The year in local music? Impressive. Frustrating. And just a little surreal.
Full-page spreads in national magazines. Lazarus acts. Arrivals. Departures. Banana peels.
While Charlotte struggles to get the ink Triangle artists take for granted, the local scene continues to diversify and expand, nearly to the point of actual notoriety. Yet the tide could be turning, as a few acts and labels sneak into the national consciousness -- proof that our burg is more than just home to leftover Hootie fans, quality-deaf yuppies and crap tribute bands.
Two young bands and their local labels set a brisk pace this year. The Sammies and the Avett Brothers, backed by MoRisen and Ramseur records, respectively, built expanding fan bases locally and nationally with new records and live dates across the nation. The Avetts released two records and sold out regional venues and New York's Mercury Lounge, among others. They also announced their first European tour, set for early 2007, and sold out their annual New Year's gig at the Neighborhood Theatre in about 17 seconds. Their growing notoriety even landed them a big spread in Paste.
The Sammies, meanwhile, released its self-titled debut, toured both coasts, played its first SXSW, headlined its label's showcase at CMJ and will be featured in Harp's Fresh Faces' feature in January 2007. Local sports columnist Tom Sorenson even waged a print campaign to have the Sammies' song "Panther Leap" become the team anthem, but to no avail. Given the giant egg laid by the team this year, methinks they should have listened.
MoRisen also released Elevator Action's Charlotte farewell, Society, Secret, and had their artists' songs appear in several movies and TV shows. But it wasn't all sunshine and light at the label. Talk front-man Justin Williams got some unwanted notoriety when the band was kicked off its tour with post-punk legends The Fall after Williams heaved a half-eaten banana at front-man Mark E. Smith during a show in Phoenix. In October, MoRisen and the Talk parted company, and the band split shortly thereafter. But both Williams and CR Rollyson had solo records in the works by year's end.
Meanwhile, Ramseur Records was adding acts, swiping the rootsy quartet Bombadil from the Triangle's clutches and signing Tennessee's everybodyfields. The label later released a solo record from Newcastle's Martin Stephenson, and by year's end, long-time folkie Sammy Walker was in the studio recording.
On other fronts, regional road warriors Dave Childers & the Modern Don Juans kept piling up the van miles, also releasing a straight-ahead rock & roll record, Jailhouse Religion, to strong reviews. The full band did its first Euro tour, playing gigs and festivals in Holland. By the end of the year, Childers had released two more records: Burning in Hell with the Don Juans, and the solo album, David Childers at BackShop, Live.
Promising new bands emerged or stepped to the fore in 2006, ranging from newly minted dream-rockers Mula Xul to the guitar-and-drum melodic thrash of 2013 Wolves and R&B-flavored Soulganic, who won Creative Loafing's critics' poll as Best New Band. The Barnettes, a family quartet, continued making a splash in the new-soul world, and Anthony Hamilton remains the most underrated soul singer in America. The new quintet Fence Lions also impressed, combining dusky minor-key laments with gypsy waltzes and early REM rock on its debut double disc, Evidence of the Giant.
There were a couple of nice comeback stories this year as well. The Houston Brothers evolved into the Houstons, returning after an indefinite hiatus and expanding from its two- and three-piece incarnations into a quintet. The band was wrapping up work on its new release as the year ended. Anticipation was also building for the first new Lou Ford record in seven years, Last Call (on local label Rocket 13 Records), featuring the band's original lineup of rural rockers. Also emerging or reappearing in new incarnations were veteran rockers gogoPilot and Jay Garrigan's power pop-happy Riser.
• The annual Rock en Español festival Carlotan Rock celebrated its third year with a Neighborhood Theatre blow-out, featuring locals La Rúa and the Bakalao Stars, and international act Los Amigos Invisibles.
• Scum punk pioneers ANTiSEEN received its own tribute double disc, Everyone Loves ANTiSEEN, from TKO Records, featuring Hank Williams III, among others.
• The 15th annual Sunset Jazz Festival got new digs and expanded its summer lineup to include regional and national acts.
• Elevator Action got set to pull up stakes and move to Brooklyn.
• The makers of the Milestone documentary continue to solicit stories, photos and especially '80s and '90s film and video footage; check out the Secret Altar site at www.myspace.com/secretaltar for more info.
• Singer/songwriter Rick Spreitzer won 3rd place at the Flat Rock Songwriting Contest -- his third straight Top-10 finish.
• The Tosco Music Party resumed its exponential growth, as the "unplugged" showcase moved from the 700-seat McGlohon Theatre to the 1,000-seat Halton Theater at CCPC.
And now some 2006 statuette-free year-end awards:
Band of the Year: The Avett Brothers
Record of the Year: The Sammies
Best Songwriter: Stephen Warwick (Secondhand Stories)
Most Likely to Implode on Stage: Scott Weaver (Babyshaker), David Childers, both Avetts
Best Prince/Jagger Falsetto: Mike Mitschele (Alternative Champs)
Best Non-Noodle Guitar: Randy Saxon (David Childers & the Modern Don Juans)
Best Bass: Ron Brendle
Best Drummer: Chris Walldorf (Pyramid)
Best Multi-Instrumentalist (Shawn Lynch Award): Bruce Hazel (guitar, keys, harp, Tom Waits)
Best Keys: Justin Faircloth (Houstons)
Best Harmonies: Boys -- Alan and Chad Edwards (Lou Ford); Girls -- all four (sometimes five) Near Misses
Best Reeds: Brent Bagwell (Pyramid)
Best Trumpet: Kristin Garber (Secondhand Stories, Virginia Reel)
Best Pedal Steel: (tie) Rodney Lanier (Fence Lions), Neil Allen (Raised by Wolves)
Most Blues: Robin Rogers
Most Hip in Their Hop: The Others
Best Band Name: Calabi Yau
Most Discomfiting Band Name: Lamb Handler
Best Agit-Prop: Jeff Williams (gogoPilot)
Hottest Groupies: Noises 10
Best Hair: Jay Garrigan (Riser)
Mussed Hair: Fence Lions (group award)
Facial Hair (Iron & Wine Award): Josh Daniels, New Familiars
Best Local Concerts by Out-of-Towners: Band of Horses, Devotchka, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists/The Duke Spirit
Best Snark, Column Category: Fudgie the Whale
Best Snark, Cartoon Category: Tyler Baum
Quote of the Year: (tie) "I don't know how close the Goldenrods came to putting anything out, but we did drink a lot of beer." -- Benji Hughes; "Is that sulfur I smell?" -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Best Myspace.com-Related Site (Lifetime Award): http://monstersofmyspace.blogspot.com
Most Humungous Pain in Music Writers' Ass: Rory Lewis fans
Good Shit: Milestone booking, free-jazz gigs at Century, Fool's Day benefits, the sound at Evening Muse, free shows at Lunchbox Records, Amos' expansion
Bad Shit: Tiny crowds, QCI's demise, Amps11 spellcheckers, corporate-sponsored venues, Eric Clapton's name-dropping, no one with enough cojones to book Calexico and Broken Social Scene
Super Evil Shit: George Bush's Iraq