It's close to 10 p.m. on a Thursday night in downtown Raleigh, and the city streets are empty. Stragglers pass through Moore Square Park, and a few casual diners perch at outdoor tables, chatting beneath the warm glow of surrounding street lamps: All is quiet on Blount Street.
The clock moves closer to the hour mark. The quiet of the muggy summer evening suddenly blisters into the first signs of something else. A yowl from Kelly Reid, WKNC's music director, punches the air: "Raleigh, are you ready to rock?" she screams, standing center stage inside Tir Na Nog, the cavernous Irish-style pub that's become a Moore Square staple. The street echoes her excited call to the battlefield of rock 'n' roll. The hushed night air splits. Dexter Romweber, in all his Silvertone and jet-black glory, gets behind the microphone: Blount Street isn't sleeping anymore.
This is Local Beer, Local Band night at Tir Na Nog, a program engineered by Reid and staff at N.C. State's student radio station, WKNC 88.1 FM, to help bring music fans downtown on a weeknight. It comes at the right time. Kings, Raleigh's most vital music club for seven years, was razed in the name of downtown development, and many fear that the grit and local culture of downtown Raleigh is disappearing.
"While we're not trying to be Kings or replace Kings, there was a definite void in the local music scene that needed to be filled," says Reid. "WKNC has always promoted local bands and musicians, and being a part of this event was the perfect opportunity to expose these great local bands we play on the station to a more diverse crowd."
Tonight, the Irish pub extends an open invitation to anyone and everyone who wants to shake, rattle and roll with the Dexter Romweber Duo, this evening's featured local band. Bands like American Aquarium, Patty Hurst Shifter, Midtown Dickens and The Wigg Report have played the series so far, and WKNC just signed a contract extension into the fall. The Romwebers (Dexter on guitar/vocals, sister and former Let's Active pounder Amy on drums) have drawn a mixed-bag of fans and newcomers into the pub on Blount Street—business men with 5 o'clock shadows, hipsters in skinny jeans, young men with bushy beards and tattooed arms. They gather around the wide bar or wooden picnic table in the back, slinging back free samples of Foothills Brewing's finest ale. Like the Romwebers, it's in the spotlight tonight.
WKNC has returned to promoting local music in the past five years, and while an Irish pub seems like an improbable venue for musicians to set a stake with loud, local rock, Tir Na Nog too has long been in the business of promoting all things local. They've joined forces with one common goal in mind: to embrace the surrounding music community and introduce people to new music.
"We joined up with The River [a Clear Channel station, the one that's "all about the music"] in the late summer of 2006 to sponsor weekly performances," says Chris Tamplin, a Tir Na Nog bartender who helps Reid with booking. "We had a few good shows. American Aquarium came and the Bleeding Hearts played. But we mostly had straight-forward pop bands. You know, anybody can play three chords and make a good pop song. It was very radio-friendly, but we wanted more."
That's what they got. Tir Na Nog's alliance with The River came to an end after the station switched to a playlist dominated by classic rock. Tamplin, a longtime listener and supporter of WKNC, saw the connection between the two organizations immediately. "WKNC supports the local music community by playing local bands' music on the radio. I wanted to tap into that. I wanted us to be a part of the true-music scene."
After a few MySpace exchanges with Reid, an alliance was formed. "The benefits were obvious," says Reid. "It's a win-win situation. Not only does the band get more exposure, but Tir Na Nog might gain a few more customers and we might pick up a few more listeners. Everybody benefits."
Local Beer, Local Band happens Thursdays at Tir Na Nog at 9 p.m. No cover. June 7: Adult Film Makers; June 14: Whistlestop; June 21: Hearts and Daggers; July 12: SNMNMNM; July 19: J. Roddy Walston and the Business; July 26: Goner, The Loners.