N.C. State Fair's Waterfall Stage, Raleigh
Friday, Oct. 16, 2015
The North Carolina State Fair cannot be accused of being shy with its decisions.
When the 162-year-old agricultural institution announced its music-booking facelift earlier this year
, followed in short order by a schedule of bands
, one of the most surprising features was the inclusion of MAKE, an unapologetically dynamic and thoughtful doom metal trio from Orange County
. What’s more, the State Fair didn’t seem interested in steadily escalating the volume, or in warming up the crowds to the sounds of softer rock or more polite pop or folk for a few days. Instead, MAKE would play on the afternoon of the second day, outside and close to Dorton Arena, for every man, woman and child within earshot. That is, the N.C. State Fair started with an exclamation mark of volume rather than ending with it, when everyone would be too tired to care, anyway
MAKE’s set, offered beneath appropriately pale gray skies on this occasionally drizzly afternoon, ended two hours ago. It was every bit as odd, awesome and uncanny as expected—and, to be honest, a perfect look for an event gradually updating its image in accordance to changes in the state it is meant to represent.
This afternoon’s 50-minute show wasn’t the best MAKE set I’ve ever seen. Standing on a trailer-sized stage, black curtain drawn haphazardly at their back, Scott Endres, Luke Herbst and Spencer Lee were looser than is typical. The pieces of each song sometimes shifted slightly out of sync, a situation exaggerated by the open-air environment and the hard, echoing surface of the Dorton Arena behind them. And their vocals, particularly Lee’s throat-scraping screams, sometimes lost to the instrumental march and squall, as though the sound engineer was simply more comfortable with loud amplifiers than loaded yells. But MAKE was excellent and mean while covering the Stooges’ “Dirt,” pensive and powerful during a wonderful rendition of “The Immortal,” from the great new The Golden Veil.
Actually, the circulating crowd made up for any hiccups with general curiosity. A few of us faithful stood mostly still throughout the show, heads nodding along above locked knees, as is the wont for doom metal fans. But the best moments came when the clueless and intrigued stumbled up to the sound. There was some mockery and ridicule, as with the kids who giggled at each other as they tried and failed to mimic the roar of the mane-shrouded Lee. And then there were those who stared perplexed and dumbfounded, almost as though they were gawking at a centaur or the world’s largest alligator over on the midway. They moved on. But some of them sat down for 10 minutes at the time and tapped a foot along. Others cocked back their heads, as though in a period of great study and wonder. One carnival worker, burgundy ticket pouch around his waist and sparkling silver hoop dangling from his ear, filmed chunks of songs with his cell phone. He smiled as he banged his head just a little bit, surprised by the secret delights of his smoke break.
A little more than halfway through the set, MAKE paused for a moment. Endres told the crowd that he’d never been to the fair, so the band had prepared a little taste test of the fair’s famous fried fare. He and Lee stood in front of their microphones and ate something sweet and fried and including bacon. They laughed and frowned but seemed to enjoy it, too, squishing through the layers of dough and fat. It was a charming moment for the three metal dudes, a way to let the grandparents and the kid in the SpongeBob shirt and his parents know that, despite the hair and ink and screams and probable liberal leanings, they were North Carolinians, too.
After walking through the entrance this afternoon just after MAKE started, I listened for the trio’s din, attempting to echolocate my way toward the stage. I was distracted, though, by the sound of Sylvan Esso, the Durham duo whose electropop has made it far too pricy for such an event, at least at the moment. An aerial dancer was spinning high overhead in silk sheets to the sound of the pair’s “Coffee.”
I chuckled, kept moving, caught the sound of doom metal being played outdoors in the early afternoon and eventually found MAKE alongside Dorton Arena’s alien-landing curvature.
Not long after that, an older couple, perhaps grandparents, sat down in a chair just to my right, the man peeling back the paper from an Italian sausage sub sold just a few feet away by the Raleigh food truck, Baguettaboutit.
In that instant, the State Fair felt like a proper music festival or maybe Artsplosure or any other event that at least attempts to recognize the energy and creativity of the state, not just its essential agricultural past, present and future.
That the State Fair is attempting to do both this year—and, at least early on Friday afternoon, kind of nailing it in its little own way—is, for lack of a better word, cool.
You can see a lot of local bands at the N.C. State Fair through next weekend. Check the schedule here.