One of the first questions I asked after moving back to sweet home Carolina in 2002 was, "Where's the music scene in Charlotte?"
I'd known and loved the scene I left when I moved to New York City in the mid-'80s: Charlotte's avant-hillbillies Fetchin' Bones and scuzz-punks deluxe Antiseen were ripping clubs apart from the Milestone here in the Queen City to Friday's in Greensboro and Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. Those bands were part of a larger '80s Carolina indie and punk scene that also included Triangle and Triad bands like Let's Active, Flat Duo Jets, the Right Profile, the Connells, Southern Culture on the Skids and many others. Over the years, the Triangle scene would grow to include uber-important '90s indie bands such as Superchunk and Archers of Loaf.
But when I returned to North Carolina, I didn't sense much going on here in the Q.C. The '90s alt-rock/country scene that spawned Muscadine, Jolene and Lou Ford was coming to an end, although there were a few good Americana acts left, as well as some interesting bands playing rock en español and a handful of decent DJs. Ex-Fetchin Bones singer Hope Nicholls was still shaking things up as part of Snagglepuss. But that was about it. There weren't many button-pushing indie bands, there was no jazz to speak of — not real jazz, anyway — and no really good hip-hop or R&B. Most Charlotteans seemed content to go out and listen to mundane mainstream music or watch a cover band that served as little more than ear candy for beer drinkers. Nothing too challenging, please.
In the past decade, things have begun to look up, albeit slowly. Several quality Charlotte-area acts have bubbled into the mainstream: soul singer Anthony Hamilton, indie dude Benji Hughes, folk-rockers the Avett Brothers. And a slew of adventurous musicians coalesced during the 2000s into what's now become a damn good indie/avant-garde scene: Xperiment, Pyramid, the Houston Bros., Sea of Cortez, Bo White and his Calabi Yau and post-Calabi Yau mates, Brent Bagwell and his Great Architect collective, Yardwork, Andy the Doorbum, the Bear Romantic and so many others.
In the realm of R&B and its offshoots — the music that, along with country and Appalachian folk, is the backbone of Southern music — there's ... well, what is there? That's the question that inspired managing editor Kim Lawson to come up with the theme of this year's Music Issue: Where's the black music in Charlotte?
Sure, we know about Jodeci, Hamilton and all the great gospel music here, and in the past decade an inspired creative class has emerged citywide — specifically among the exploding African-American population — that's spawned some amazing visual art, poetry and theater collectives. But if you're a lover of African-American-made music of all kinds, where do you go to catch the best stuff, local or otherwise, traditional to the cutting-edge?
We sent reporter and copy editor Emiene Wright into the field to find out. What we learned is that it's here and it's growing and marinating. Lute's mixtape has gone international; former Creative Loafing editor Carlton Hargro and photographer Jasiatic's Su Casa event has introduced younger music fans to beats from around the world; the Neighborhood Theatre's Radio Rehab just keeps getting stronger and more popular.
Wright, music editor Jeff Hahne and contributing writer Mike McCray have put together a package that tells you a little about the history of black music in Charlotte and shows you where to go and whom to watch.
We know readers of Creative Loafing are interested in this area's rich rock, country, folk and Latin scenes, but for this year's Music Issue, we're focusing on the soul of Charlotte music.