The Charlotte Music Scene 2014 (In Words and Sound)

Charlotte’s rich music history deserves recognition, but so does its present-day music. These 19 acts or individuals range from performers to producers, from fresh faces to local legends, and they represent the varied, current sounds of the city


Published:

COURTESY

The New Familiars alternate the frontman from song to song, producing a sound that shifts back and forth from roots to rock and roll.

Avett Brothers

Before the Grammy performances—before they turned folk rock into arena rock—the brothers were locals on the rise. Charlotte magazine even put them on the cover of the 2005 music issue, and it turned out to be prophetic (not to pick our own banjo).

The Avetts evolved but never ditched the punk-laced acoustics entirely. They’ve added members but haven’t deleted the signature harmonies. The main difference is the audience, from the back patios of the early 2000s to today’s 20,000-seat arenas. Their eighth studio album, Magpie and the Dandelion, reached the top five on the Billboard 200.

The affection from their home region persists, as the Avetts return for shows like the New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Time Warner Cable Arena last month, continuing their tradition of ringing in the calendar change in their home state.

That intimacy comes out in each show’s quieter moments, when the arena seems to shrink and become one big patio.

Anthony Hamilton

A decade ago, the R&B singer was touring to support his breakthrough album, Comin’ From Where I’m From. The “where” in that title is, of course, Charlotte, as the soul artist’s roots can be traced back to South Mecklenburg High School’s celebrated choir. That first album received three Grammy nominations, and the singer’s career climbed through high-profile collaborations and television appearances.

Since then, Hamilton’s work has appeared on soundtracks for Django Unchained and The Best Man Holiday. His signature, weathered vocals recently appeared on the first single (“Say That”) of Leela James’s new record, due out this year. And although his songs have taken him around the world, Hamilton continues to give Charlotte more than the occasional shout-out. His “Big Payback Week of Service,” a project that tackles homelessness, hunger, and education in Mecklenburg County, marked its second year in 2013, and he was recognized for his efforts with the declaration of Anthony Hamilton Day (February 27). Read a Q&A with the singer here.

Brass Connection

If you frequent uptown at night, you’ve heard Brass Connection. The group’s inescapable sound filters throughout the streets. The band is often found just outside the Knight Theater or Belk Theater with energetic renditions of your favorite hits from yesterday, such as Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” or the Temptations’ “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.”

The band of buskers is a family affair. Founder Bill Jones started the group with nephew Mike Taylor. Children of both men, ranging from middle-schoolers to young adults, regularly join the bombastic sets. Brass Connection started simply, as a way to make money, and now members reign supreme as the city’s premier street performers. The vibe is most infectious when the crowd joins in, breaking out its wedding-reception moves to Bell Biv DeVoe. Most often, concert-goers briskly walk to their cars after a show uptown. But when you pause to take in Brass Connection, you might find yourself standing there six or seven songs later, having just seen your second show of the evening.

COURTESY

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra was established in 1932.

Charlotte Symphony

In 1932, Spanish conductor Guillermo S. de Roxlo picked up the baton to lead the original 15 musicians of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. The group’s 11th director is Christopher Warren-Green, who took over in 2010.

KnightSounds, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, strives for a new symphony experience, introducing multimedia, lights, and even beer into the equation. Lollipops is geared toward children and adults who want to be kids again for a night. Pops and Summer Pops highlight mainstream selections, from the Billboard charts and Hollywood scores. And the Classics series’ traditional route is implied by its name. It all adds up to a cornerstone of Charlotte music.

Lonnie Davis

Lonnie Davis’s sense of jazz comes from her New Orleans background. That’s her native city, where she was first drawn to Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis—and her percussionist husband, Ocie. That’s also where she first picked up the flute.

And then came Hurricane Katrina. The Davis family was displaced, and after hopping around, ended up in Charlotte. Davis is still an accomplished performer, but she doesn’t focus solely on her own music. She also guides the Jazz Arts Initiative, which she cofounded with her husband. The nonprofit is committed to educating and fostering the talents of young performers in the Charlotte area.

The initiative, dating to 2009, brought a new monthly jazz event to the area. The Jazz Room gives burgeoning musicians a place to play, and it serves as an outlet for the Davises—Ocie paid homage to Buddy Rich in a September performance. Dive deeper into the Davis family's story here

Deniro Farrar

“Open up your lungs and hear my soul.”

