“I started thinking, wow, is there even going to be a Cat’s Cradle to come back to when this is all behind us? What will happen to these venues that launch and sustain local music and make this town what it is?”
Like many musicians and music lovers, singer-songwriter and UNC-Chapel Hill English professor Florence Dore was flooded with “what if” questions when COVID-19 caused live music to grind to a halt in mid-March, shuttering the venerable Carrboro venue, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and its many peers in the Triangle.
Dore had been working on a new album and touring, but when the pandemic struck, she felt a sudden urgency to record a Marshall Crenshaw tune that guitarist Peter Holsapple suggested her band should cover.
“The early days of quarantine were so terrifying, and ‘Somewhere Down The Line’ is all about reassurance in a moment of crisis,” she says. “Like a lot of songs, it took on new meaning.”
Dore decided to recruit other artists to record their own quarantine covers for a compilation. So she, Steve Balcom and Lane Wurster of The Splinter Group, and Shawn Nolan teamed up to create the album Cover Charge, where prominent local acts cover favorite songs, with proceeds helping to sustain the Cradle and its employees.
They landed a wide variety of Triangle musicians who’ve played at the Cradle over the decades, from the old guard to newer stars. The last five of the 25 tracks will be released Friday, July 31, as a Bandcamp exclusive, where you can purchase the album for $25. Funds will help cover rent, utilities, insurance, loan payments, and other overhead expenses, according to Cradle owner Frank Heath.
“Nobody plans for a 10-to-18-month total interruption in business,” Heath says.
Appropriately, the collection vacillates between hope and longing. Superchunk sprints out of the gate with a turbo-charged take on The Go-Go’s “Can’t Stop the World,” characteristically defiant and brimming with confidence that the pandemic can’t hold listeners—or the Cradle—down. Sarah Shook & The Disarmers follow by transforming a yearning Cigarettes After Sex song, “Apocalypse,” from dreamy indie-pop to tear-jerking twang.
H.C. McEntire’s band Mount Moriah brings a plucky spirit to an unearthed recording of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” while Skylar Gudasz and Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann team for a sublime duet on The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”
There are more humorous perspectives, too, such as The Connell’s “Keep Your Distance” and The dB’s “I’m on an Island,” and there are fond odes to touring and tour mates: Iron & Wine covers “Piss Diary” by Chapel Hill’s The Kingsbury Manx, who were Sam Beam’s first contact with the Triangle before moving here, thanks to a tour in 2002.
There are adventurous choices that largely connect: The Veldt uses a shimmering wall of guitars to turn Madonna’s “Dress You Up” into a shoegaze anthem, and The Mountain Goats’ metal-loving John Darnielle retains the foreboding feel of Paradise Lost’s “The Longest Winter” while swapping doomy guitars for piano.
Others stick to their wheelhouse, though the results are hardly disappointing: Mandolin Orange finally gives us a gorgeous studio version of longtime live staple “Boots of Spanish Leather,” while the rollicking, bluesy “Travellin’ in Style” feels tailor-made for Hiss Golden Messenger and Jonathan Wilson.
But the highlight is Faith Jones’s swampy, soulful rendition of “For What It’s Worth,” which broadens the focus from the pandemic to the summer of Black Lives Matter protests.
“It brings a really important perspective to the album, because all this stuff with the quarantine goes hand in hand with issues that Black people have been facing for centuries in this country,” says Jones, who was in Dore’s songwriting course last fall and tracked her vocals while finishing her music degree at UNC this summer.
Producer Chris Stamey, whose fingerprints are all over the compilation, originally suggested the Buffalo Springfield classic, and later proposed that Jones incorporate an Angela Davis quote that had been her email signature for years in the coda.
“With how integral she was to the Civil Rights Movement, her activism and readings have been resurfacing with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Jones says. “We were really able to make a lot of parallels that made the song super relevant today.”
As all the contributors must, Jones has fond memories of the Cradle as a performer and a spectator. “I felt so cool being there in that grungy kind of venue,” she says, remembering her first visit, when she was in middle school and saw Rooney and Delta Rae.
Having cut her teeth at The Rathskeller in Boston, Dore knows how important independent venues are to local and touring musicians as well as their communities. She wants to coordinate similar projects via the National Independent Venue Association, but she’s not sure it would work as well elsewhere. The Cradle’s deep roots are an essential element, as the appearance of some of the Triangle’s most prominent indie artists on a cover-song benefit attests.
“I was simply blown away by how many people came together in support, and I would not want to be anywhere but here during this time,” she says.
Also read: John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay about Southern Culture on the Skids’ contribution to the Cover Charge compilation.
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