Orange County’s rolling fields give rise to a bumper crop of musicians. From Libba Cotten and Kay Kyser to James Taylor and Tift Merritt. From Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts to Southern Culture on the Skids and the Neil Diamond All-Stars, both native species and transplants thrive in its fertile soil.
I am not among these musically gifted. Heaven knows I tried. But after washing out of guitar lessons while still in elementary school, I realized a different career path was advisable. So I focused on being a top-tier supporter. Those who can, play; those who can’t become fans.
Anywhere on any given night you can hear live music in the Orange County air. On back porches and in front yards, inside living rooms and out in garages, people are making beautiful music together: jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, rock, classical.
Most anybody anywhere knows about the famous Cat’s Cradle, UNC’s Memorial Hall, The ArtsCenter, The Cave and the Local 506. But there are other places to catch a band or soloist, if you go looking.
On the Highway 54 by White Cross, you’ll find The Kraken. That is if you don’t whiz right on by it. The tiny bar hosts a variety of live music pretty much nightly and is worth the ride.
Fifteen minutes up the road in Hillsborough, locals are jamming at the new Billsborough Live Music Hall downtown. The open-mic nights every Tuesday showcase local talent, and the blues jam on alternate Wednesdays is first-rate. Other places to catch a show in Hillsborough include The Depot and The Mystery Brewing Public House.
Down in Carrboro, The Station hosts open mics and shows, as does The Open Eye. New to the scene is Oasis, tucked into Carr Mill Mall, where you can catch world music and other acts. There’s always great music at local festivals, but the granddaddy is the annual Carrboro Music Festival, which hosts tons of great bands at venues and temporary stages all over town, drawing thousands from around the region.
East on Rosemary Street is Nightlight, which my friend Tom calls “the Triangle’s well-established home for experimental music” It’s run, as the owners like to say, “by low-income party people,” and it’s the place where “art” meets “anything goes” any night of the week. Gotta dance? Bebop over to the West End Wine Bar on Thursdays for a rooftop dance party during the warmer months. There’s also a nice performance space in the basement that hosts bands regularly.
And if you want to party in the privacy of your own home, we’ve got recorded tunes covered. Carrboro’s All-Day Records and Chapel Hill’s CD Alley are tiny stores with huge inventories of vinyl and CDs from local bands, commercial favorites and obscurer acts that only true fans could love.
Orange County’s a mighty fine place to be a musician, my talented friends tell me. I can tell you with authority that it’s also an amazing place to be a fan.
Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance writer and editor in Carrboro.