For a little over an hour on Election Night, music served as brief respite, daily-life soundtrack and gap-bridger, reminding me of several of the many reasons why it’s almost as crucial to me as oxygen and hope. Raleigh-based bluegrass band Chatham County Line and near-legendary rocker/troubadour/eccentric Robyn Hitchcock, labelmates on local Yep Roc Records, each performed a set at the Chapel Hill Borders, giving a sitting, standing and browsing crowd of close to 100 a little break from the day’s stomach-twisting drama. Chatham County Line was up first, sharing songs that told tales of sold radios and forgotten service stations, stories as interesting and vital as the vintage-sounding music that surrounded them. Hitchcock then quickly took the makeshift stage, still boyish of face despite gray bangs that kept threatening to overtake his penetrating eyes. The rustically groovy “Full Moon in My Soul” from his new album Spooked proved wonderful under the bright lights, as did “One Long Pair of Eyes” from ’89’s Queen Elvis. And a short number with “W sucks” as its key line and “but Rumsfeld is the Antichrist” as its punchline seemed to be well in tune with the political lean of the crowd, while reminding us of the unfolding events of the evening.
As Chatham County Line reconvened on stage to back Hitchcock for a couple songs, I paused to look around and see who else had ventured out. The median age appeared to be late 30s or early 40s, with no shortage of kids in tow. On my right were three rows representing three generations, conveniently laid out in chronological order: a couple in their 60s perhaps just a little relieved to witness Chatham County Line’s return, two guys in their 40s (one of them grasping an LP version of Can of Bees, the second release from the Hitchock-led Soft Boys, in hopes of an autograph) in front of them, and a twenty-something couple who passed a young child back and forth between songs. Nobody seemed out of place.
The in-store ended with a no-holds-barred take on “Mystery Train.” As Hitchcock’s harmonica wailed like a down-mountain locomotive and John Teer harmonized like a possessed engineer, kids played tag in the children’s book area and a red-haired toddler peeked over from behind the backdrop, his smile just a few feet away from Greg Readling’s upright bass. Midsong, Teer swapped his fiddle for a mandolin, and by the end Dave Wilson had a broken guitar string hanging down like he was trying for a catfish. As moments go, it was a little messy and a little noisy, but inspired and full of a certain optimistic spirit. As I looked around again at the lively mix-and-match crowd, it hit me that music had just played another role, perhaps the one it fills best–that of mirror.