On Friday, Motorco Music Hall will host a benefit concert for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that showcases many of the Triangle’s most esteemed music groups. The concert is a rare opportunity to view a cross-section of the local music scene as well as some of the bands who have grown to national importance.
“People don’t realize there are bands that are as good as any in the nation right here,” said Mimi McLaughlin of Magnolia Collective.
The sets will demonstrate the local music scene’s wide variety of genres and styles. Django Haskins, frontman for Chapel Hill band The Old Ceremony, plays what some would call “cinematic rock,” but Haskins downplays that label.
“There’s some folk influences, some jazz, some post-punk,” Haskins said. “Really we just play what sounds good to us; we’re not good at naming it.”
The Dogwoods, a group composed of Triangle-based artists like Jack Crawford from The Old Ceremony, Roman Candle and Max Indian, are more comfortably classic rock, while Magnolia Collective plays what the band humorously calls “bootgazer,” a type of twangy, alt-country rock. Headliner Mandolin Orange adds Southern and non-traditional elements to bluegrass, including the occasional electric guitar, organ and bass.
Zach Terry and Mark Simonsen, whose mothers are both affected by MS, organized the event and in order to generate revenue and support for MS, a nervous-system disease that affects over a quarter-million people in the United States. The bands are doing this event pro bono, donating all their tickets sales to the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the National MS Society. Much of the money will stay in the Raleigh, Central and Eastern North Carolina areas. Some of the proceeds will pay for handicap ramps and assistance dogs, and other money will fund local research at Duke and UNC. But, for Terry and Simonsen, the impact is more personal.
“At the end of the day, it’s me and Mark doing something for our moms,” Terry said.
It wasn’t hard for Terry and Simonsen to find successful bands who wanted to help the cause. The local music scene is exceptionally interconnected, as the bands on Friday’s set list demonstrate. Terry has played for Magnolia Collective. Magnolia Collective met Mandolin Orange at a gig few years ago and became friends. Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, who make up Mandolin Orange, also play occasionally in the Dogwoods. Simonsen plays vibraphone and organ in Haskins’ band The Old Ceremony and owns Studio M, which professionally records for many local artists.
“A lot of musicians meet at venues, often introducing themselves after shows,” Simonsen said. “They also play a lot with other bands because many of the shows are multi-band bills.”
McLaughlin might have said it best: “You almost have to make a family tree to connect everyone.”
With its lower-than-New York rent and a burgeoning young audience for alternative music, the Triangle area is attractive for a lot of great bands.
“It’s easy enough to make a living down here—or at least scrape by,” Haskins said. “You don’t have to go to work for Bank of America just to play in a band, and that allows the artistic community the freedom to experiment, not just try to ‘make it.’” Of the bands playing on Friday, only the members of Magnolia Collective hold non-music-related day jobs.
Though these bands and other musicians have started to draw national attention, band members say the scene is kept alive by its local fan base. Simonsen attributes this partially to the great music programs at the local universities, which produce music majors who then get involved in the local scene. But the Triangle music scene had been important well before these universities attained their stature. From the 1940s when John D. Loudermilk and George Hamilton IV found a hit with “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” to the heralded rise in talent in the ‘80s and the recent success of Max Indian, the area has history of successful bands. This is every bit as true today, though, as Simonsen said, it’s “been a building process for over 70 years.”
The recent rise in talent is partially associated with the advancement of digital media. Many independent bands can make “do-it-yourself albums,” as Terry describes, and also record in local studios like Simonsen’s Studio M and Arbor Ridge Studios.
“The scene doesn’t have an industry presence,” Frantz said. “It’s non-competitive; we’re just eager to play.”
The Triangle is also an exciting place to be a thrifty music lover. The price of admittance at many music venues is less than that of a movie and popcorn. But as many of the artists conceded, undergraduate students rarely attend the shows.
“College students are an interesting population to try to reach,” Haskins said. “They’re transitory, and at a school like Duke, they don’t tend to get terribly involved in the local community.” Simonsen attributes the poor college student turnout to the drinking age and the fact that many venues are 18- or 21-plus.
Friday is a chance for undergraduates to change that dynamic. For Duke students, it’s a one-stop opportunity to both experience the bars on Rigsbee Avenue and see, as Terry said, “world-class bands in their own backyard.”
Doors to the concert open at 8 p.m. for a 9 p.m. showtime. There will be food trucks and acoustic music in the Garage and the patio area. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.