The revealing line from Farrar’s song “The Reasons” comes from a man who wants to be heard, as he aims to usher in the new era of socially minded music labeled “Cult Rap.”
Farrar has emerged as a leader in Charlotte hip-hop, dubbing his latest records The Patriarch and The Patriarch II. He’s bolstered by his “family” (a term Farrar prefers to “fan base”), but peers are taking notice too. That’s been fruitful for collaborations with big names in alternative hip-hop—Flosstradamus, Shady Blaze, and Ryan Hemsworth among them.

Dolph Ramseur

You won’t find Ramseur on a stage anytime soon. He doesn’t know how to fret a G chord, or any chord. Yet his presence in the Charlotte music scene is undeniable. He’s gone from venture capitalist to record company owner, and then he became the manager who helped the Avett Brothers become superstars.

Ramseur, again in the role of manager, took on Carolina Chocolate Drops, a Durham act that won a Grammy in 2010 for Best Traditional Folk Album.

Ramseur is known as a man who can build, who can create followings in new markets. And of course, he knows how to spot talent. Although he still works out of Concord, the bands he’s managed are traveling the world.

Ziad Jazz Quartet

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s monthly music event, Jazz at the Bechtler, may change its theme monthly, but only one band is responsible for its diverse offerings: Ziad Jazz Quartet. Saxophonist Ziad Rabie leads friends into a different era or subject for two performances each month. In February, the theme is love, March pays homage to Stan Getz, and April takes a turn toward Gypsy jazz.

Educated at Wake Forest University, Rabie has made a career of adapting to any style of jazz. Straightforward, classic jazz, avant-garde, soul, Latin, or free jazz—he’ll play it all, using an alto, tenor, or soprano sax. In a genre that hails improvisation, Rabie is a man who comes prepared.

Flagship

With its soft-to-loud dynamics and anthemic choruses, Flagship sounds like U2, and its chill-inducing, mixed-media live show stokes comparisons to Springsteen. The group’s first self-titled, full-length album was released last fall, and the band premiered the record to a packed Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa.

Sharing the stage with acts like Metric, Flagship continues to rise in the indie-rock ranks. The band contributed a track to the Queen City Compilation, but for the true Flagship experience, you’ll have to see the band live. 

Gigi Dover & The Big Love

Dover once fronted the 1990s Americana group Rank Outsiders, but under her own name, she’s embraced soul and country too. With a voice that recalls Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks, Dover brings both introspection and classic narratives of lost love to her songs.

The Big Love is lead multi-instrumentalist and longtime collaborator Eric Lovell. Lovell makes it a point to include world instruments, from the djembe to the sitar.

Gigi Dover - "Gypsies"

 

Courtesy

The Junior Astronomers contributed the track "Touching War" to the Queen City Compilation.

Junior Astronomers

“There’s no more firearms, there’s no more atom bombs,” sings Terrence Richard, frontman of the Junior Astronomers, in the music video for “Before Crimes.” The video follows skateboarders in uptown, showcasing the city’s towering structures with dreamlike images interspersed.

The alt-rock group gave Charlotte magazine another track to highlight in the Queen City Compilation. “Touching War” comes with a similar brand of alt-rock restlessness, but with an even deeper connection for the lyricist.

“It’s about the struggle of the difference between focusing on physical intimacy and emotional intimacy,” Richard says. “I was having a rough time getting close to people because all it felt like was [that] it was just about me physically being around, when I knew all too well that I’d be gone most of the time.”

Junior Astronomers - "Touching War"

 

HRVRD

Message boards didn’t take kindly to the band changing its moniker from “Harvard” to “HRVRD” in 2013. Occasionally adding in funny spaces brought more ire—the act’s website is labeled “H RV RD.” But when you consider the potential lawsuits and search-engine confusion inherent in naming your band after a prestigious educational institution, the move makes sense.

Fans of HRVRD are more concerned about hearing more from the Charlotte quintet, which plans to release its newest record in 2014. Although the band has described itself as “five people making noise,” albums like 2013’s eerie From the Bird’s Cage require a bit more than a cursory listen.

HRVRD - "We Never Shut Up About You"

 

Jocelyn Ellis

Jocelyn Ellis, or jocElyn ellis, as her name is sometimes stylized, is confident.

Her Twitter profile says she’s a “Future Grammy-Winning Songwriter, Vocalist, Music Producer.” She even started a songwriting and publishing company—The Apple Seed Society—that provides a central location for the neo-soul singer’s output.

