Ahhh, springtime in the South. The weather warms and the concerts converge. The middle of April is due for an explosion of great music, from the season's first festivals to some kicking club shows. Chapel Hill provides a great vantage point: besides the large number of venues in town, a mere 45 minute drive opens up the Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro scenes as well. Let's take a look at one incredible week of music coming to the Chapel Hill area.
The week in question is April 14-20, and it's actually book ended by two huge festivals. From Thursday, 4.10 to Sunday, 4.13 is the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival, located in Silk Hope, about 15 miles out of town. Donna the Buffalo is bringing its upstate New York festival down South for the first time, and the Del McCoury Band, Acoustic Syndicate, and the Campbell Brothers are helping them kick off the inaugural proceedings. Local favorites such as Snake Oil Medicine Show, Big Fat Gap, and many more will help fill the four stages for the weekend.
Donna the Buffalo
The very next day, Monday, 4.14, funky jazz guitar legend John Scofield takes the stage at Cat's Cradle, one of Chapel Hill's best-known institutions. Sco's current touring band includes Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar, Andy Hess from The Black Crowes on bass, and Adam Deitch on drums. After a few days of much-needed rest, the String Cheese Incident will roll into town on Thursday, 4.17, playing the Civic Center in Raleigh with opening act Charlie Hunter. Hunter is on the road promoting his new CD Right Now Move, and String Cheese... well, I'm not sure they even have homes anymore.
John Scofield Band
Friday, 4.18 offers four different great bands rolling through town. Colorado's The Motet is bringing its Latin jazz world groove to the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh. Just a few blocks away, Snake Oil Medicine Show from Boone, NC will lay down its upbeat jazzy bluegrass sounds at The Pour House. These venues are close enough together you could run back and forth between the two, a scene I hope to bring to life one day. Back in Chapel Hill, fans can choose between bluegrass legends The Seldom Scene at Cat's Cradle, or grab some pizza at the Mellow Mushroom and check out the "y'all-ternative" sounds of David Via & Corn Tornado.
Although Chapel Hill and Raleigh get the bulk of great music in the area, Durham and Greensboro occasionally pull a coup. The weekend continues on Saturday, 4.19 with jazzman Branford Marsalis at the Carolina Theater in Durham. Top-name jazzmen don't often make it south of the Mason-Dixon line, so it's always a special occasion to see someone of Branford's caliber there.
On 4.20, the official Silly Holiday, the day is surprisingly (so far) unbooked. Perhaps all the musicians are planning on making it a day of quiet sobriety and exercise. Or, um, maybe not. But some rest time will be much needed after such a busy week, especially with MerleFest 2003 coming up on Thursday, 4.24 through Sunday, 4.27 in western NC. The 16th annual celebration of the life of Merle Watson, bluegrass master Doc Watson's son, features an amazing fourteen stages running simultaneously for four days. Artists this year include Doc Watson, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Donna the Buffalo, Del McCoury Band, Norman Blake, Sam Bush Band, Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Tim O'Brien, Hot Rize, Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys and Tony Trischka.
North Carolina gets a bad rap sometimes, due to some ultra-conservative politicians and their misadventures. But like anywhere else, there's a deep reservoir of kind people, beautiful landscapes, and great music. The Grateful Dead put it best: "Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart. You just gotta poke around."
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