If you're planning on heading out for New Year's Eve this year, the music choices can be a bit overwhelming.
FIRST NIGHT RALEIGH
TIFT MERRITT, KILLER FILLER, STRAWBERRY FIELDS & MORE
On New Year's Eve, most every watering hole, restaurant and music dive has a band, musician or crew of performers luring people in and sending out one year with a happy soundtrack to start the next. But the Triangle event that brings all this together remains First Night Raleigh, now in its 17th year. Organizers hope this year's celebration—headlined by Raleigh-born alt.country singer Tift Merritt—will bring more than 40,000 people into downtown Raleigh museums, churches, restaurants and bars surrounding the newly renovated Fayetteville Street corridor.
At First Night, people of all ages gather for ballroom dancing, jugglers, a flea circus and to watch a giant acorn drop from the sky at midnight. But while other, non-music-related festivities hold a portion of the First Night spotlight, the real attraction is the mixed bag of musical performers in venues around Fayetteville Street and on the main stage at the intersection of Fayetteville and Davie streets. This year's lineup ranges from roots music to classical to psychedelic surf rock: For retro rockers, there's the Beatles cover band Strawberry Fields and Killer Filler, a Hillsborough band that takes its cues from the Ventures. Neo-soul and gospel singer Cynthia Jones performs at the First Baptist Church sanctuary, as William Weisser plays his pipe organ a block away. World music fans will get their fill with Julius Carrasco & Dos Cabelleros' Spanish-textured flamenco and jazz. And for those craving a little swing, there's the Lenny Marcus Trio.
In the midst of this wide, varied lineup, roots music perhaps gets the most attention. Three groups with links to the traditional are scheduled to perform this year: There's Little Windows, a duo specializing in Irish and Appalachian tunes, and Barefoot Movement (not Manner, who will perform at the Lincoln Theatre on New Year's Eve), a newgrass group that aims for a sound similar to Nickel Creek. Bluegrass band David Parmley and the Continental Divide, who play First Presbyterian Church, has won several awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association over the past two decades. Even Merritt, who First Night director Kerry Dollar describes as "more alt.country than roots," is part of that picture. But Dollar says these roots are just part of an all-inclusive, all-welcoming entertainment plan.
"We wanted to be sure that there was something there for everyone to enjoy. We've got classical acts, gospel acts and even surfer rock on the bill," says Dollar. "It's important to have as many diverse performers as possible to make sure everyone can find something they like."
That attitude played a major role in choosing Merritt, a warm performer with a bright smile and a tight band, as the evening's headliner: "Tift Merritt was the artist we wanted to play because of her local connections to the community and her role in music as a whole," says Dollar. "We couldn't have made a better choice." —Kathy Justice
First Night begins at 6 p.m. with a people's procession at the State Capitol and a Zany Umbrella Circus performance in Fletcher Theater and runs through midnight, concluding with fireworks above the main stage. For more information, including tickets, visit www.firstnightraleigh.com.
THE MOANERS/ THE SPIDER BAGS/ THE GONDOLIERS
Maybe hearing The Spider Bags' anthem "Wakin' Up Drunk" won't feel as good around 1 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2008, as it does at 11 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2007, but that's not the point: No show in the Triangle this New Year's Eve offers three bands more whiskey-bent on party music than Local 506 tonight. Moaner Melissa Swingle drags you through Mississippi Mud as Laura King kills the kick drum, and The Gondoliers hang garage-rock hats on sing-along hooks. Be there at 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
As delivered through the rich, expressive pipes of Greg Humphreys, the songs of Dillon Fence often sounded like a cross between power pop and General Public's Motown-by-way-of-Birmingham, U.K. "Tenderness." Thus, it was no big surprise when, in the wake of Dillon Fence's demise, Humphries formed the soul-leaning HOBEX. Over its decade-plus existence, HOBEX has played over 1,000 shows, released five CDs and a live DVD, opened for funk heavyweights Fred Wesley and Bernie Worrell, and had Al Kooper join them onstage. Pretty nice run. In light of the announcement that this New Year's Eve show will mark HOBEX's farewell as a full-time band, the requisite "Auld Lang Syne" (presented, no doubt, in creamy Curtis Mayfield mode) will hit especially hard. Tickets are $10-$12. —Rick Cornell
