I had met Justin Fedor many years earlier, when I was writing a story for The Charlotte Observer on his then-new band, the New Familiars. I didn't realize this was the same Justin that CL's news editor, Ryan Pitkin, had booked to come into the Local Vibes podcast studio at Hygge West last week to talk with us about a Tom Petty tribute concert he's putting on to benefit Levine Children's Hospital.
Or that the Justin of the New Familiars was now the Justin of a new band (or, new to me, anyway), Ancient Cities. But when Justin reminded me of our earlier meeting, it all came back. I remembered hanging out with him and his New Familiars cohorts — at the time, it was Justin, Eric-Scott Guthrie, Josh Daniel and James Stratford — on the front steps of an old house behind the Food Lion on the Plaza.
What I had not remembered about Justin was his easygoing personality, or his infectious laugh. When we first met, he had recently arrived in Charlotte, and was excited about his band. I continued following the New Familiars after my story ran, seeing them perform several times, once before a speech by former Vice President Joe Biden during the Democratic National Convention in 2012. That was a real hoot: an affable outspoken vice president backed by an affable Charlotte country-folk band playing to an audience that didn't want to hear anything approaching country music that day. (Go read about it in this week's music feature. His recounting of that performance will tickle your funnybone.)
What I learned during my interview with Justin and during our Local Vibes podcast — which you can listen to here — was that, while I was away from Charlotte between 2013 and last year, he had been very busy. Not just making music, but giving back to his community.
If there's a theme to this week's Creative Loafing, it's that giving back is something local artists of all kinds do every day of the year, often for little return other than knowing they're helping other people in Charlotte.
Big corporations give back and it's easy. It's a write-off. Not that it's bad; it's great when Bank of America or Wells Fargo donate giant sums of money to worthy organizations. But it's humbling and soulful when one artist chooses to spend his or her time and energy gathering people together to help raise money that could pay their own rent for a year, only to give it back to sick children or our homeless neighbors.
In last week's music section, we featured a story on the local rap duo Dead Sea $crilla, whose December Wednesday night residency at Snug Harbor includes a night of giving back to the hungry in Charlotte via the local organization Second Harvest Food Bank. In this week's music section, I talk with Fedor about his ongoing series of tribute concerts that now number 10 and have raised about $50,000 for Children's Hospital.
Since this is the holiday season, and the holiday season should be all about giving and not taking, we're happy to highlight artists in Charlotte who spend their time giving back to the community that supports them. There's not enough talk of giving back in today's mean-spirited political climate.
In a way, all artists are in the business of giving back. They give us music to make our days and nights flow a little more smoothly, or to make us think. They give us dance performances that show us the wonders of the human body in movement. They give us poetry that shows us what words strung together can communicate to us that extend well beyond their dictionary definitions. They give us culinary delights that don't just feed our bodies but also our souls. And they give us visual art that inspires us in galleries — or on billboards.
On the cover of this week's issue, ArtPop gives Creative Loafing the exclusive on this year's winners. The program, which launched in 2014, is responsible for the amazing works of 80 area artists featured on billboards across Mecklenburg and 10 surrounding counties, on digital display screens at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and on news racks in the Uptown area. Next year, that number of artists reaches 97.
Wendy Hickey is the founder and executive director of ArtPop, and she and her team had the monumental task of choosing 20 of 114 artists whose works will be on area billboards in 2018. Two of them are returning artists from 2014.
"It was a very long process and it's hard," Hickey tells us in "Let's Get It Poppin'," by Pitkin and CL intern Tate Roberts. "You want everybody to be in it, and there are some absolutely worthy pieces that didn't make it, so I just encourage everybody to keep applying. That's the biggest thing, just apply and apply again."
Artpop is Hickey's way of giving back. Hickey, who loves art and artists; Fedor, who's driven to make Americana music; and Jesse Kimmel and Joshua Chapman of Dead Sea $crilla, who are inspired to make great hip-hop, all have a lot in common. They don't just give us great art and music of wildly different styles, they give us heart and soul. Without these people, and the many others like them, Charlotte would just be a big bank town with shiny buildings. With them, it's home.