Like a few of her Charlotte peers, Ellis uses music videos as a tool to express her genre-bending songs, her style, and a brand she predicts one day will get its due. Her videos sometimes include masks and post-apocalyptic attire. But hidden beneath the clothes and the futuristic instrumentation are classic songs of relationship torture and hardship. You get the impression Ellis has her eyes on the future, and we’re all just catching up.

Jocelyn Ellis - "Dharma"

 

The Loudermilks

The talent of siblings Alan and Chad Edwards has never gone unnoticed. The two once performed with others under the revered moniker Lou Ford. It was in that group that the songwriters first garnered praise for their alt-country stylings. They received nods from high-profile publications like No Depression and Billboard Magazine.

In 2010, the brothers opted for a fresh start, with a new name and new tunes. The Loudermilks include fellow Lou Ford members Shawn Lynch and Jason Atkins. Adding drummer Mike Kenerley, the band set out to write new material to match the new name. But putting out a new record isn’t cheap. So the band tried something else new: It used the Kickstarter service.

The Loudermilks recorded an entirely new record before asking fans to help with the mastering, manufacturing, cover illustration, and merchandise. Depending on how much fans put in, pledge prizes ranged from hugs and stickers to a personal live show and mention in the liner notes of the record, due out this year. Read more about the band's start in this 2011 feature.

The Loudermilks - "Watch 'Em Fall"

 

The New Familiars

The New Familiars have that built-in sense of irony, stemming from their name. But the truth behind the humor also translates to their place in the Charlotte scene. Some acts have been around for decades, and others have only been alive for less than two years; the New Familiars rest comfortably in the center.

The rock group takes a no-frontman approach, alternating voices with the overall goal of producing solid rock tunes. Its ongoing tribute to the roots of rock sometimes gets specific, like the November show A Tribute to Levon Helm, honoring the late drummer from The Band.

The New Familiars may take a humble approach to their format, but with headlining events like the Helm tribute, it’s clear they feel much more at home on top.

The New Familiars - "All in All"

 

Pradigy GT

There’s no need to try to describe Pradigy GT’s sound on our own. They do the work for us, calling it, “if Jimi Hendrix and Kanye West had a baby.”

The group oozes electric energy and confidence. Before there was Pradigy GT, there was just Pradigy, the principal songwriter and guitarist for the rock/hip-hop act. With the added “GT,” meaning “ground touring,” the group became four members, and Pradigy’s songs were given new life.

The band plans to tour quite a bit in 2014 (with its College L.I.F.E. tour targeting schools in North and South Carolina), and with its selection for the Queen City Compilation, you get a taste of what’s to come.

Pradigy GT - "Refresh"

 

Maddie Shuler

Shuler is from the new generation of musicians who accompany their stage performances with widely viewed YouTube videos. Backed by her friends onstage, she works through covers of Bon Iver and Damien Rice, along with originals. The medium doesn’t lessen her sincerity or the power of her voice, which she’s currently honing at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

She’s often seen with an acoustic guitar, but Shuler is known to employ piano, mandolin, bass, banjo, and harmonica. She saw the benefit of learning several instruments early, yet another mark of a young songwriter who understands the industry beyond the stage.

Maddie Shuler - "Circles"

 

Courtesy

Simplified started as an acoustic duo.

Simplified

With a mix of reggae and roots rock, Simplified brings a different sound to this list. The band’s been in high demand for festivals, rock clubs, and corporate events since it became a full band about a decade ago. Started as an acoustic duo, Simplified has gone through several changes. But its live show is bigger than ever, with a couple of multi-instrumentalists helping to fill out its island-rock sound.

It was one of the band’s more moderate rock tunes, less island rock and more rock rock, that gained major attention. “Shall We Begin” was licensed by ESPN for its college football
programming, and it stayed within the top 10 chart on iHeart Radio’s Discover and Uncover for 16 weeks.

Although the band does venture out of the city, it makes time for several venues back home, like Hickory Tavern, The Saloon, and Visulite Theatre.

Simplified - "Sitting on a Mountain"

 

Temperance League

The group’s Brit-influenced anthemic rock is both an homage to and continuation of sounds rooted in the 1970s. Temperance League’s sound is certainly defined by rock and roll, and the group even included the term in the title of its September release, Rock and Roll Dreams.

This year, the band will record its fourth release with Kernersville producer Mitch Easter, and member Eric Scott plans to return to Charlotte and the band full-time in May after wrapping up a master’s degree at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Singer Bruce Hazel says the band will hit the road again too, performing at seasonal festivals. 

Temperance League - "(That, You Can) Count On"