Asheville: On things growing on high
This aint your mamas Asheville, that quaint, touristy mountain burg of yore. Nowadays Asheville (est. pop.: 72,000) gets likened to a culturally progressive, musically thriving cross between Austin and Portland. Just ask Govt Mule/Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes, who returns annually to his hometown to host his legendary Christmas Jam. Or Tom Waits, who made it one of only nine stops on his August Orphans tour. Or Jules Shear, John Brannen, Reigning Sounds Greg Cartwright and Sparklehorses Mark Linkous, all who relocated to the area in recent years.
Certainly, the infrastructure here shouldnt be underestimated, starting with the broad range of venue options. The Civic Center Arena, home to the Haynes Jam, holds nearly 8,000, while the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, site of the Waits show, seats 2,400. Club-wise, theres the Orange Peel (940), with standout 2006 shows including Mogwai, Sonic Youth, Broken Social Scene and Los Lonely Boys; and The Grey Eagle (610), with Okkervil River, Akron/Family, Rodney Crowell, Shellac, Black Angels and Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham. A healthy network of galleries accommodates still smaller bills.
Equally key: Two indiecentric community radio stations (WNCW-FM and WPVM-FM), several world-class studios and a slew of hipster record shops. Perhaps most notable is Harvest Records, whose second anniversary bash in August at the Grey Eagle with Reigning Sound and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings was the soul shakedown of the year. Harvest recently launched the Harvest Records label, initially releasing the soundtrack to 6;14 Films Rank Strangers, a documentary about the local old-time music scene.
And then theres the artistic brain trust. Among the best 2006 local releases: The Sunlight and the Sound, by hard-choogling shoegazers Nevada; Big Top Soda Pop, by psychedelic string band Mad Tea Party; Sports, by techno/hip-hop codeine guzzlers Sports; What You Will, by avant-garde math merchants Ahleuchatistas; and Not Forgotten, by folk-blues legend Malcolm Holcombe. In 2006, bluegrass outfit Steep Canyon Rangers won the IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year award, and twisted twangers the Blue Rags, a much-loved 90s Sub Pop act, reunited. Lets not forget newcomer Wooden Tit, the sinister blues-skronk demolition team whose head Tit-man is ex-Bassholes Don Howland. Yes, its the same Don Howland who teaches English at a local middle school. Parents, be very afraid. Strangers, dont be. —Fred Mills
Charlotte: Bands and labels came and went, but not necessarily together
Two young bands and their local labels highlighted the year in music for Charlotte. The Sammies and The Avett Brothers—backed by MoRisen and Ramseur records, respectively—expanded fan bases with new records and scads of live dates across the country. The Avetts acoustic country-punk sold out regional venues and New Yorks Mercury Lounge, landing them a big spread in Februarys Paste. Meanwhile, The Sammies released a self-titled debut to strong reviews, toured both coasts, played their first SXSW, headlined their labels showcase at CMJ, and will be featured in Harps Fresh Faces in early 2007.
MoRisen also released Elevator Actions Society, Secret, but it wasnt all sunshine and light at the label. The Talk was dropped in October, several months after frontman Justin Williams got some unwanted notoriety when the band was kicked off their tour with post-punk legends The Fall. Williams heaved a banana at Fall frontman Mark E. Smith during a show in Phoenix. Meanwhile, Ramseur Records was adding acts, signing the Triangles Bombadil and Tennessees everybodyfields.
Regional road warriors Dave Childers & the Modern Don Juans kept chugging along, releasing a strong, straight-ahead rock n roll record, Jailhouse Religion, before putting the finishing touches on their next one. Scum punk pioneers ANTiSEEN received their own tribute double disc, Everyone Loves ANTiSEEN, from TKO Records. On the experimental front, octet Pyramid recorded the soundtrack to Sundance buzz film The Fist Foot Way and started work on a new record as the year ended. Angular-rock trio Calabi Yau recorded an EP and prepared a split 7 with Ashevilles Ahleuchatistas.
Several promising new bands emerged in 2006, ranging from dream-rockers Mula Xul to the R&B-flavored Soulganic, who won Creative Loafings critics poll as Best New Band. The new quintet Fence Lions also impressed, combining dusky, Calexico-like, minor-key laments with Tom Waits waltzes and early R.E.M. rock on their debut double disc, Evidence of the Giant.
There were a couple of nice comeback stories this year as well. The Houston Brothers returned to the Charlotte rock scene after an indefinite hiatus, having expanded from their two- and three-piece incarnations into a quintet. Anticipation built about the first new record in seven years from Lou Fords original lineup of rural rockers, who finished mixing with Brian Paulson in October and signed to local upstart Rocket 13 Records. —John Schacht
Greensboro: Playing saviors
In the 1970s and early 80s, when you wanted to go hear a national band in Greensboro, you only had to walk down the street. A cluster of clubs located near UNC-Greensboro and downtown provided live music seven nights a week. For decades, the centrally located Gate City had been a logical stopover on the cross-country musical corridor for acts touring the South.
But, in the mid-80s, it all dried up. Regional college bands finally made a comeback when the Blind Tiger opened in 1988. Until this year, though, Greensboros approximately 241,000 residents had nowhere to go but Ziggys in Winston-Salem to get their national band fix.
But—with the House of Blues now booking the N Club and the opening of the Flying Anvil in April—the citys nightlife is staggering back. Its got a way to go yet. Since its development in Cambridge, Mass., in 1992, the nationwide House of Blues chain has not lived up to its name. Delbert McClendon has been the only act with any depth booked locally this year. The alternatives have been has-beens, rockers like Eddie Money, Jacky and Nantucket.
The Flying Anvil, though, is the towns best hope for quality national music. We dont want to specialize in anything, says Pete Scroth, who formerly ran the Green Bean. His club has featured hip hop (Dead Prez), bluegrass (Avetts, everybodyfields) and blues (Johnny Winter). For survival purposes, we have to diversify.
The other problem is that, since the death of national live music in Greensboro back in the 80s, rousting residents for shows has been difficult. I dont want to make this sound negative, Scroth says, but we get more people from out of town than we do from Greensboro.
Greensboro music fans have been given the venue. If they want the town to be more than a musical cemetery, dragging their dead asses out to support live music is the only chance for a needed resurrection. —Grant Britt