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Alison Krauss' "World of Bluegrass" appearance canceled

Next week's Raleigh debut of the IBMA "World of Bluegrass" festival has hit a bump in the road with the cancellation of Alison Krauss, one of the lineup's biggest names. Krauss was to have performed Sept. 27 at Red Hat Amphitheater as part of the "Epic Collaboration" with a bluegrass all-star band including Del McCoury, Bela Fleck and others. But Krauss has bowed out over issues with her voice, according to a statement from her representatives:

Alison Krauss was recently diagnosed with a vocal condition called dysphonia. Alison has been advised to have vocal rest, and therefore will not be performing at Wide Open Bluegrass next weekend. We anticipate a smooth, quick recovery given proper treatment and adequate rest.

The IBMA ticket policy states, "Lineup subject to change. Artist cancellation is not grounds for refund." So there will be no refunds. The rest of the lineup -- including McCoury, Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice and Mark Schatz -- will perform Sept. 27 as scheduled.

Second and goal to go for Alabama Shakes

Heath Fogg, guitarist for Alabama Shakes, is a big college-football fan -- enough of one that he tends to think in those terms when talking about his band. So during a recent interview, when talk turned to what they were looking for in a producer for the band's all-important second album, he had just the right analogy at hand.

"More than anything, we need a motivator rather than a strength and conditioning coach," Fogg said. "So we don't need somebody to help with songwriting or even the sonics. We know what we want to hear when the playback comes on. We need somebody to keep us motivated and in good spirits."

For more on the Shakes, including details on their Friday night show in Cary, see the preview in Friday's paper.

AFTERMATH: And here's a photo gallery from the show.

Jens Kruger is living large

Jens Kruger, banjo-playing co-leader of North Wilkesboro's Kruger Brothers, had a pretty good day recently when he opened his mailbox and a $50,000 check fell out. That was his bounty for winning the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music; and with the Kruger Brothers set to play IBMA's "World of Bluegrass" in Raleigh on the eve of a new album coming out ("Spirit of the Rockies," commissioned by the Banff Center in Canada), it sets the Kruger Brothers up nicely for a very productive stretch of touring. See the story in Sunday's paper for details.

Hopscotch 2013: Day Three

Even though it came out in late 1993, no song says “1994” quite as vividly as the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” and you can almost narrow it down to a specific season – that brief alternative-is-the-new-mainstream moment that ended with Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. “Last Splash,” the million-selling album that yielded up the left-field hit that was “Cannonball,” arguably stands as the last gasp of that time. Not that there haven’t been other weirdly unexpected hits since then, but they’ve been more of the quirky exception-that-proves-the-rule variety than game-changers.

Two decades on, that leaves “Last Splash” as a nostalgia artifact overdue for memorialization. Like being played in its entirety onstage, which was the Saturday-night main-stage highlight of this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival. Frontwoman Kim Deal has reassembled the “Last Splash”-era Breeders for that lineup's first tour since (yes) 1994, and they all hit their marks well. “Divine Hammer” and “I Just Wanna Get Along” were both almost as fetching as “Cannonball,” in a preserved-in-amber kind of way. Give anything enough time and it becomes a timepiece, but that’s not all bad.

British psych-rockers Spiritualized followed with a series of crescendos that dazzled but never quite seemed to achieve resolution. It was plenty impressive while it lasted but still did not leave much of an impression afterward, although that probably had as much to do with my own weariness as what was onstage. Festivals like Hopscotch turn into an endurance contest by the last night, and I was winding down. And so I resolved to stick with shows where I could sit, and spending the rest of the evening bouncing back and forth between Memorial Auditorium and the Fletcher Opera Theater next door was more than satisfying.

Local boy Ryan Gustafson offered up a fine roots-rock set of what Loudon Wainwright III might have called “Talking New Bob Dylan Blues.” Brooklyn’s San Fermin was enjoyable in a key of perky collegiate theatricality. And Minnesota's Low just flat killed it despite playing for an audience with an irritatingly high pinhead quotient – why anybody thought the trio's moody slowcore called for lots of drunk-sounding WHOOOOO’s was beyond me. If you could tune out the crowd, Low’s hushed murmurs were mesmerizing, and guitarist Alan Sparhawk’s mid-solo footwork (which landed somewhere between soft-shoe and moonwalk) was fun to watch.

So another Hopscotch is in the books. Based on crowds (or lack thereof), I would be surprised if organizers broke even this year, although a final accounting will probably have to wait until after the Sept. 21 makeup concert by Big Boi (who was to have headlined Friday’s main-stage show but postponed over scheduling conflicts). But however the bottom line turns out, the fourth edition of Hopscotch had another terrific lineup and I hope they can do it again next year.

Hopscotch 2013: Day Two

Hopscotch's opening night on Thursday seemed almost too quiet, passing in a pleasant but low-key way. Friday, on the other hand, was a lot more uptempo. Between the Hopscotch festival and hordes of First Friday gallery-walkers, downtown Raleigh was humming with energy (and blocks upon blocks of gridlocked traffic). Even the Downtown Dental office on Fayetteville Street somehow had a crowd in its lobby.

Out on Hopscotch's City Plaza main stage, meanwhile, Brooklyn's Holy Ghost! was recalling the simple pleasures of the Reagan era. I remember the '80s as fondly as the next guy, but Holy Ghost! takes that to an almost fetishy level. Their set was like a game of "Name That '80s Tune," with a mash-up of seemingly every electronic hit the decade yielded. Every song sounded like it was about to segue into something by New Order, Depeche Mode, OMD and more. Gotta say, though, that they make it work. I started out smirking and skeptical, found myself bobbing my head as the set wore on and was thoroughly won over by the end.

