In earlier years at Creative Loafing, our music and arts sections would include some coverage of local artists, but you'd be more likely to read lengthier pieces about a New York artist exhibiting at the Mint Museum or Gwen Stefani playing at the arena than full feature stories on a legendary Charlotte activist artist like TJ Reddy or a young experimental R&B singer like Autumn Rainwater.
Both of those artists are prominently featured in this issue. And while their stories couldn't be more different, both are absolutely captivating. And both are uniquely Charlotte stories.
Reddy is a 72-year-old artist and poet who pours social justice into his works. He was an exemplary student and campus radical at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the 1960s. To protest the lack of a black studies program, he and fellow activists took the American flag down at the university and replaced it with a black flag. His activism made him a target of racist Charlotte authorities, and in 1970 he was convicted and imprisoned along with the so-called Charlotte Three for setting fire to a horse stable. After it came out that a Watergate co-conspirator had paid off witnesses against the three, their sentences were commuted by then-Gov. Jim Hunt in 1978, but the convictions were upheld.
Reddy has been working his struggles and those of other blacks into his art ever since. You can read his story by Pat Moran in this week's issue, and you can go see his exhibit, Everything is Everything at UNCC's Projective Eye Gallery of the College of Arts & Architecture.
Speaking of Everything is Everything – it's also a song by Lauryn Hill, who is one of the many favorites of Autumn Rainwater, the subject of our music story this week. Like Hill and Solange, another favorite of Autumn Rainwater, this talented Charlotte singer-songwriter makes music that takes the listener more inward rather than outward. She may not be raising black flags, but she's raising the bar for experimental black R&B in Charlotte. Her new album, Leaf, is a piece of master storytelling about a woman's rediscovery of her true self.
That wouldn't be necessarily extraordinary if it weren't for the fact that Autumn Rainwater not only tells the story well, but she has a remarkably nuanced voice, eclectic taste in music, and an ear for specific production tricks that work in service to the narrative. Those are qualities that are rare among the most well-known artist on a major label, and yet Autumn Rainwater is doing it all here, in Charlotte, with a circle of friends who are all making comparatively extraordinary music today.
So why haven't we been covering only local artists all along? Is it that there weren't enough local artists to cover? It's true that Charlotte produces more excellent art today than it has in the past. For one thing, there are more people here. But part of it may be that artists haven't had access to the digital tools that we all have easy access to today. There may have been scores of tremendously talented artists before who simply didn't have the tools to make themselves heard.
But that's more of an excuse than a scientific fact. The fact is, we had lots of pages and we covered what was easiest to cover. It's easy to cover big national artists coming to town with loud publicists scheduling phone interviews. It's not as easy combing the city for great local artists. Social media has made that easier, but it's still not easy to go out and find the best local talent. You have to look for it. Now that we have fewer pages – and now that we can read about the national celebrities coming to town in our Twitter feeds every minute of every day — we have more of a need than ever to do what we should have been doing all along: covering local artists only.
In past years as editor of both Creative Loafing and SF Weekly, I've bemoaned the fact that we in the alt-weekly world don't have nearly as many pages as we once did. I saw it as a liability. Today, I see it as an opportunity to do the one thing that only a local media outlet can do: give prominent coverage to as much of the local art that a city has to offer and leave the national stuff to the bigger media outlets. Having fewer pages has been a mixed blessing. Lately, I've been seeing less and less of the "mixed" part. It's just a blessing.