Last weekend, four Triangle music rooms were packed with fresh faces. It started around 4 p.m. on Saturday, upstairs on Perry Street in Durham. Chaz's Bull City Records welcomed a hundred people it hadn't encountered before, filling the spaces between the blue racks of CDs with people eager to see Kimya Dawson. She sat in a straight-back brown leather chair at the street-side end of the store, singing a handful of the songs that have recently given her acute, long-overdue fame after their placement in the film Juno. Three hours later, Dawson sat on the gray countertop of a cash register at Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill. Approximately 250 fans squeezed into the store, with a few dozen left to spill onto the sidewalk, staring through glass at the back of her head. And on Sunday night, Dawson—who's landed on The View and in the pages of The New York Times in the last few weeks—packed Bull City Headquarters, the low-rent, high-love, nonprofit Durham community space run by a volunteer board of directors. Even without heating, collective body heat kept everyone comfortable.
Between the first two of those Dawson sets on Saturday and the third on Sunday, another Triangle room gained a respectable audience: Local 506 welcomed Megafaun, I Was Totally Destroying It and Red Collar, three area upstarts with new albums and modest draws of their own. But this crowd was bigger, different, enthusiastic, fresh, surprised to see that the participatory folk skews of Megafaun or the razor tight power-pop-punk of I Was Totally Destroying It exist in its own backyard. At one point, a 20-something-year-old girl behind me asked a friend, "So, how many bands do you think there are in the Triangle? Like, are there 10? 100? 1,000?" On Friday, the News & Observer published its annual Great 8, a collection of short articles on eight bands in the Triangle worth hearing. The list was strong, and a well-conceived multimedia portion—which included performance videos, interviews and surprise downloads—was stronger. The package brought new faces to a local-band bill, something Red Collar frontman Jason Kutchma acknowledged at night's end. As he wiped sweat from his brow as the last song took shape, he said "Welcome back" to faces he'd never seen.
All four shows offered examples of what can happen when talent operating below any mainstream radar is recognized by those standing above it: Dawson has legions now, and Midtown Dickens made clapping-and-cheering fans from the 100-plus teenagers in BCHQ when they opened. People freaked out for Red Collar, as if discovering a tiny new restaurant in their own hometown.
Midway through her set Sunday night, Dawson joked with a clutch of teenagers, smiling and asking, "It's like, 'We're going to squeeze all the way up to the front and talk about—our homework.'" More an initiation than a lecture, Dawson—who's been putting out records since 2001—seemed to say, "Good to see you. Glad you finally made it."