Shortly after that, I happened onto both my favorite find and biggest disappointment of this year. That was singer-songwriter Ilyas Ahmed, who I walked in on mid-set; and I heard him play this drop-dead brilliant bit of droning genius on 12-string guitar, somehow sounding like about a six-piece band. I was stunned and delighted -- until he finished the song, which turned out to be the last one he played and capped a ridiculously short set that only used up a fraction of his allotted time. What the heck? Oh well, I shall be seeking out recordings.

A great followup palette cleanser was Late Bloomer, a Charlotte trio that was LOUDER THAN HELL and fairly brutal about it, but also a lot catchier than most such bands. Just as I was thinking that I'd probably like 'em better if they played faster, they ramped it up and did a fast one. Very fast, in fact. Faith restored!

Other notable drop-in's throughout Friday evening were Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (Aly Spaltro), who played aggro electric-guitar strums while bellowing lines like, "I will bury you between two trees" (which was creepy, especially when she did her first song a cappella and in complete darkness, but also very affecting); and Local Natives, whose smoke-shrouded martial stomps and war-cry hollers reminded me of...well, Coldplay. Which I didn't mind, but I expect would make them cringe anyway.

Here is our day-two photo gallery. Saturday will bring another night to rock...

Hopscotch IV -- it's on

Downtown Raleigh's music-festival season kicks into high gear this weekend with the fourth annual Hopscotch Music Festival, which is at a crucial stage of development. How this year's model performs will have a lot to do with the shape and scope of future Hopscotches, meaning that organizers are praying for fair skies and big crowds. And if you're wondering which of the 170-plus acts you should try to catch this weekend, we've got suggestions -- check those out here.

Also, yours truly will be participating in a panel discussion that’s part of the Hopscotch Cultural Series , “On the road – again: The realities of touring for a living.” The panel features a few other writerly types plus members of Future Islands, Mount Moriah, Pig Destroyer and Nightlands. That happens 3-5 p.m. at the City of Raleigh Museum, so come by and say howdy.

Meanwhile, Thursday's opening night passed agreeably enough, starting with Brooklyn's The Dreebs -- just another drums/electric-violin/guitar-with-crowbar power trio -- who opened with the most unsettling blast of noise I've heard in years. Once I was able to adjust to their wavelength, it was pretty cool. Following that, I caught bits and pieces of locals Kingsbury Manx (stately as ever, wish I'd heard more), Beloved Binge (spirited and adorable) and bluesman Ironing Board Sam (excellent, rocking a pink suit, although the overblown mid-set history lesson about his career that some dude got onstage to do was a major, major buzzkill).

Night one concluded with local heroes the Rosebuds playing their first show in two years by covering R&B singer Sade's 1992 album "Love Deluxe," which might be the least-likely pairing this side of red beans and chocolate. Given Rosebuds' scruffy indie-rock, you might have expected them to goof on "Love Deluxe" a bit; but guess again. Playing with an expanded lineup featuring Matt Douglas from Proclivities and Small Ponds blowing a godlike saxophone and flute, Rosebuds co-leaders Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp served up very earnest and straightforward versions of the album's songs, recital-style.

Check out our opening-night photo gallery. We'll be back with more as the weekend progresses...

The NCMA's "Close to Home": A righteous exhibit

Showing at the NC Museum of Art right now is an exhibit featuring the work of North Carolina artists the museum has collected over the past decade -- including a piece of history involving the photograph for this very album cover, local funk-rock supergroup DAG's 1994 album "Righteous." How it came to be on the cover made for a pretty funny story in the Sunday paper, which you can find here.

September song: The fall arts preview cometh

Well, it's fall preview time, where we spotlight some of the arts highlights coming our way through the end of the year. Of particular note this year are all the music festivals happening in Raleigh in September, most notably the International Bluegrass Music Association's "World of Bluegrass" -- which Raleigh lured away from Nashville. For more on how that happened, see the story from Sunday's paper here.

The Berkeley Cafe prepares to hibernate

Well, we're once again back into good-news-and-bad-news territory with Raleigh's Berkeley Cafe. The bad news is that it's shutting down this fall -- but the good news is it's not supposed to be permanent. The venerable downtown restaurant will close Oct. 1 for a three-month period of renovations.

"We're doing a massive upgrade," owner John Blomquist Thursday. "New ceilings, floors, tables, chairs, equipment, bathrooms, patio out back and a bigger kitchen. It will probably be a good $100,000 to do all this."

Previously, the venue's big music hall closed at the end of June (to make way for a tobacco shop), and the Berkeley contracted into the cafe space. The Berkeley will still be a venue during September's Hopscotch music festival, and Blomquist is also donating 15 percent of September sales to a melanoma research fund, the Amanda Wall-Corey Haddon Memorial Walk.

The Berkeley's date to reopen is tentatively set for Jan. 6, the first Monday of 2014.

Getting into the soundtrack game

If you've ever heard a particular song in a movie or TV show and wondered how it got there, you could do worse than to ask Vaughan Penn how that works. A pop-rock songwriter from the Charlotte area, Penn has had more than 200 song placements over the years, mostly through hustle -- and also from keeping things karmically sound, a process she describes in almost mystical terms.

"You have to show up and believe, have faith, do your work and keep writing no matter what's going on," she says. "You can't be down on yourself when times are lean, that's just God rearranging the pieces. You have to know the waterfall is flowing, even in a dry spell. You just have to stay in line with your divine purpose. If it's why you came to this earth, it will happen. If not, it won't. Just get in line with the work you were meant to do."

But even if soundtrack composition is why you were put on earth, there are still things you can do to make it more likely you'll be discovered. We talked to Penn and a few other people in the industry for a story about how to break in, which you'll find here.