It's too bad about Bickett Gallery, really: For a moment, it felt like Raleigh had something special, something it had never had before, a place where artists of the outer stripes could finally intersect. And it did. For five years, Bickett flirted with the fringes and became the one place in the capital city (Kings partially excepted) willing to open its doors to free jazz, unorthodox rock, modern dance, risky art and adventurous film. A bar, gallery and small concert hall, Bickett certainly struggled with the lack of self-definition inherent in such a welcoming space, and the space's demise this weekend can—at least in part—be safely attributed to devilish details like consistent booking, publicity and outreach.
But if the people of Durham are out to prove anything as an artistic community, it's that strict definition is a luxury only places in Orange and Wake counties can afford. Durham is doing something right now, and it's up to the Triangle to figure out if it will last. This is the third weekend that 305 South is going to offer not a glimpse but a wide-lens vista into the enthusiasm of really great work artists are doing in the Triangle.
It's been said that the launch party for Burly Time Records, a label I started to release albums by Bowerbirds and Horseback, drew nearly 400 people there on May 4. In a 12-hour CD release extravaganza hosted by another Durham label, 307 Knox Records, Midtown Dickens drew similar numbers last weekend. This Friday, Bull City celebrates its strong debut with a show at 305 South, and Black Skies, Colossus, Pride Parade and Gun Metal Black are going to combine heavy forces next Friday to help 305 South buy some new bathrooms. Remember, this is the place that's a vintage clothing boutique, a costume shop, a coffee bar, a record store, a recording studio and a three-stage music hall.
Bull City Headquarters, about a mile northwest of 305 South, is now booking shows through August. They're also preparing after-school tutoring for Durham children come next school year, and the bike co-op in the back of the small Mangum Street space is thriving. Definition?
Certainly, it's going to be up to the (cooperating) staffs of both 305 South and Bull City Headquarters to make smart booking decisions and keep their spaces alive. That means no more big-time guarantees for entirely second-tier indie rock bands like 31Knots and Two Ton Boa, and it also means embracing what is here, accepting that there is a strong scene stretched over three counties called the Triangle, and that people are willing to come to shows in different cities if you give them the right reasons. With Kings down and Bickett going out and things like Bud Light Downtown Live pumping strong, Raleigh's creative types need to get outside of their Beltline and down the interstate to see that a city with virtually nothing can start to wrap its arms and something-from-anything venues around itself for survival's sake. 305 and BCHQ are figuring that out. It's going to be important to help.
See "Raleigh's Bickett Gallery to close this weekend" for details on Bickett's last rites.