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Triangle Downtowner Magazine

Why We Need Live Music

Jun 30, 2015 03:06PM ● By Crash Gregg
Music. We hear it every day. In our cars, on TV, on our computers, on our phones, even in the elevator (they still play music in elevators, right?). But live music. That’s an entirely different thing. You have to GO to live music; it doesn’t come to you like recorded music does. It’s somehow magical and we can feel it within. It makes people laugh and dance and cry and scream. It creates everlasting memories with friends or loved ones that are forever etched into our minds. But what makes it so special that fans pack hundreds deep at big shows to hear their favorite stars perform? Is it because they’re famous or is there just something truly remarkable about seeing a talented group of artists perform live right in front of you? I’ll be optimistic and say it’s the latter.

So what does live music mean to local Triangleites? To some, it’s a loud rock show in a packed room in Chapel Hill. To others, it’s a favorite crooner strumming his guitar and singing at a restaurant in Durham. Perhaps it’s a quartet of suave and dapper jazz musicians on a velvet-curtained stage lined with marquee lights or a local band on stage at North Hills on a packed summer night. Or it could even be a full orchestra of classically trained musicians performing in front of a packed concert hall. Live music means many things to many people but the common denominator is that everyone is there to enjoy it live and in person. The music speaks to each of us in one way or another, making it worthy of our time and our undivided attention. So, in the grand scheme of things, why is live music important to our local community? What role does it actually play in the ecosystem of attracting and retaining creative people to our area of North Carolina? Does it really make a difference? What age demographic is most interested in live music and why?

To fully understand the importance of live music to our small corner of the world, I sat down with Triangle music venue owners and managers, musicians and producers. They all have different perspectives yet similar things to say about live music. They all agreed that without live music— and the arts in general—we’d begin to slowly lose our creative class, then those that are drawn to creative people, then eventually everyone else. Without outlets for creativity and expression, a city would most certainly start to wither and die, leaving only the rules and regulations, the mathematics of economy, and everything else that lives in the logical and analytical le side of the brain. Can you imagine Raleigh or Durham without music and musicians? Or without art and artists? If only the le -brained people remained, it would get pretty boring around here and not in the fun tongue-incheek “Keep Raleigh Boring” way either. (Google if you miss the reference. It’s a good read.)

After spending time talking with many of the local music venue owners and managers, I found that the median age for live music shows seems to be around 30 to 40, and often even older. I have to admit this was unexpected, considering the under- 30 average of downtown revelers on most weekend nights. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that those of us over 30 (and um, considerably older for some of us) grew up listening to more live music since we had less to distract us. ere were no instant Facebook stars, no YouTube sensations, no downloadable music, and no smartphones for that matter. We weren’t constantly checking our friends’ statuses or looking at photos of what they ate for dinner. Our social media happened in person, not online. We went to the music, where we connected with not only the musicians and their music, but also with our friends. It’s where we hung out on way too many nights. Musicians and bands were many of our generation’s biggest and brightest stars. Live music was king.

According to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (GRCVB), there are more than 80 places in Wake County that play live music at least three nights a week all year and there’s somewhere you can catch a show almost 365 days a year. This gives the greater Raleigh area (Wake County more or less) the dubious distinction of having more live music locales than any other metro area in the state of North Carolina. Not surprising considering our population and the hugely creative and artistic demographic who call the Triangle home. Music, cra beer, art, entrepreneurs, startups; we’ve got it covered. (Sorry, Charlotte. But don’t worry; you have us beat on lawyers, banks and corporate headquarters). To commemorate this distinction of having the most music, the most venues, the most bands, and the most genres, the GRCVB has launched a new music-centric website,

To really get a feel for why live music is important, we queried a few local experts from around the Triangle who know the industry better than anyone. In this issue, we sat down with music magnate Dave Rose, long-time music venue owner and live music supporter Van Alston, producing legend and musician John Custer, Red Hat Amphitheater/Raleigh Festival manager Taylor Travesori, musician Erik Sugg, the Triangle’s premier jazz proponent and musician Al Strong, and music venue producer/marketing firm owner David Sardhina.

Coming in Set Two of Live Music next month, we’ll have comments and opinion from the Pour House Music Hall owner Adam Lindstaedt, booking agent/event producer Craig Reed, two local DJs of lore (WRDU 106.1’s Bob the Blade (now an independent DJ) and Kitty Kinnin (now with 96 Rock), Deep South manager Amy Cox, Black Flower/Flash House owner Jamie Saad, Kenny Roby from 6 String Drag (featured on this month’s cover), local-band-made-it-big American Aquarium, and a few other surprise guests. Until then, go check out some of the great local live music, make some memories, and discover a new favorite band or two. You’ll be glad you did.

