negative's spree of noise-addled hardcore and Dexter Romweber's singular brand of rock 'n' roll purism. With the largest cluster of venues within a block of each other (Motorco, Fullsteam brewery, the trotter Building and 618 Foster St.) most of the festival, and all of my Thursday night, was an easy shuffle from door to door.
Even with more than half of its venues on one block, the schedule encouraged hopping a few more to visit spaces like The Pinhook and The Casbah, both on Main Street. Unlike its predecessors, Troika 2010 was (as advertised) entirely walkable. It made moving from 618 Foster to The Pinhook to see Boone groovers Naked Gods between Georgia garage trio The Humms and Chapel Hill's frenetic Los Naturales not only possible but logical. The same was true Saturday, scurrying up to Main Street to see The Wigg Report and Last Year's Men at the Pinhook between early sets from Billy Sugarfix's Carousel and Joe Romeo, and a later one from Mount Moriah.
Past Troikas demanded precise planning, or venue camp-outs to see desired sets. I remember breaking mold and learning exactly how far apart The Pinhook, Duke Coffeehouse and Broad St. Cafe are from one another—and how that distance feels compounded when it's chilly and you're walking. This year, one needn't devote an entire evening to one un-missable set, when so many were within reach. The foot-friendly map and excellent schedule couldn't guarantee easy decisions. (Choosing between Free Electric State and In The Year Of The Pig was a particularly grueling instance.) But it did allow for more opportunities to see more bands—and to enjoy crossing paths with friends, and the wonderfully omnipresent Sausage Wagon, along the way.
And as Troika incorporates more non-musical events, like its Saturday afternoon craft show (which seemed to maintain a steady crowd, even when Organos and Phil Cook & His Feat weren't performing), the festival becomes an entirely new, and in this attendees opinion, more inviting event. The music remains, and hopefully will always be the focus, and the reason for being. But encouraging the more social and peripheral activities this year delivered will only serve to make Troika a more enticing option. This year, the festival in Durham, for Durham, extended a real invitation to all to be Durhamites for a day—or three.