Every year Wilmington’s music scene seems to grow by leaps and bounds, with locals amping up shows, and more national and international artists having places to stop in, thanks to Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre, Wilson Center, Kenan Auditorium, and Brooklyn Arts Center booking more acts. With the Northside Amphitheatre slated for downtown in 2020, the 6,780-seated venue will be the largest in southeastern NC, meaning even more concerts are headed through the 28401.
Until then, let’s take a look back at our favorites from 2018.
The Greensboro, NC, folk singer and MacArthur Grant recipient is well-known for leading the Carolina Chocolate Drops and making an indelible mark on preserving African-American folk music, especially in the South. A trained opera singer and GRAMMY Award winner, she is currently working with local New York Times writer John Jeremiah Sullivan on a musical surrounding the events of the only coup d’etat in US history: The Wilmington 1898 Riots. ILM got a first look at their research in November during a Cucalorus Stage event, wherein they spoke to audiences about two of 1898’s major players, Alex and Carrie Manley (the latter of whom was also a trained and well-known opera singer in the South at the turn of the 20th century). Giddens, Sullivan and Clyde Edgerton played “The Sounds of 1898” to show their works-in-progress for the perfect mergence of art and history in what could become a Broadway musical (think of “Hamilton” fame for comparison)—and we got to see it here, in the very theatre affected by the riots, Thalian Hall, first.
Giddens also headlined a summer concert for UNCW’s Lumina Arts Festival and hosted a private fundrasier with Sullivan in the spring for Friends School of Wilmington. She brings vitality, historical impact and talent galore to every octave she sings, violin she plays, and banjo she picks. We would be so lucky to have her come back even once in 2019.
Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings
I’ve been waiting a while for these Americana troubadours to come through our port city. Though they were slated to do so in 2011, as part of Winoca Fest, Hurricane Irene put a stop to it and canceled the whole shebang. Finally, seven years later, they made their way to Brooklyn Arts Center—and it was every bit worth the wait. The old church provided the perfect acoustics to hear Welch’s enamoring voice in “Look at Miss Ohio,” “Orphan Girl” and “Red Clay Halo,” while Rawlings slayed guitar solos aplenty, especially on one of the most rock-heavy acoustic songs ever recorded, “Revelator.” Here’s to hoping we won’t have to keep traveling to see them for another seven years, and their return to ILM will be much sooner than later. Seriously.
Who knew Chris Isaak was Don Draper in the flesh—only with humor instead of whiskey? Isaak visited the Wilson Center at the end of summer, sequin suits and multiple guitars included, to showcase his smoky vocals and dashing looks. He’s still as appealing in 2018 as he was in 1996 when he released the sultry “Wicked Game” video with Helena Christensen. His ILM show came with all the hits (“Baby Did a Bad Thing,” “Somebody’s Cryin’,” “San Francisco Days”) and covers perfectly suited to his vocal style, including Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Most surprising, however, was the amount of audience interaction Isaak endured, often walking around the auditorium and crooning directly to the crowd, as well as telling jokes between songs. He even called out an audience member’s graciousness, with whom Isaak met earlier in the day while eating at downtown’s Copper Penny—a sound guy who bought the musician’s lunch. In return, Isaak thanked him publicly at the show.
Our takeaway: Isaak should have his own Vegas residency. He is a down-to-earth (hot) charmer we could listen to (and watch) all day.
In July the one-and-only Brian Wilson came to Wilmington with a backing band—including Beach Boys’ Al Jardine joining him on vocals and guitar—to perform the entirety of his groundbreaking 1966 release, “Pet Sounds.” Wilson and the band played the entire album from start to finish, to an almost sleepy audience (with the exception of some music lovers who truly were in awe of what they were seeing and hearing). Wilson’s eyes were aglow in the brilliancy of playing 13 songs from the album, as he tickled the keys of his piano—especially lovely during the kaleidoscopic soundscape of “Sloop John B.” Yet, those same eyes went a little dim when the audience went crazy for the Beach Boys’ earlier music, “Help Me Rhonda,” “Good Vibrations” and “Surfin’ USA.” It’s a good metaphor for Wilson’s life in music: The best of the best oftentimes goes underappreciated with audiences, while the pop hits get the most gratification. C’est la vie.
The Paper Stars
So they’re my favorite local band partly because I adore blues and rock, and when the combination of both supersedes expectations, it’s just mind-blowing. Enter The Paper Stars. Made up of Tres Altman, Randy McQuay, Kevin Rhodes, and Coleman Corzine, the group offers sounds rooted in Americana, funk and soul. They bend genres flawlessly, missing nary a note or pitch or an emotion, for that matter, as the instrumentals precisely interplay with Altman’s reverent punch of lyrical beauty. More so, the band plays infrequently in town, so when they do, it’s quite a masterful night out in music.
2018 welcomed them to the stage a handful of times, including Azalea Fest weekend at Palate, at Hell’s Kitchen for Next2Rock Battle of the Bands (which they won), hosted by 94.5 Hawk in June, and at Waterline Brewery in November. They also released in 2018 their EP “Aletheia” and a new holiday tune, “Christmas Time Again,” which can be heard on their Bandcamp page. Be on the lookout for their 2019 dates, and mark immediately “must attend.” —Shea Carver
Mother’s Day weekend was one for the books this year and several mamas chose to kick it off with Brandi Carlile at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Carlile’s prolific songwriting is deeply rooted in motherhood. She played from her latest album, “By the Way, I Forgive You” (February 2018), which quite possibly is the best showcase of her soulful and raw voice. From it we heard a favorite single “The Joke” and, of course, “The Mother.”
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
Lukas Nelson’s voice and talent is indicative of his lineage, but it’s multiplied with sex appeal and swagger all his own. He came to Wilmington twice in 2018: He rocked GLA over the summer with his brother, Micah, who opened the show with his solo project Particle Kid. Nelson then returned to the Port City for a special #OverFlo hurricane relief concert in October, from which 100 percent of the proceeds, equaling over $66,000, went to Nourish NC, Salvation Army of Cape Fear, Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC at Wilmington, and other area nonprofits.
The Revivalists, with J. Roddy Walston and the Business
Here’s a two-for-one on our list: J Roddy Walston opened the June Revivalists show, and, y’all, hardly anyone stopped to take a breath from the first chord played. Folks might remember J. Roddy’s 2014 hit “Take It As It Comes” or last year’s album “Destroyers of the Soft Life”—we heard both at GLA.
The Revivalists followed with a raucous showing of their horn-infused funky rock show.
Travis Shallow has had one helluva year since releasing “The Great Divide” (October 2017) with his band The Deep End. It came a couple of years after getting sober and experiencing life and music in a whole new way. There’s not a specific show in mind from 2018 that stands out as much as many combined. He had a steller opening for Marcus King Band last August and added to the songwriter showcase at Bourgie Nights for last week’s holiday concert. