American Aquarium, T. Hardy Morris
The Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
Friday, Feb. 5, 2016
Were it not for the T-shirts handed out to Krispy Kreme Challenge participants, "American Aquarium" would have been the most popular phrase sported on apparel in Raleigh during the first weekend of February. Legions of the alt-country outfit’s loyal followers descended upon downtown for the band's two-night stand at the Lincoln Theatre.
Never was that more evident, of course, than when the Raleigh group greeted a sold-out crowd of eight hundred fans on Saturday night. Each crowd member sang virtually every line of every song back to frontman B.J. Barham. It was only when the career-spanning set reached back to “Dandelions” and “Anne Marie”—from American Aquarium’s ten-year-old debut Antique Hearts—or when opener Jonathan Tyler joined the band onstage to cover Willis Alan Ramsey's “Northeast Texas Women” that the throng of voices didn't threaten to drown out Barham.
According to American Aquarium, people representing thirty-four states and four countries were in attendance, figures confirmed by the roar of a response when Barham asked how many people in the audience had made the trip to Raleigh for the weekend. Still, the assembled felt more like a collection of the road warriors’ extended family, particularly when Barham paused just after midnight on Sunday, turning attention to the balcony as he led his crew in serenading his dad upon his sixty-first birthday.
While the shows were the obvious highlight, the most impressive aspect of American Aquarium’s “Roadtrip to Raleigh” was that, for the second year, the band curated an experience for its fans, serving as ambassadors to the Oak City as much as any of those that patrol downtown in red shirts. An image titled “American Aquarium’s Guide to Raleigh” began circulating on social media Friday morning, serving as a map to the sextet’s favorite places to eat, drink, and hang, like Buku, lucettegrace, The Remedy Diner, and most of the Ashley Christensen empire.
Throughout the weekend, dozens of tweets and Instagram photos included the tag #roadtriptoraleigh, while Barham and company’s Facebook timelines were flooded with check-ins and posts. Happy + Hale offered the American Aquarium Heartbeet Smoothie, while Busy Bee served up the American Aquarium Old North Stout (in conjunction with sister company Trophy Brewing0 and the Carolina Burger as weekend exclusives. Seatings the nightly pre-show dinners with the band at Christensen’s Joule sold out in minutes.
Prominently namechecked in the chorus of “St. Mary’s,” Slim’s was an obvious beneficiary of the Roadtrip to Raleigh bump. “It was a big increase in our numbers over the weekend; a couple of thousand in sales at least,” says owner Van Alston. “We sell more T-shirts during Roadtrip weekend than even at Hopscotch.”
Sure enough, Slim’s shirts were a hot seller during a secret midday acoustic performance by Barham on Saturday, in which he debuted his forthcoming solo record Rockingham in its entirety. The concept album centers on growing up in a tobacco town in rural North Carolina and finds Barham singing “bummers” about farming and a hardscrabble way of living.
“The bar and the band have always been very tightly identified and intertwined,” Alston adds. “Everywhere I go in the US, I get stopped by American Aquarium fans if I’m wearing a Slim’s shirt.”
That feverish following was again apparent after exiting Slim’s and entering daylight, where folks in American Aquarium shirts waited next door to dine at Chuck’s or Beasley’s or, further south on Wilmington, Cooper’s Barbecue.
Sure, for locals, Roadtrip to Raleigh may have seemed like just another chance to catch one of the best rock bands in the Triangle. But for American Aquarium, the weekend was a loving showcase of the place it calls home.
Check Dan Schram’s videos below from Friday night, including American Aquarium originals “Down Under” and “Lover Too Late,” along with a take on John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream” and cuts from openers Timmy The Teeth and T. Hardy Morris.