Sylvan Esso, Flock of Dimes, Ivan Howard
Carrboro Town Commons, Carrboro
Friday, April 3, 2015

Upon first breaching Carrboro Town Commons for last Friday night’s sold-out and outdoor Sylvan Esso show, one was forced to make an instant decision as to which line to join. I didn’t need food, and I didn’t need a porta-john, but I did need to go to the ATM—hey, huge line.

I crossed the road and hit the gas station ATM one block away. But upon returning, there was no way to avoid yet another line. Dwelling on this inconvenience may seem churlish, but it’s relevant: Up until the moment the Durham-based electro-pop duo hit the stage, the crowded queues were almost all anyone could talk about.

One guy I met in some line told me the beer lines were understandable, but the wait for the bathroom was unforgivable. He also told me he’d bought six of the show’s $10 tickets and sold them to friends for $40. He was pretty psyched.

Anyway, getting to know one’s fellow line dwellers was part of the show itself. It also gave me time to consider, and then dispense with, the idea of buying two beers; there was no way, after all, I was getting in that bathroom line.


The scene, at least, was as warm and convivial as the balmy weather, which provided that unmistakable “first real night of spring” feeling. The show started at 6 p.m., and I arrived too late to catch Ivan Howard of The Rosebuds, who had flown in for the occasion. But I could hear the wafting of Flock of Dimes, the atmospheric pop side project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, as I waited for a beer. Unfortunately, my decision to opt for a beverage meant that I stood in line for pretty much her entire set. The volume was so low it could have passed for background music from the distant concessions area.

But the crowd of 4,500 people—that’s, by my questioning and reckoning, the largest audience in years for a local act outside of perhaps Scotty McCreery, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ben Folds Five and The Avett Brothers—were undoubtedly there to see Sylvan Esso. The two-year-old duo of keyboardist-producer Nick Sanborn and vocalist Amelia Meath possesses a rare trifecta: popularity, accessibility, local origin. They are the biggest name in the Triangle’s emerging electronica scene, even if they seem like tourists in that niche, and for some, they tend to evoke a great deal of pride in an area where people fiercely love their teams and bands.

The crowd responded as a crowd does when it’s in a good mood—bobbing heads, heavenward-pointing fingers, outstretched cameras. Openings of songs met cheers. Lyrics echoed through the crowd, with damnably catchy hooks repeated by audience members. At one point, a girl of about 8 or so did a series of walkovers on a picnic blanket to the catchy strains of a song called “Dreamy Bruises.” There’s dark stuff in Sylvan Esso’s tunes, but you’d never know it from the endlessly upbeat presentation. While there was movement among the masses, I did not witness much in the way of pure abandon.

Between songs, Sanborn and Meath expressed gratitude and awe, marveling at what Meath declared to be their biggest concert audience ever. They warmed local hearts with such surefire audience bait as “Go Heels,” even though the team had been dismissed from the NCAA Tournament a week before. It was that kind of a night—a win for the gathered local masses, for the returning local heroes and perhaps especially for Carrboro itself.

Michelle Johnson, a Carrboro Board of Aldermen member and Sylvan Esso enthusiast, called it an “awesome, epic evening” and indicated that it won’t be the last of its kind. While upcoming events will likely be movie showings and concerts on a much smaller scale, the hope is to put on a few big concerts like last night’s throughout the year.

“We want to do more things like this, bringing community together, dancing under the moon, having tickets that are relatively cheap and accessible and having 4,500 on the Town Commons, a community space, to support our local economy,” Johnson said. “Lots of folks went out on the town after.”

Friday’s debut should provide some key lessons: Upcoming engagements, Johnson said, will include more bathrooms, more vendors and a more efficient ID-checking system, along with re-entry via hand-stamp. She also points out that upcoming maintenance on the commons has the potential to benefit the space as a concert venue. But most of all, Johnson cited the spirit of community that made the evening a large-scale success.

“The Cradle couldn’t have accommodated 4,500 folks,” she said. “It was awesome that they could work with the town and that we could co-sponsor an event like this one.”