Above all, this year's Troika Music Festival felt less like a festival that happened to take place in Durham and more like one created specifically for Durham. This isn't to say that the festival wasn't welcoming—its embrace of all comers was apparent in the often larger-than-usual crowds greeting the festival's three-day pile-up of (mostly) local bands.
This year's Troika might not have had the marquee names of years past, but this mostly proved an opportunity for the locals to show their mettle. Saturday sets from Chatham County Line and Hammer No More The Fingers—both at the Motorco Music Hall, at 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., respectively—gathered room-cramping attention at the festival's largest venue.
But even as local stars shone their brightest, the festival's success came from its variety. Thursday's itinerary made up for a damp, chilly evening with the elegant chamber-folk of Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes, the burly gallop of metal foursome HOG, Wood Ear's twang-rock, Double Negative's spree of noise-addled hardcore and Dexter Romweber's singular brand of rock 'n' roll purism. With the largest cluster of venues within a block of each other (Motorco, Fullsteam brewery, the trotter Building and 618 Foster St.) most of the festival, and all of my Thursday night, was an easy shuffle from door to door.
Troika Music Festival had me worried, at least at first. I arrived at the free Central Park kickoff show—last year's co-bill between Megafaun and The Beast there remains a highlight—shortly before 9 p.m. on Thursday night to pick up my pass. The show was nearly deserted, despite a solidly entertaining set from funky hometown rap-rock crew Mosadi Music. I chalked the thin attendance up to the chilly weather, but even at the festival's Rigsbee Avenue-and-Geer-Street nucleus, I found a parking spot just feet from the entrance of Motorco. The indoor shows were hardly more populated.
I became truly concerned when Double Negative's mathy, no-holds-barred hardcore—not quite the type of music to idly enjoy—failed to incite the all-too-polite Motorco crowd. Although a decent crowd had gathered at Fullsteam by the time Midtown Dickens closed out with a heartwarming set that previewed several cuts from their upcoming album, I was underwhelmed with the overall Thursday night turnout. During my drive back to Raleigh, I wondered if, after successful showings this fall at Hopscotch, SparkCon and Shakori, Triangle music had burnt out on music festivals. Surely not, I hoped.
The rest of the weekend, however, was quintessential Bull City. Despite even colder temperatures and occasional sprinkles, the diverse, music-loving lot that's typical of Durham shows turned out in full force once the bands got rolling Friday night, putting my doubts to rest. With brown paper bags and cans of cheap domestics, the punk kids young and old filled 307 Knox's Foster Street headquarters, making it tough for late arrivals to gain entry to see Los Naturales and Whatever Brains—the former seeming like a disciple of the latter's hooky, noisy garage rock. Charming Carrboro duo Mandolin Orange tried their best to quiet the booming crowd of Fullsteam Brewery with relaxed, rustic originals.
I spent a lot of Troika Music Festival not thinking about music at all: I wrestled over the perils of eating food truck-inspired second dinners. I cursed my broken cell phone. I paced between venues looking for familiar faces. I thought about a boy. I clumsily broke a glass and poured beer on my foot. I felt relieved not to have a camera. I started taking tallies of people wearing un-ironic headwear and boys with beards. Mostly, I wondered how we all got there and why we'd come in the first place.
Because if you didn't happen to be rambling the streets of Durham Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, the weekend was just a cold, rainy couple of days you might have spent curled up with warm tea and Netflix. But if you were, you saw a showcase of many of the area's finest musicians playing for wholly supportive hometown crowds. Like Hopscotch before it, this year's Troika conjured camaraderie in the local scene that I think we all know exist but don't very often get to see and hear in such a holistic way.
That whole is best considered in parts. A few favorite moments from a weekend full of great ones follow.
If it’s too loud, shut it down: Durham’s The Broad Street Cafe is collecting petition signatures in preparation for a hearing before the Durham Board of Adjustment Wednesday, Dec. 9, that could limit the venue’s late-night music.
Acting on complaints about noise coming from the venue first filed in March, the City investigated the cafe, which is open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and determined it was in violation of its commercial zoning district. In order to allow live music past 10 p.m., the club will need to obtain a special minor use permit.
For Durham’s Red Collar, self-releasing its first full-length album, Pilgrim, in February was an impetus to take the show on the road and make a full-time go of rock ’n’ roll. The CDs were pressed and packaged, a publicity campaign was implemented and dates were booked. The band members packed into “Vandrew Blass,” the vehicle named for former keyboardist Andrew Blass. And, so far, it’s been paying off: The band picked up favorable reviews and college radio airtime nationwide and earned a slot at the recent CMJ Music Marathon in New York.
But Pilgrim, save for local consignment, wasn’t in stores. “One of the big problems with not having a label is not having physical distribution,” says guitarist Mike Jackson. That, though, is no longer a problem. Suburban Home Records and brother company Vinyl Collective picked up Pilgrim for distribution starting Dec. 1. The distribution deal coincides with a re-issue of Pilgrim as a limited-edition LP, pressed in a batch of 500 by Loose Charm Records.
The vinyl version is different than the CD, as the band shifted and pruned the track order. “It was harder than we thought,” says Jackson. “We had to cut some of the songs … We just couldn’t fit the album onto one LP and still have it sound good.”
“Stay” and “Hands Up,” which also appeared on Red Collar’s Hands Up EP, didn't make the cut. They remain, though, on the LP’s digital component, a download card featuring all 11 tracks from the original CD version, plus an acoustic cover of Jawbreaker’s “Jinx Removing.”
Plus, vinyl has its own rewards: “There’s something more physical and immediate about having the record,” Jackson says. “CDs almost seem disposable at this point.”
For a video of Red Collar playing "Tools" with Maple Stave at Troika Music Festival last weekend, hit the jump. And for more of Spencer Griffith's videos from Troika (and elsewhere), hit Scan's YouTube channel.
Troika Music Festival unveiled the first draft of its schedule for its three November days of music in Durham this morning, and it looks like organizers have landed on the most closely curated pool of bands and bills since the festival's inception in 2002: All told, 71 acts will spread over eight venues (two of which remain unannounced) Nov. 5-7, and no more than four bands will play any venue on any night. In other words, lots of great bands will get ample set times.
Troika 2009 will begin with a centralized outdoor show on Thursday, Nov. 5, featuring the equally but divergent eclectic The Beast and Megafaun. Four sets of four bands then head indoors to four venues—one unannounced, The Pinhook, Duke Coffeehouse and Broad Street Cafe. For a measure of this year's quality, note that Bowerbirds, Max Indian, Future Islands and The Moaners headline their respective venues. Now there's a Versus to get excited about.