Before Moogfest and the Art of Cool Festival made their marks on Durham, the city had Troika Music Festival, a relatively small but solid operation presented by locals, for locals. Its roster, too, focused almost exclusively on bands from North Carolina. The annual throwdown ended its run in 2010, but this year a new daylong festival, Varipop, seems poised to revive Troika's broad-minded, regionally focused spirit.
The brains behind the operation are Daniel Stark and James Gilmore. Both are musicians, and Stark also runs The Shed, a cozy, jazz-oriented club in Golden Belt. Gilmore often assists in booking shows. The two started thinking about the festival that would become Varipop after working with Moogfest on an event last December, which helped them get their heads around the idea of booking something bigger than a one-off show. Still, the result is more like a community block party than a corporate operation.
"It's not a big idea thing like Moogfest, it's not a commercial thing. It's really good music, beer, and food, in the backyard of an art gallery that we think is really cool," Gilmore says.
The festival will take place in the courtyard of The Shed's neighbor, SPECTRE Arts, which has a stage. You'll see the sweet electronic-leaning pop of Beauty World, hip-hop from the young beatmaker Trandle, and dogged rock from Lonnie Walker.
Ernest Turner, who hosts a weekly jazz jam at The Shed, appears in a new electric trio, while Durham institution D-Town Brass makes a mighty roar. Katharine Whalen, Big Spider's Back, Africa Unplugged, Zoocrü, and Charming Youngsters all join, too—the definition of "pop" here is a big tent indeed.
While most of the music will run outdoors at SPECTRE, The Shed will become an artist market for bands to sell merchandise. The club will also host an after-party featuring Raleigh's Away MSG and Oak City Slums.
Stark says he and Gilmore wanted to maintain a "scrappy, DIY" feel that honored The Shed's East Durham home, removed from the main footprint of downtown. They also wanted to push beyond common, if misinformed, ideas of what jazz is.
"A lot of these bands are really breaking down that boundary between so-called jazz and art music and pop music and fun music," Stark says. A big inspiration for Varipop was the famed Monterey Pop Festival, where artists like the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin performed on the same bill as Ravi Shankar.
Stark and Gilmore haven't yet decided if Varipop is something they want to continue in years to come. For now, they're focused on getting through the first iteration and seeing where they land.
"We think that just having a chance to see that whole range of stuff—forty minutes at a time, through a whole day—is going to be a really unique aesthetic experience that's going to leave a positive effect greater than the sum of all those parts," Stark says.
Given the colorful variety of Varipop's many musical parts, that sum looks to be a fun kickoff for the fall.
Jim Lauderdale (Sept. 30, 8 p.m., The ArtsCenter, Carrboro, www.artscenterlive.org) He's not playing arenas like country's contemporary stars, but North Carolina native Jim Lauderdale has made a lasting mark on the genre. George Jones, Vince Gill, Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, George Strait, and Lee Ann Womack have all tackled his songs over the years. He's a genuine living legend who won't disappoint. —Grant Britt
Brooklyn Rider with Anne Sofie von Otter (Oct. 7, 8 p.m., UNC's Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, www.carolinaperformingarts.org) Carolina Performing Arts doesn't have an official mascot, but if it did, it might be Brooklyn Rider, the organization's perennial favorite string quartet. The charming, adventuresome foursome returns to Memorial Hall with leading mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, a brilliant singer whose crystalline voice will beautifully match Brooklyn Rider's signature sparkle. —Allison Hussey
Chance the Rapper (Oct. 7, 8 p.m., Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh, www.redhatamphitheater.com) In May, Chicago's Chance the Rapper released Coloring Book, a new mixtape that found him imbuing his hip-hop with gospel in songs that reckon with faith, fatherhood, getting clean, and growing up in ways that are earnest but not naïve. Chance's message on Coloring Book is, "It's hard, but there's hope," something we could all stand to take to heart from time to time. —Allison Hussey
Zakir Hussain & Niladri Kumar (Oct. 8, 8 p.m., Duke's Page Auditorium, Durham, www.dukeperformances.duke.edu) In recent years, concerts by tabla master Zakir Hussain—first with bansuri flute prodigy Rakesh Chaurasia, then with the dazzling "Masters of Percussion" ensemble—have been unforgettable highlights of Duke Performances' seasons. Hussain returns with a member of that ensemble, sitarist Niladri Kumar, in a duo whose virtuosity and uncanny musicality requires no fluency in Indian classical to raptly understand. —Brian Howe
Corrosion of Conformity (Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m., Dorton Arena, Raleigh, www.ncstatefair.org) The first time Corrosion of Conformity played Dorton Arena, some thirty-odd years ago, security cut off the scrappy hardcore band's set after just a few songs, and it turned into a melee. Over the years, though, the band has settled into its status as punk-and-metal pioneers, so it's unlikely that its State Fair concert will have the same volatility. But its fusion of punk ferocity with Southern boogie riffs and heavy metal thunder has inspired countless bands, and its fantastic chemistry has never been duplicated.—Bryan C. Reed
Lisa Fischer (Oct. 25, 8 p.m., Carolina Theatre, Durham, www.carolinatheatre.org) Lisa Fischer entered the public consciousness when she was featured in 20 Feet From Stardom, a 2014 documentary about the vital but unheralded role of backup vocalists in pop music. Fischer's tale of ditching a pressure-filled solo career for one based on supporting those in the spotlight, like the Rolling Stones, resonated with audiences, and she returned to performing solo. Her magnificent instrument and room-filling ebullience are irresistible. —David Klein
N.C. Opera: Hercules vs. Vampires (Oct. 30, 3 p.m., Meymandi Concert Hall, Raleigh, www.ncopera.org) One of the biggest challenges facing symphonies is how to keep longtime supporters happy with familiar works while attracting young audiences with new ones. N.C. Opera's Hercules vs. Vampires goes all in on the latter. An ensemble will perform the new operatic score Patrick Morganelli wrote to accompany the 1961 film Hercules in the Haunted World for an exciting pre-Halloween afternoon romp. —Allison Hussey
Stand Against HB2 (Nov. 6, noon, Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, www.catscradle.com) After touring across the state, this series of six anti-HB 2 shows benefiting Equality NC and QORDS lands back in the Triangle for the finale, just two days before Election Day. Heavy hitters from the state's indie rock and alt-country camps, including The Love Language, The Veldt, 6 String Drag, and Tres Chicas, will be joined by reunited Triangle rock greats The dB's and The Fabulous Knobs. In all, nearly two dozen acts are scheduled to perform for this pushback against the state legislature. —Spencer Griffith
Shara Nova/My Brightest Diamond (Nov. 18, 8 p.m., Duke's Baldwin Auditorium/Nov. 19, 9 p.m., Motorco Music Hall, Durham, www.dukeperformances.duke.edu) Shara Nova (formerly Shara Worden) is one of the most colorful creative minds in music. So Percussion joins Nova to present pieces by Steve Reich, Bryce Dessner, and an original collaboration at Baldwin Auditorium. The following night, Nova brings her haunting and gorgeous band, My Brightest Diamond, to Motorco for a more standard-format rock show. Together, the shows exhibit but two facets of a brilliant gem. —Allison Hussey
This article appeared in print with the headline "Pop Goes the Jazz Club"