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Big Fish: When Local Bands Go National

Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance

The Avett Brothers’ career arc can be traced by their live albums. In 2002, they recorded a set at the Double Door Inn; by 2010’s third live volume, they were playing Bojangles’ Coliseum. The band’s meteoric success, built on the nearly worn-out “one fan at a time” credo of their manager Dolph Ramseur, has moved the Concord-based act — now a quintet — from a fiercely beloved local darling to one of the nation’s biggest draws. In September, The Avett Brothers brought their commercial career to a new peak when The Carpenter — their sixth studio album, and second produced by Rick Rubin — debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 200 albums chart. Their previous best, 2009’s I And Love And You peaked at No. 16. Even The Avett Brothers’ annual New Years Eve show has outgrown Charlotte, and will this year be held at the 23,500-capacity Greensboro Coliseum — the same venue that hosted the only North Carolina date on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s blockbuster 2011 tour.

With their increasing fame, most every superficial attribute, from sound to personnel, changed to the point where thinking of The Avett Brothers as Concord’s — or even the Charlotte area’s — favorite sons now seems kind of quaint. The impact of their well-publicized success lingers, though. In the past year, four prominent Charlotte bands have inked record label contracts that promise greater exposure and possible fame — perhaps an opportunity to be the Next Big Thing out of Charlotte.

Credit Favorite Gentleman
Junior Astronomers

Modern rockers Sugar Glyder inked a deal with the Warner Bros. subsidiary Org Music, whose catalog includes reissues of alt-rock icons Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Helmet, as well as new releases from the metal band Darkest Hour, former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, and Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski. Junior Astronomers joined the like-minded roster of the Georgia-based indie Favorite Gentlemen, which mostly matches the indie-earnestness and blustery dynamic of its charter band Manchester Orchestra. HRVRD (once known as the more vowel-friendly Harvard) signed to Equal Vision Records, the Albany, N.Y. indie that launched the careers of Coheed & Cambria and Say Anything. Matrimony, the family band helmed by husband and wife Jimmy Brown and Ashlee Hardee Brown, carried its folk-rocking blend of Avetts rollick and Swell Season elegance to a Columbia Records contract.

For other ambitious locals, the road to exposure, and presumably success, hasn’t come through the traditional label model. Singer/songwriter Jon Lindsay dodged tempting label deals in favor of assembling his own team under his Bear Hearts Fox imprint (through publishing company North Star Media). And local rapper Deniro Farrar has been making waves in the press for two heralded mixtapes, both self-released.

In fact, the notion of a rock band pursuing a career at all seems counter to the Free Culture currents that have helped to bring about the much ballyhooed Death Of The Music Industry. In other words, if people aren’t buying records, what good is a record label? CONTINUE READING AT CHARLOTTEVIEWPOINT.ORG

This piece is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.