May 17, 2014
In January, I moved up to Charlotte from Columbia, S.C., where I was music editor of the city's altweekly Free Times. Not too long before I left, I started noticing billboards up around downtown Columbia, mostly by interstate on-ramps and major intersections, promoting Charlotte as a tourism destination. They'd show happy young yuppies lounging in the shadows of Uptown skyscrapers.
Charlotte's got a lot, they'd read.
(Ironically, billboards advertising Columbia's tourist hotspots, such as they are, started springing up in Charlotte after I'd moved up here. Quelle ironie!)
Columbia's a small town, and its music scene is similarly small. The benefit to that is, naturally, camaraderie, which was a comfort in Columbia. If someone needed support, he or she could fall back on fellow musicians. Benefits, like the ones that have sprung up in the wake of one local musician's brain cancer diagnosis, are common.
Though I've held residence in Charlotte since the New Year, I hadn't spent a lot of time in the city - I did some touring with some bands I play in, spent some time in my ancestral home of Boston, and pitched in as a spare hand at the Columbia alt-weekly I'd just left. It wasn't until mid-March when I spent any amount of time in Charlotte, let alone seeing its musicians. Those I had seen I was already intimately familiar with, and Creative Loafing readers probably would be, too: Bo White, Great Architect, Joint D≠, Hectorina, Junior Astronomers.
Which is what attracted me, as a relative newcomer, to Saturday's Reverb Fest. Its lengthy bill offered, to me, an opportunity to see a great number of bands - many of which I hadn't yet seen.
Indeed, Reverb Fest served as a great entry point, offering a diverse array of local rock acts, some established and some up-and-coming. The festival's side stage jumped from the bratty, hoarse-throated punk of Couches to the piano-driven pop of Modern Moxie. Joshua Cotterino's weird and wild experimental pop, all underwater tape loops and heavily delayed vocals, yielded abruptly but oddly perfectly to the gravelly and richly detailed folk of Eli Parker, a songwriter with Richard Buckner-esque promise.
While the bands on the main stage occasionally were faced with a mostly empty room, and thus cavernous sound, their energy didn't lag. Late Bloomer ripped through its set, much of which seemed drawn from its forthcoming record, with vigor and verve. It Looks Sad, a band I'd seen a handful of times in Columbia, was equally impressive. Girl Pants, in particular, were revelatory, their Deafheaven-ish metalgaze filling the room as its members thrashed and howled. That Sinners & Saints, Pullman Strike and Hectorina - thoroughly pleasant and bands, all, and with great live presences of their own - couldn't match Girl Pants' intensity isn't an indictment of any of those bands. Far from it, it offered a glimpse at the lineup's great depth.
But it was the scene, if you will, that struck me the most. Members of Pullman Strike, who wouldn't play until after midnight, showed up at 4 p.m. to help early bands load in. Two of organizer Phil Pucci's friends who showed up simply to hang ended up working the ticket booth. (Without complaint, Pucci would note on Facebook.) When Will Irvin, guitarist for young and awesomely abrasive punk trio Couches, broke a guitar string, Pucci rushed to his aid, loaning Irvin his Telecaster. When Eli Parker's quiet introduction went largely unnoticed under all the chatter in Neighborhood Theatre's side room, Hectorina's Dylan Gilbert rushed to the front of the stage, cupped his hands and yelled for the room to shut the fuck up. They did.
Reverb Fest, unquestionably, was a success because it achieved its set purpose: The concert raised more than $1,800 for the Chronic Illness Relief Fund. But for me - and, hey, reviews are inherently narcissistic exercises, right? - Saturday offered a different kind of reward. As an invitation to the trenches of Charlotte's music scene, Reverb Fest felt insular but warmly supportive and inviting - a wholly familiar feeling.
It reaffirmed what a billboard once told me: Charlotte's got a lot.