Know what I love this weekend? Raleigh.
I love Raleigh all the time, really I do, but yesterday was special. There was a benefit in town, at four different venues, hosted by the good people who bring us Hopscotch. The benefit was for Oliver, a two year old who has been dealing with some pretty big medical stuff lately. And while Oliver’s family has been taking care of Oliver, their friends have been looking out for them, and the community has gotten behind that family and those friends, and it’s been kind of a chain reaction of good things. As in, a lot of people standing up and saying, “Take THAT!” to something scary, and seeing what can be done to help.
And what else would people who love music do, but host a musical benefit? A really really good one? And so, on to the music. As with Hopscotch Proper, the only problem with a really good music festival is the hard choices that come when an explosion of good bands happens all at once. I have been trying to see Love Language for at least a year. I have been trying to see Old Ceremony for longer than that. I love Filthybird. And, having already buried the lede here, the Avett Brothers were playing at Kings.
I had every intention of going to see the Avett Brothers at Kings. What’s not to love about the Avett Brothers at Kings? Last time I saw them, I was waaaay back in the Charlottesville amphitheater. I wouldn’t change a thing about that night. However, I doubt I’ll get the chance to see the Avetts in a crowd of three hundred again. A couple of weeks ago, though, word spread that a fourth venue had been added, and the lineup included Bombadil and Tift Merritt at Lincoln Theater. I didn’t hesitate for more than five seconds. “I love y’all,” I told my crowd. “But I have to go to Lincoln.”
I have a history with both these bands. A short one, with Bombadil, but I fell in love with them during one of my favorite parts of Hopscotch. They are unlike any band I’ve ever seen before in how surprising their music is. Lest I sound vague or uncomplimentary, I’ll explain: their lyrics are quirky, but smart and lovely. The instrumentation is enchanting and strange, with twists you don’t see coming but which are of course exactly what is called for in any given moment. The harmonies are flawless, and the set might veer from man alone at a keyboard, to full-on band with kickdrum thumping, to different man sitting onstage with a guitar, and back to full-on orchestral pop. And yet, the overall sound is completely coherent. I’ll say it again. I love them.
The crowd was completely obnoxious during their set, kind like an episode of “Big Brother” and “Jersey Shore” and “Gossip Girl” rolled into one. People with their backs to the stage, shrieking out inane conversations, and a couple (a forty-something couple, old enough to know better, I might add) making out against a wall, and people trying to pogo dance to soulful songs about redemption, and so forth. I snaked my way through the shriekers and pogo-ers to stand in front of the speaker, next to the stage, and was drawn in immediately by the intensity of the performers, and all the rest fell away. It was beautiful enough that, several times, I had to swallow a lump in my throat and blink back tears. But music does that to me.
Which brings me to my next topic: Tift Merritt. I have listened to her for a decade or so, and seen her sell out the lawn at the art museum more than once. She’s so real and sincere onstage, and has a voice that’s at once southern and sweet and bluesy and country, but she also plays the hell out of a guitar. She had a nightmare time slot: not just midnight, but at the same time as the Avett Brothers and the Love Language; most importantly, playing a set that started with twenty minutes to go in the second half of the State game. She killed it anyway.
I didn’t realize she has a new album coming out this spring; can’t wait. I wasn’t sure how I’d do tonight, given that I was a teensy bit overwrought the last time I saw her play. I am happy to report that I totally held it together, probably because there was no pedal steel. Held it together until she played “Good Hearted Man,” of course. How does anyone make it through that song intact? Because I’m 100% sure that song is about me, and that’s the happy ending I’d love to have, someone kindly and gently breaking down those walls, and oh good lord am I crying again?
I digress. The show was beautiful. The music crowd went home happy. The basketball crowd, at least the crowd watching the late game at bars all over town,
went home heartbroken, but proud.
And so, back to the beginning of this post: I am proud. Proud of this town. Thanks, Team Oliver. Thanks, talented and generous local musicians. Thanks, Team Wolfpack. Thanks, Raleigh.