Dave Rose Dave Rose is the president of DSE Music Group International, parent company for Deep South Entertainment, Rose & Rose Business Management, music series Oak City 7, and Tennessee East Artist Management. Dave has been guiding and developing the careers of multi-platinum artists for more than 20 years including acts such as Bruce Hornsby, Little Feat, Stryper, and many more. After receiving a B.A. in Economics from NC State University, he started in the music business as a musician, playing bass in several touring and recording acts. He also owns and operates the downtown Raleigh music venue, Deep South The Bar.

“The live music scene in Raleigh and the Triangle is amazing, but it’s kind of always been amazing. I moved to Raleigh in 1985 and I really don’t recall a time that we haven’t been on the cutting edge of music creativity. If you want to hear live music in Raleigh, you can do so any night of the week. Fi een years ago we didn’t have Hopscotch, World of Bluegrass, or Oak City 7. As a community, we’ve definitely grown in population, and as a result there’s more people who want to enjoy live music.

Will we ever be Nashville? No, and I hope we don’t try to be. Will we ever be Austin? We will not, thankfully. I love both of those cities. I travel to each regularly. But I want Raleigh to be Raleigh. The Triangle is incredibly diverse, I would venture to say even more so than either of those places. We have so much creative diversity, from technology to medicine, from education to the arts. Raleigh is a very diverse city and I think that’s what makes us so attractive to the creative mind.

We do more to nurture music than most all cities our size in America. Could we do better? Yes, of course. There’s always room for improvement.

What I think is cool about Raleigh is we’re not just a music hotbed. We’re not just a craft beer mecca. We’re not just the new Silicon Valley. We’re all these things. We’re Raleigh, a city that allows for innovation, creativity, passion, and academia to co-exist and thrive on each other. We had 1,712 acts play on the Deep South stage in 2014 and we’re on pace to do that or more in 2015. We’re quite proud of those numbers and that’s a lot of live music! It’s an exciting time to be in the music business in Raleigh, North Carolina.”

John Custer Raleigh native John Custer spent the early part of his career in New York as a studio session guitarist, providing guitar tracks for national television ads such as VH-1, Ford, Jovan, Mazda, Revlon, and Coca-Cola. At age 25, he began producing and developing original artists at John Custer Recording Studios. His work as a producer has run the gamut from comedian Rich Hall to punk-metal pioneers Corrosion of Conformity to his own funk-creation, DAG. In 2014, John Custer received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Carolina Music Awards.

“I’ve always thought the arts scenes—all of them—really help enrich a community. Going to see live music in a local music hall or tavern has always been something that seems to not only entertain but also lifts the spirits of those who attend.

When someone from the local music scene does something exemplary, it emboldens the other artists in the community and encourages them to aim higher. All of us here in the music business always love seeing local guys make it to the next level.

In our area, things seem to be finally recovering from the 2000s, which were truly the darkest hours in the Triangle for live music and when I started to notice that bars were not booking bands as much on weekends. There definitely seems to be more music around and more music-related events and I’m encouraged by that.”

Taylor Traversari Since 2009, Taylor has been the manager for the Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh and is also the City of Raleigh’s Festival Producer for downtown events including Raleigh Wide Open, Wide Open Bluegrass, All Star Wide Open (NHL All Star Game Weekend) and others. He is also the drummer/manager for the Raleigh band Airiel Down.

“Live music epitomizes what people love about bustling city centers. e music coming at you is unique; it will never be played or heard in quite the same way— just as each particular night in downtown is a unique experience. Sharing the experience with other people ampli es the pleasure of it all. A grooving and moving audience—the kind we see all the time at the Red Hat Amphitheater—becomes not just a gathering of spectators but part of the show. Finally, in a downtown environment, the show continues after the music stops. The audience carries the mood to surrounding restaurants, bars, and dance clubs. Truly, nothing is as ‘downtown’ as live music.

