Karen Booth is someone I've been seeing around local clubs since the early 1990s, when Chapel Hill was being touted as "The Next Seattle" and Booth was working for hometown label Mammoth Records. Mammoth is long gone, but Booth is still around -- and nowadays, writing books set in the music industry; steamy romance novels of the sort that (typically women) readers devour in droves. Booth's debut full-length novel has just been published, and it draws from her time in the music-industry trenches as well as her wonder-years fandom for the British band Duran Duran here. See the Q&A interview in Sunday's paper, which also has details on a couple of upcoming readings.
Little by little, details are coming out about World of Bluegrass, the International Bluegrass Music Association convention and festival coming to downtown Raleigh at the end of September. Wednesday afternoon found Mayor Nancy McFarlane onstage at Red Hat Amphitheater to announce further details of the event -- which even includes a barbecue festival, and you've gotta love that. See the report here.
RALEIGH -- There's good news and bad news about the Berkeley Cafe. The good news is that the downtown club and restaurant at 217 W. Martin St. is staying open. But the bad news is that it's losing the big 200-capacity music room.
That space will close June 30 and be converted to a retail store called Island Tobacco, according to landlord York Properties. The Berkeley will be down to the smaller adjoining cafe space. It will continue to have live music, but on a smaller scale with a capacity closer to 100.
"We hate downsizing," owner John Blomquist said on Monday. "It's not the end of an era, but it is the end of the big side and we'll miss it. It's gonna be a transition."
Blomquist opened the Berkeley in 1980, expanding its live-music operation into the big hall in the early 1990s. The Berkeley has hosted everything from country singers to hip-hop and metal over the past two decades, including some of the local scene's biggest names -- Chatham County Line and Ryan Adams' Whiskeytown among them.
"I've always liked the Berkeley, the funkiness of it," said Marianne Taylor, one of several outside promoters who booked concerts there.
For a number of years, the big music hall also included a storefront space on Martin Street, which housed a series of businesses including a coffee shop and convenience store. The last one, Taz's, moved out in late 2010. After the Berkeley's lease on the music-hall space expired last November, York began shopping the property to potential tenants.
"York told us they were exercising their out and it was pretty short, less than 30 days," said Jim Shires, managing partner who oversees the Berkeley's live music. "We asked for another month to fulfill some obligations to bands and customers, and they agreed to give us until June 30. So there are no hard feelings. We've always known this was a possibility."
So goes another downtown club, but at least the Berkeley Cafe will remain. Blomquist's lease runs until 2023, and he promised he's not going anywhere.
"A man needs a place to go and I want to continue coming here," Blomquist said. "I love my customers."
Whenever you're trying to pick and choose which shows to attend, here's a pretty handy rule of thumb: If any of the Megafaun guys are involved with something in any capacity, it's going to be worth your time. Friday night brings the latest example, "Boomer's Story: A Celebration of Ry Cooder," inspired by the iconic and eclectic California blues-rock man. For "Boomer's Story," Megafaun's Phil Cook assembled a local supergroup he calls the Guitarheels (featuring members of Chatham County Line, Hiss Golden Messenger, Mount Moriah and others) to present a tribute to Cooder's 1972 cult-classic album, which remains much-beloved even though it was never anything like a "hit."
The show happens Friday at Saxapahaw's Haw River Ballroom. Meantime, a short documentary film about the project hit the interwebs today -- check that out here.
ADDENDUM: There's a very nice video from the show making the rounds.
RALEIGH -- Toward the end of Imagine Dragons' Wednesday night show at downtown Raleigh's Red Hat Amphitheater, lead singer Dan Reynolds paused to tell the crowd about how he'd grown up going to shows like this. It was an escape, he said, and a chance to dream.
Apparently, what Reynolds was dreaming about was someday becoming a drum major. Here he is now at age 25, frontman for one of the biggest rock bands in the world -- and on just about every song Wednesday night, he'd grab a stick or two and bash away on drums arrayed at the front of the stage. Even a broken right hand didn't stop him, although maybe it should have because his drum-work generally was not in the pocket; "Hear Me," in particular, was a real mess on the outro.
Extra percussion isn't inherently unusual nowadays (both of Wednesday night's opening acts also had their frontmen playing some drums), but Imagine Dragons still take it to a whole other level. Their extra front-of-stage drums were oversized, five and six feet across, and they were one of the few bands I've ever seen where the drum solo was a communal group effort. They even had an extra drum up in the rafters, which Reynolds accessed via wires that flew him up to bang away during the hit "Radioactive."
It was actually something of a feat to make Wednesday night's show happen at all. A band of strong storms moving through the area forced a 90-minute weather delay, which necessitated moving back the regular curfew to 11 p.m. But the headliners managed to get in a full set.
"Thank you for braving the elements with us tonight, you guys are awesome," Reynolds told the crowd as the band finally took the stage.
While Imagine Dragons come from Las Vegas, they certainly don't sound at all like the image that city conjures up. Their sonic blueprint roughly falls into arena rock along the lines of Coldplay, with the added element of electronic burble -- plus those drums, lots and lots of drums. Long on dramatic crescendos, textured guitar and anguished vocal mannerisms, it's music made for screaming along with, which the young-ish crowd was only too happy to do.
If there's a flaw to Imagine Dragons, it's that they don't transcend their reference points. "Demons" sounds more like Coldplay than Coldplay does, and the ambient beginning to "Rocks" brought Fleet Foxes to mind.
Still, as the show demonstrated, there's always a place for declarative arena rock that makes you raise your fist and yell. Imagine Dragons fill that bill nicely.
Singer/songwriter Tokyo Rosenthal has a decent-sized following around his hometown of Chapel Hill, but that's nothing compared to his profile across the pond in Ireland. In fact, he's set to receive an honor as part of The Gathering Clare on Friday, in a ceremony in the Irish town of Killaloe -- where he is held in very high regard thanks to "Killaloe," a song on his current album "Tokyo's Fifth."
"Killaloe" features instrumental contributions from Chatham County Line fiddler John Teer (who knows a thing or two about popularity in far-away places) and dB's co-leader Chris Stamey. Rosenthal's aunt and uncle lived in Killaloe 30-some years ago, and the song is a remembrance of his visits there. It's the seventh track listed here, if you'd like to take a listen.
The outdoor-music season has just begun, but the biggest piece of local-concert news involves an indoor show. Justin Timberlake -- a.k.a., the boy-band dude that it's cool for everyone to like (because, really, what's not to like?) -- will play Raleigh's PNC Arena on Nov. 13 on his "20/20 Experience" tour.
The pre-sale begins Tuesday, with the regular public on-sale date set for next Monday, May 13.
Want to see more from one of Timberlake's concerts? Here's a photo gallery from his performance Sunday in New York.
I've been writing about music for more than 30 years now, and I also grew up the son of a doctor. So I know a fair amount about the time demands of each profession, by the simple fact of being around both for so long. And I just can't imagine how much Type-A energy it would take to work in the medical profession while also playing in a a symphony orchestra -- simultaneously. But there is just such a group here in the Triangle, the Duke Medicine Orchestra. See more about their story in Sunday's paper.
Well, folks, it's time to get out your calendar, mark it up and start planning your summer around concerts that you don't want to miss. A fair quantity of big shows will be happening in outdoor venues around the Triangle, and we're here to help with the ever-popular annual Outdoor Music Preview, which includes venue schedules. Check that out here.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the International Bluegrass Music Association put out a partial list of headline performers for this fall’s big Bluegrass Wide Open shindig happening in Raleigh the final weekend in September. There are some pretty big names on it, including Steve Martin, Alison Krauss and Edie Brickell (!). See details here.