More than any other season, summer in the South demands activity. Spring's break pales to summer's vacation—sweating and swimming, planting and playing. And then there are the block parties of summer, community gatherings that pause to celebrate the bustle.
Chapel Hill record label Holidays For Quince has been summertime-active since its inception. In just two years, the label has released eight records, gathering a wide range of Triangle sounds, from The Curtains of Night's heavy metal to Violet Vector & the Lovely Lovelies' day-glo pop.
"It's definitely aimed at somehow fostering a very broad and rich identity for this region, musically," says Jenks Miller, one of two HFQ co-owners and a local musician who plays in a half-dozen area bands, including In the Year of the Pig and Horseback. "In order to do that, we're trying not to get hung up on genres and concentrating more on working with people that we know or we like, or music that seems important."
For Miller and co-founder Heather McEntire, this summer seemed like the perfect opportunity to pause and celebrate many of the forces that have driven the label. So, of course, they're throwing a summer block party that encapsulates a trifecta of accomplishment.
First, the Nightlight—the Rosemary Street venue that hosts the three-night affair, and at which both McEntire and Miller work—just earned its liquor license. Second, the label landed an exclusive distribution deal with Chicago Independent Distribution last month, making the label's catalog available nationwide. Third, HFQ has spread its roster to Richmond, signing singer/ songwriter Liza Kate and releasing her album, Don't Let the Dogs, at the block party. It's the label's eighth disc and first from an artist outside the Triangle. It only seemed appropriate to welcome her to the neighborhood, so to speak.
Kate actually isn't too far outside of the community the label has already built up. She and McEntire have been friends since sharing a house show in Virginia half a decade ago. Kate opened the show, playing her spare folk songs on a "little blue guitar" in front of a stack of loud rock bands. "It kind of took me aback how she could captivate that crowd," remembers McEntire, who was there with her own rock band, Bellafea.
The two kept in touch. McEntire encouraged Kate to put a second collection of songs to tape. Holidays For Quince wanted to release it. "I believe in her music so incredibly much, and it just seemed like a good fit," says McEntire. "And she's my friend so we didn't think too much about it."
Working through personal relationships has been HFQ's early calling card. "We definitely want to work local outward," says Miller, meaning the goal is to start as close to home as possible, and let their records and rosters grow slowly. To wit, the first HFQ release was an EP from Un Deux Trois, the pop band formed by McEntire and Miller. The label then issued releases by the heavy Caltrop and the monolithic Curtains of Night as well as the Technicolor pop-act Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies, all Chapel Hill acts.
"We've tried to focus on regional artists, and Liza is from Richmond," says Miller. "And while we'd still consider it regional, she hasn't had a lot of exposure here in Chapel Hill."
The Block Party is an effort to change that, and it's a reciprocal approach for the label: Just as Kate could benefit from exposure in the Triangle, its local artists could benefit by having a labelmate in another state.
That idea has paid off for some HFQ affiliates, who have already begun moving beyond their neighborhood niche. Miller's solo efforts, both under his own name and as Horseback, have sported an HFQ imprint, but the next Horseback LP, The Invisible Mountain, will be released by notable Wisconsin-based experimental label Utech Records. (Disclosure: The first record, Horseback's Impale Golden Horn, was co-released by Indy music editor Grayson Currin.) McEntire's Bellafea released its LP, Cavalcade, through Chicago-based indie label Southern Records. Violet Vector recently inked a deal with Kentucky's Colorwheel Records.
That its members have begun to spread out only makes it more important for the Block Party to serve as a reminder of the circle of friends a music scene can create. "[The bands] want to feel like they're a part of a supportive community," says Miller. "This is a way to demonstrate what we have. I think that's really important. It's sort of a positive feedback mechanism. It feels more whole when you can see what everyone's doing at once."
But the Block Party is far from a self-congratulatory showcase of Holidays For Quince's growth. Screaming Females, who play the last night, are from New Jersey and aren't part of HFQ's chattel. The same goes for Max Indian, Wizzerds of Rhyme and Embarrassing Fruits', locals who don't call HFQ home. Next month, though, HFQ's Liza Kate and Mount Moriah will play TRKFest, a day-long festival held in Pittsboro and curated by Trekky Records, Embarrassing Fruits' longtime label.
Trekky co-founder Will Hackney says the plan was to have Holidays For Quince bands on the TRKFest bill, regardless. That HFQ asked a Trekky band to play its Block Party is simply a bonus.
"We're all allies in that we're all basically going through the same process of putting out cool records and putting together good shows," Hackney says.
"It's important to not be competitive with [other] small labels, but encourage each other and give each other a pat on the back," agrees McEntire. "One small label can't put out all the bands here."
Holidays For Quince curates the HFQ Block Party at Nightlight Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (May 15-17). Performing acts include HFQ's newest signing, Liza Kate, plus The Moaners, Caltrop, Bellafea, The Curtains of Night, Mount Moriah, Screaming Females, Max Indian and more. The shows start at 9:30 p.m. and cost $6 per night or $15 for a three-night pass.