In keeping with the eclectic spirit of music itself, downtown Raleigh attracts all types of bands and fans. The Red Hat Amphitheater has hosted rapturous shows by acts as diverse as Mumford & Sons, John Legend, Bob Dylan, and Imagine Dragons. It’s not a stretch to say that one marker of downtown’s success is how diverse it is. at’s why the collective success on Fayetteville Street of Wide Open Bluegrass, Hopscotch and the African-American Heritage Festival—to name just a few—is so exciting. And just a block away at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, you can take in the NC Opera, NC Symphony and Broadway shows. The musical menu is astounding; one of Raleigh’s greatest assets.

City leaders were prescient—tuned up and jamming, to put it more directly— when they gave the go-ahead to the Red Hat Amphitheater at its downtown location across the Raleigh Convention Center. And the community at large has been fantastically enthusiastic in embracing it. We’re grateful to both.”

Erik Sugg Erik Sugg has been playing music in Raleigh since 1999 and took his music to the road and toured much of the country, as well as having joined a music tour in Spain. He currently sings and plays guitar for the local metal band, Demon Eye, and during the day can usually be found at the Cameron Village Library, where the kids know him as “Mr. Erik.”

“I feel like live music is a lot less clique-ish than years ago. Not that bands themselves were clique-ish with other musicians or fans but there were definitely certain bands that seemed to gravitate towards certain venues and not others. These days, local artists have a lot of opportunities to play and I think that’s great. What’s also great is that there’s no real competitiveness between the venues here. They’re all interested in supporting the local music scene first and foremost. As a national touring musician, I’ve been to a lot of cities where there’s an attitude of “if you play there, you won’t get booked here” but I just don’t see that in the Triangle, which is great.

In my opinion, musicians don’t want to feel like people are cheapening their value or their services. They’re far too often enticed to work for the “sake of exposure,” i.e. for free. Musicians who do it right already know how to get exposure without doing free shows. A venue that has money to spend and is trying to use musicians to help their own financial gain, it’s ethically wrong not to compensate the musician.

As a musician, I’m very thankful to be living in a music-centric community like Raleigh.”

Al Strong Al Strong is a Washington, D.C. native trumpeter, arranger, and composer. Since he first appeared on the scene in 1998 as a Jazz Studies major at North Carolina Central University, Strong has been an emerging artist in jazz. Al is an integral figure in the current local jazz scene having performed/recorded with local artists such as Aretha Franklin, Mavis Swan Poole, Yahzarah, Peter Lamb and the Wolves, Clay Aiken, Big Daddy Kane, Old Ceremony, and the comedian Sinbad. Al is a current assistant professor at Saint Augustine’s University as well as an adjunct professor in the widely acclaimed NCCU Jazz Studies program. He is also a founder of the non-pro t jazz advocacy organization, The Art of Cool Project.

“I believe music in the Triangle is really key to helping the area thrive. Culturally, socially, religiously, the average person’s life is structured around a broad spectrum of music. When people go out for a night on the town, they’re looking to reconnect with that feeling, and seek out places with quality live music. A good music scene also attracts people who may be relocating for work or family, etc.

I believe the music scene in the Triangle is varied and diverse, just on a smaller scale compared to some bigger cities. In the next 10 years or so, I see the music scene exploding with musicians who are looking to relocate from larger cities. In this area, we have a number of colleges and universities with music programs. What usually happens is these students leave for larger music scenes looking for greener pastures. If all of the best music students decided to stay and live in the Triangle after finishing their degrees, we could retain many talented players. This would make the area more comparable with larger ones. That’s why support for the arts is so crucial. Perhaps more financial incentives and more job options could be created in order to keep those music students here. Businesses could also be given tax incentives to hire musical entertainment.”

David Sardinha David is the owner/operator of Six String Presents, which books and manages shows for the Cary eater, Cary Arts Center and select venues across the Triangle. He is also Co-Owner/Director of Accounts at The Marketing Machine in downtown Raleigh, he also ran the Six String Café in McGregor Village from 2000 to 2006.

“The music scene in Cary is obviously very different from what you’ll find in downtown Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill. The acts I book through Six String Presents at the Cary Theatre and at the Cary Arts Center are mainly singer/songwriter/acoustic. It’s middle of the road safe music and its the personality of Cary.

Raleigh can establish a big music scene, even if it needs to utilize public/private partnerships, like the model we have in Cary. In my opinion, a rising tide floats all boats. If an area becomes known for live music, people will flock there, not just for a particular show at a particular place but to check out different venues. When I had Six String Café in McGregor Village, there were quite a few restaurants and bars in the same shopping center. I didn’t view them as competition because a crowd draws a crowd. I was glad when Tony’s Oyster Bar or Carolina Ale House had a full house because their customers had to walk past my place to get there. They’d look in and say, ‘Hey, what’s that place’ and come back the next weekend and check us out. People like variety.

