The particular August evening was cloudy and slightly rainy in Raleigh, but that didn’t much dampen the performance of Tift Merritt, who had returned to her hometown for a show at the North Carolina Museum of Art. UNC-TV even filmed the set for future broadcast. The finished product will debut from 8–9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, on UNC-TV’s main public broadcasting channel as part of the station’s “Winterfest” fundraising season.
Tift Merritt: Still Not Home focuses on Merritt’s 2012 album for local label Yep Roc Records, Traveling Alone, though it includes songs from many stages of her career. Merritt began performing in the Triangle in the late ’90s while she was attending UNC-Chapel Hill, first with a backing band called the Carbines and then under her own name. Original Carbines bassist Jay Brown remains in her band and was part of the NCMA show, along with multi-instrumentalist Eric Heywood and drummer Noah Levy.
“I remember some new gray hairs growing while my managers spoke with WRAL meterologists, wondering whether we should stay the course or move the show,” Merritt recalls of the night. “I remember cleaning the grocery store out of prayer candles to set the stage and having a really good time getting that side of things ready. … I feel so tied to North Carolina; it is always a treat to be home, whether there is a film crew or not.”
Yep Roc has also released a promotional video for the song “Sweet Spot,” which includes scenes from the NCMA show. Among the moments the cameras captured behind the scenes are a warm embrace between Merritt and Chapel Hill musician Chris Stamey, who produced some of Merritt’s first recordings and was the opening act at the Aug. 17 NCMA concert.
Merritt will be in UNC-TV’s studio the night of the debut to offer on-air commentary during fund-drive breaks. After that, she heads out on a two-week tour with Andrew Bird in which the two artists will perform at unusual venues, including the new Rough Trade record store in Brooklyn, churches in Chicago and Los Angeles, and a synagogue in San Francisco.
Merritt explains that the concerts are Bird’s “very intimate annual holiday shows, so it will just be him and me as his sideman. I sing harmony and play rhythm guitar with him … I’ve been playing with him as a part of his old-time band for about a year. He is a wonderful musician and I really love singing with him.”