Where do N.C. musicians go when they want to hear great music in our state during the spring and early summer? Artful Living asked N.C. music makers to offer their personal picks for best places to experience Americana, blues, bluegrass, old-time, classical, international and jazz. Whether an annual festival or a venue to stop by anytime, here are some of their recommendations.
Saxapahaw River Mill, Saxapahaw
Music every Saturday evening through the spring and summer. Live music on the lawn and a farmer’s market, too. Super sweet family fun, good music. Schedule: http://www.rivermillvillage.com/bands07.html
The Rooster’s Wife, at Poplar Knight Spot, Aberdeen
Some of the best live acts in the country come to tiny Aberdeen. http://www.theroosterswife.org/
The Cook Shack, Union Grove
Traditional and folk music in a great diner setting. There is really nothing like this place.
The Berkeley Café, Raleigh
Marianne Taylor is working hard to bring national touring artists into a small club in Raleigh. She has great taste and often books artists that you don’t see elsewhere in N.C.
The Garage, Winston-Salem
It has a small, homey feel and comes with a great sound man, Brian Daub. It’s like seeing live music in your living room.
Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, April 21–24, Silk Hope
This is the best little hippy festival around. It’s not too big (only five stages), and not nearly as formal and expensive as some of our other cool festivals. Shakori happens twice per year, and if the weather’s, good I recommend camping.
Restaurants, Clubs and Cafés
There is a vibrant, growing local club and house concert scene that seems to be taking off. Check out the music, poetry and art at Beyu Caffee in downtown Durham, the international music mix at Talulla’s in Chapel Hill, and the fabulous and unforgettable Marsh Woodwinds Upstairs performance space in Raleigh.
N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh
The N.C. Museum of Art sponsors many public events that feature great music (sometimes for free) surrounded by a space of profound beauty — it’s the best of both worlds. What a treasure!
Universities in the Triangle
I am constantly excited and inspired by the diversity of cutting-edge performances presented by Duke Performances, Carolina Performing Arts, NC State University Center Stage and other educational institutions in the Triangle. These presenters take risks and help to keep art forms moving forward.
Carolina Performing Arts
NC State University Center Stage
Lake Eden Arts Festival, May 12–15, Black Mountain
This semiannual outdoor festival near Black Mountain curates an extraordinarily diverse lineup. Their schedule this May includes some salsa bands, some African ensembles, a mariachi group, jamgrass and one of N.C.’s funkiest sons, Maceo Parker.
Bimbé Festival, May 14, downtown Durham
This yearly festival in downtown Durham is a celebration of African and African American history and culture. That means you can expect to see some great jazz, reggae, and hip-hop, including a headline appearance by hip hop luminary Big Daddy Kane.
Guglhupf, Durham, Thursdays
The Triangle area’s next generation of jazz performers and bandleaders have arrived on the scene. You can find them in places like Jack Sprat, Talulla’s, Whiskey and the Beyu Caffe. Keeping with the outdoor theme, Guglhupf has recently begun to present live jazz and blues music every Thursday evening for dinner on their gorgeous outdoor patio. You’d swear you were in a European square, but you are right in the middle of N.C.
Fiddler’s Grove, May 27–29, Union Grove
The oldest fiddler’s convention in the country and still the nicest for families. I have been attending since 1980 and still love it.
Merlefest, April 28–May 1, Wilkesboro
I’m the master of ceremonies for the traditional tent there and get to hear the best from Doc Watson to The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Zuma Coffee, downtown Marshall
On Thursday nights a live music jam is hosted by N.C. native fiddler Bobby Hicks. You’ll find 84-year-old Leonard Hollifield playing guitar and singing, along with four or five other fiddlers. Come for a good meal and good music.
Blue Ridge Old-time Music Week at Mars Hill College, June 5-11
Great instructors, great jamming and a great week of getting together with folks from all over the country who love our music of western N.C.
Bluff Mountain Music Festival in Hot Springs, usually held the second Saturday in June
A mixture of traditional and bluegrass music, mostly homegrown in Madison and Buncombe counties. Occasionally there is a special guest “left over” from Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week at Mars Hill College.
Jack of the Wood, Asheville, every Wednesday night.
Local old-time musicians gather in this comfortable brew pub and jam from 6 p.m. until late.
Shindig on the Green, Downtown Asheville, long about sundown every Saturday from July 4 through Sept.1.
Later in the summer, this is a free event where musicians come from around western N.C. and play just for the joy of it. You can listen to the music presented on the stage or walk around and stand right in the midst of a rollicking jam session. Don’t miss this one.
Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Convention, June 3–4, Mt. Airy
Old-time musicians come from all over the country to meet up and play at this fiddler’s convention. If you want to hear what is going on in old time music today, this is the festival to attend.
Real live jam sessions
The best place to hear traditional music is in a private jam session. You’ll have to ask around, see what is going on and who is getting together, but it will be worth the effort. Jam sessions take place every night of the week all over N.C. If you can get invited you’ll be able to hear the music as it was meant to be played — unamplified, up close and personal.
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
The granddaddy of N.C. rock night venues, Cat’s Cradle is internationally known for being the best place to see great touring acts that are just before getting too big to play the clubs. Sonic Youth gave the club a shout-out in the song Chapel Hill 20 years ago, sealing its legendary status.
Kings Mach II (the previous version closed a few years ago to make way for a downtown parking deck) is such a hit that it’s already gotten a write-up in The New York Times. The reason is simple: The owners are themselves touring musicians who book cutting-edge acts from a variety of genres, treat the bands right and make sure the sound is top-notch. The bands they book remain loyal, even when they’re big enough to play the larger clubs.
