It’s summer. Many Duke students are half a world away. But the Triangle’s music scene never takes a holiday. If you’re still in the area, if you’re looking for music that can only be found in North Carolina, if you want to be listening to music outside when the weather’s warm, then look no further than these three summer music series. We’ve given them the Recess seal of approval.
NCMA Arts in Museum Park Summer Concert Series
Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art has offered an eclectic program of music and film for the past fifteen summers. Making the most of the museum’s outdoor amphitheater, the series was designed to bring artists who reflect international cultural traditions as well as musicians who are steeped in the rich musical history of North Carolina. This summer’s list of performers features a wide array of talent from all over the globe. Acclaimed indie artist Neko Case, best known for her solo career and role as lead singer in the Canadian band The New Pornographers, performs on July 14.
On August 17, Grammy-nominated, New Orleans brass-playing Trombone Shorty returns to play a second NCMA concert after his show last summer was met with fanfare.
“[Trombone Shorty’s] concert was one of the best performances in the history of the program” said George Holt, director of performing arts and film at NCMA. “He’s just blowing people away everywhere he goes.”
Though the event that has generated the most excitement is the museum’s celebration of the late North Carolina singer and guitarist Doc Watson. Over the years, the folk legend had played many times at the museum and, months before his unexpected passing, the museum scheduled June 30 as a day to honor Watson. When news of Watson’s recent passing came to the museum, they transformed the concert into a celebration of his life and legacy, inviting many of Doc’s favorite collaborators. The daylong festivities include performances by David Holt, who worked with Watson on the Grammy-winning album Legacy, as well as virtuoso guitarists Brian Sutton and Wayne Henderson and pianist Jeff Little.
“These are some of Doc’s oldest and closest friends and fellow musicians,” Holt said. “They’re poised to share a memorable evening of music and stories about Doc’s life.”
If those events were not enough, the summer series also includes a handful of hybrid music/film showcases including a performance by the French jazz ensemble Les Primitifs du Future directly before a showing of Hugo, a film for which the band helped to make the soundtrack.
Bynum Front Porch
Bynum is a small mill town on the Haw River just nine miles south of Chapel Hill. When the mill closed in 1970, the money in the town began to dry up. In 2006, the last open store in the whole town was the Bynum General Store and Post Office, but even that closed when the owner decided to retire. Rather than let the town go gently into that good night, a group of citizens gathered together to bring people back into Bynum. Their idea: the Bynum Front Porch music series. They collected money, took a lease out on the general store and began to offer music on Saturday nights. From those humble beginnings, Bynum Front Porch grown to have regular concerts, a multiple-genre music series on Friday evenings and fundraising programs to help raise money for Bynum’s schools.
“We’re just a bunch of normal neighbors, trying to keep the community connected and helping each other,” said Debbie Tunnell of the Bynum Front Porch executive board.
Bluegrass is at the center of the Front Porch music scene. This summer, Bynum Front Porch has scheduled many award-winning groups including Boys from Carolina, Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes and The Bluegrass Experience. Every other Saturday, the general store porch hosts Front Porch Pickin’, a series of bluegrass jam sessions open to all musicians and singers.
“The Front Porch Pickin’ events are inclusive to musicians who are beginners as well as professionals,” said Matha Collins, who is also on the executive board. “If you are a beginner, help to advance your skill is always available. The audience always listens, dances and has a good time.”
The summer concerts have a familial atmosphere. Tickets are not needed, though Bynum Front Porch requests donations between three and seven dollars. People from all over the Triangle bring their own chairs and food. Local vendors sometimes sell food and drinks, and the old Lance vending machines still operate according to 1970s prices: 50 cents for a ‘pack of Nabs.’ Bynum Front Porch has managed to become a cultural hotspot, attracting folks to a once-sleepy town without losing the neighborly approach that has made its music possible.
Music in the Gardens
During the school year, Duke Performances is busy bringing an impressive array of internationally acclaimed artists. But when summer rolls around, DP turns its focus toward showcasing the musicians who have come to define the blossoming music culture of the Triangle. This summer they’ve amassed an impressive schedule of bands, including many who call Durham home.
“We happen to live in a place where there are many great musicians” said Ken Rumble, marketing director for Duke Performances. “We try to schedule the summer so that all of the artists have strong ties to the Triangle area.”
Most of the bands on the schedule will be familiar to folks who keep tabs on the local music scene. There’s Megafaun, the Durham-based folk-psych trio who used to play with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). Fellow Durhamites Midtown Dickens will perform their brand of acoustic-driven Americana. Dexter Romweber will showcase his famed rockabilly sensibility, playing with the big-band The New Romans. And then there’s the Chapel Hill duo Mandolin Orange, who make music that is equal parts bluegrass and rock-and-roll, and the Durham-based, Duke-alum folk-pop band Bombadil.
Beyond the quality of the performances, the beauty of the Duke Gardens is itself an attraction. The concerts take place at 7 p.m. right behind the Gardens’ visitor center, and many onlookers bring picnic blankets, food and wine to enjoy during the shows.