The more an area gets known for good music, all the nearby venues that offer music will benefit long term. What’s what happened in places like Austin, Seattle, and Nashville. They welcome all forms of music and embrace it and people know they can walk in about anywhere and find great music.

When I ran Six String Café, which was all about music, one of the things I would always marvel at was when I looked out into the audience and see a lawyer, a plumber, a college student, a tech guy, a doctor, and they were all there listening to the same music. The one thing they all had in common— sometimes the only thing they had in common—is that they really appreciate good, original music. Normally you wouldn’t find them eating at the same restaurant or shopping at the same place, but they all felt comfortable there. The love of music brought them together.

Without creativity, you’re not a complete person, and without arts and music, I think people would eventually leave. at’s part of what I’m trying to do with music is to make Cary a little more creative, a little cooler and a little more fun.”

Van Alston Van Alston is one of the biggest supporters of live music you’ll find anywhere in the Triangle. His roots trace back to being co-owner of The Brewery, one of Raleigh’s most famous/infamous live music dive clubs (which happened to have one of the best sounding rooms around) and the adjoining Comet Lounge, a favorite watering hole of musicians, fans, and hospitality folks. At one time, he also co-owned Havana Deluxe and Cork Wine & Spirits. Currently, Van owns the Raleigh rock and alt-country working class mainstay, Slim’s Downtown, and the 47-year old underground live music bar, The Cave, in Chapel Hill. He is also a partner in MoJoe’s Burger Joint on Glenwood Avenue. Van served as Ryan Adam’s tour manager in the late ’90s and co-wrote “Come Pick Me Up” with the famous Raleigh crooner.

“One of the reasons live music is important is because it’s one of the things that keeps artistic people here. It’s not just the music, but a lot of the people who make music are visual artists as well and if there’s no outlet for them for live music, then there’s no reason for them to stay around here.

It’s important that I like the artists that I support and sponsor through Slim’s and play the kinds of music I like, rock and roll and alternative country music. They’re the type of people I enjoy hanging out with. And they enjoy coming to Slim’s because it’s a gathering place. It’s like the Comet Lounge back in the day when we had The Brewery right next door. We actually opened Slim’s while The Brewery was still open. Being one of the first places downtown, Slim’s sort of shifted the center of music from the Hillsborough Street nexus to downtown. We opened up long before downtown rents went sky high and having a good rent deal helps make this a very affordable place to drink and see live music. We don’t charge an arm and a leg for cover or drinks. Our bartenders don’t have goatees or wear vests and we don’t make craft cocktails. It’s just a place where regular people can come in for a drink and talk about music, see and hear good music, and enjoy the company of other people who do the same.

Hopscotch has been great for us every year. The more we as a city support it, the more our music scene will grow. Last year, the festival had approximately 40 local bands from the Triangle. People travel from the surrounding area and counties for Hopscotch. They may not come from all over the world like with the Bluegrass Festival but they’re local so they’re going to keep coming back over and over again. Hopscotch is like Christmas around here, whereas with the Bluegrass Festival, we don’t get much business from it at all, especially repeat business.

Slim’s is a stepping stone for bands and we like to see up and coming bands start here when they have 20 people show up, then 100, then they’re too big to play here and move on to King’s or The Pour House. After they’ve “made it” and they come back through town to play at the bigger venues, they’ll unload their gear, come here to hang out and drink all day, go and play at Kings or wherever, then come back here after their show. Sometimes we’ll even have a small secret show here right after they just played down the street because they like it here.

I feel fortunate that Slim’s is a place where so many people feel at home enjoying a drink, listening to good music and hanging out with friends. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

There you have it, words of musical wisdom from some folks in the forefront of the Triangle’s music scene. We’ll have even more in next month’s issue along with a surprise or two, so stay tuned. And to all our readers who live outside the music coverage area (anywhere outside Wake County), make a point to check out any or all of the following websites for local music ideas this weekend. And the weekend after. Or just make it a whole dang month of enjoying as much live music as you can. You might discover your new favorite band and watch as they rise from local artists to national stardom and you’ll be able to say, “I saw those guys before they made it big.” Or maybe you’ll just have a great time listening to some good music, which is even better.