The Pour House, Raleigh
The Pour House hands down has the best sound of any club I’ve ever been to, and it’s all due to one man: Soundman Jac Cain. I’ve witnessed him make some terrible bands sound great, and some great bands sound out of this world. The Pour House books a variety of genres, but alt-country and bluegrass bands seem most at home there.
The Dive Bar, Raleigh
Far from living up to its name, Dive Bar is a nice, but very small club that rarely charges cover for its shows, which are about 80 percent metal. The club is known for giving local metal bands a chance, and fostering a community of metal lovers. The booking agent, Robby Rodwell, will actually go on Facebook and talk up shows at other clubs simply because he loves music so much.
One of two great new clubs to open in Durham in the last year, Casbah benefits from the superb booking skills of Steve Gardner, known for booking alt-country house shows for years. Steve has the connections to bring in bands that could be playing larger venues. And since he’s a new metal convert, he’s also booking some of the best metal shows around — including the inaugural Bull City Metal Fest.
In many ways, Reservoir is Carrboro’s answer to the Dive Bar. It’s fairly small, shows are inexpensive or free, and it serves as a home base for a devoted local metal scene. They do book other genres, but metal is what they do best.
Slim’s is my favorite place to see a band in Raleigh for the simple fact that I feel at home there. Even with the recent new paint job, it’s a dank, dirty rock bar at its finest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad show there.
The Orange Peel, Asheville
Asheville’s answer to Cat’s Cradle is large, clean and books a lot of great shows from a variety of genres. It hasn’t attained the Cradle’s legendary status, but it’s a cornerstone in Asheville’s exploding music scene.
Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Part nightclub and part community center, Nightlight’s offerings for the next couple of months include yoga classes, discussions on vermicomposting and nuclear power, and a noise festival with more than 50 bands from around the U.S.
Motorco is the other nightclub to open to great acclaim in Durham in the last year. Housed in a former car dealership (and located directly across from the excellent Fullsteam Brewery), Motorco offers a great, spacious spot to see touring and live bands.
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra
The Wilmington Symphony in Kenan Auditorium is one of my favorite classical music experiences in Wilmington, but as their conductor, I suppose I’m required to be there.
First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington
I enjoy very much hearing chamber music groups in their excellent Music at First series.
Beckwith Recital Hall on the UNC Wilmington campus
It’s hard to beat the intimacy and resonant acoustics of the new venue for vocal recitals and chamber music.
R. A. Fountain General Store, Fountain
An interesting venue that was once a general store built in 1914, Fountain Store offers live music on the weekends mainly of the acoustic kind, featuring bluegrass, country and blues. This venue is family-friendly with ice cream and soft drinks for sale. The walls are loaded with antiques and bric-a-brac, and proprietor Alex Albright offers books and CDs for sale by regional authors and artists.
Beaufort County Traditional Music Festival, April 15–16, Washington
Though only in its third year, this is a nice little festival held in downtown Washington, N.C. It features various acts on several stages indoors and out (including the historic Turnage Theatre) who play folk, bluegrass, old-time and blues music. Beaufort County has an active Traditional Music Society who help sponsor this event, and they meet on a regular basis for jam sessions as well as running The Union Alley Coffee House.
SOOTS Annual Blues Festival Benefit, Raleigh
The students at the Raleigh Charter School, under the direction of their teacher Charles Montague, have formed an organization to honor the traditional blues music from the region called SOOTS (Sustaining Roots Music). They have been quite active in the past few years documenting the music, releasing recordings and sponsoring live music events. This is the fifth year for their annual blues benefit in Raleigh in conjunction with the Music Maker Relief foundation and will feature a strong line-up of regional traditional blues artists.
Gaston County Public Library Live @ Your Library Project, Gastonia
The public library in Gastonia.has sponsored live music on its premises for a number of years now through the tireless efforts of program coordinator Carol Reinhardt. A varied selection of programs is offered this season including African music, puppetry, folk music and blues. These programs are free and open to the public and are educational as well as entertaining.
Billy Taylor Jazz Festival, April 14–16, Greenville
This annual festival at East Carolina University is not only a critiquing session for eight or more high school and middle school jazz bands, but also a chance for the public to hear three concerts and a free jam session.
Beaufort County Music Festival, April 15–16, Washington
The “BoCO” Music Festival has something for everyone: kids, indie/rock/alternative music lovers and traditional music fans in Washington’s Festival Park. http://www.beaufortcountyartscouncil.org/bcmf/index_fest.html
Happening on the Common, May 21, Tarboro
This 40th annual outdoor arts festival on Tarboro’s historic Town Common features jazz, bluegrass, gospel and country music throughout the day along with displays of fine art, photography, beading, pottery and other arts and crafts for sale.
Art on the Neuse Outdoor Festival/Art Exhibition, June 18, Oriental
This 8th annual festival on the harbor in Oriental will feature folk and bluegrass musicians along with art in a variety of media including paintings, prints, graphics, photos, sculpture, ceramics, fiber, handwoven wearable art, wood, glass, fine jewelry, metal work, pottery and mixed media.
Ocrafolk Music and Storytelling Festival, June 3-5, 2011, Okracoke Island
Now in its 12th year, the annual Ocrafolk Music and Storytelling Festival is hosted by hometown musical group Molasses Creek and features a host of singer-songwriters including The Steel Wheels, Carolina Still, Beleza Brasil, Robbie Link, the Ocracoke Jazz Society and many more. You’ll also find storytellers and a wide range of folk artisans. For more information, visit http://www.Ocrafolkfestival.org.