BROAD STREET CAFE
EDSEL 500/ SEA COW
Ring in the New Year with a show that's both sweet and salty: Durham's Sea Cow makes earthy folk tunes to nod your head to, while Chapel Hill's Edsel 500 takes ball-busting rockabilly to the extreme. Sea Cow plans to up the ante with a cover of the Who's "Christmas" and a swamp-torch cover of "Peter Gunn" by Henry Mancini. Edsel 500 proclaims they plan to "rock wicked hard." Also, Michael's Music Machine for $35-$40 at 8 p.m. —Kathy Justice
Touring behind the award-winning We Are Mighty Lester, Raleigh's Mighty Lester covered a lot of ground in 2007. The horn-happy septet played far more dates out of state than in state for the first time ever, traveling as far afield as Manitoba. It should feel good, then, to ring in the New Year in their own backyard, with their road-tested blues packing plenty of swing and rhythm. Horns blow at 9 p.m. —Rick Cornell
SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS
If homespun charm were rhinestones, then SCOTS would be Nashville. Led by Rick Miller's rollicking, razor-wire rockabilly riffs and spiced by Mary Huff's sultry vocal turns, SCOTS percolates like a trailer-park espresso of high-spirited irreverence and sly wit. Calling them an institution (they are) fails to capture the vibrant warmth of their local performances, which feel like backyard hoedowns. If there were ever a tonic for pretension, you could put SCOTS on the label because their ethos screams, "Take yourself less seriously!" Take a strong shot of that 'shine for 2008. $20-$25/ 10 p.m. —Chris Parker
BAREFOOT MANNER/ YO MAMA'S BIG FAT BOOTY BAND
Now an annual event, the Barefoot 'n' Booty New Year's Party is a righteous celebration of friendship, music and groove power. "Through the power of music, we can all live in the present moment and collectively experience the beauty of being alive," Barefoot Manner once said. This year's show should be even more—well, heavy, deep, spiritual, powerful—as Barefoot Manner celebrates a lifetime of posi-post-grass fusion with each band member from the past seven years sharing the stage for one last time. Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band brings the bouncy funk for jiggling and wiggling. Tickets are $20-$25 for a 9 p.m. start. —Kathy Justice
Featuring Slim's owner Mikey Ross and his female vocal foil Brandy Tanner, Brite Boy makes lean, slinking rock music with a strong classic-rock chassis and the bright polish of soul music wiped down six sides of sheet metal. Isn't drinking along to the sound of your bartender's band on New Year's Eve good karma? Bring $3 at 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
FEEDING THE FIRE
Follow your mind down the rabbit hole, where Feeding the Fire fashions discursive prog symphonies of shifting tempos and vertiginous dynamic shifts. The rhythm section provides the bulwark behind singer/ keyboardist Ken Cannon's arch vocals and the music's wavering intensity. Start the new year in a tizzy, perhaps? Also, 3 Dollar Hostage and two DJs at 9 p.m. —Chris Parker
MEYMANDI CONCERT HALL
The Red Clay Ramblers and mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy join the N.C. Symphony for an eclectic mix of French and Irish fare. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show start at $30 for seniors. —Grayson Currin
ADRIAN DUKE BAND
The soul disciple brings his keyboard chops and viscous voice to bear with his full band tonight. The show begins at 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
THE CRANKY DRUNKS
One might protest that The Cave always features cranky drunks of the musical variety, but who's quibbling? Probably a cranky drunk. Drink with him tonight in Chapel Hill's premier underground bunker. —Chris Parker
A longtime rotating cast of Sadlack's regulars rumored to feature members of The Cartridge Family and a Hillsborough Street bartender or two, The Shitbags raise your new year with a shit-ton of ol' school rock 'n' roll. Regulars take the stage at 8 p.m. —Grayson Currin
What do you dance to in a place called Hell on New Year's Eve? Well, it's not 2011 yet, so hold the Rush and serve the rhymes. Tunes go at 9 p.m. —Grayson Currin
THE AVETT BROTHERS at the N.C. BLUMENTHAL PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
A family-and-friends affair that always sends band and fans back to local hotels drenched in sweat and suds, The Avett Brothers' best annual tradition moves to bigger digs this year. It still sold out, so bring money for scalpers or hit Craigslist now. —Grayson Currin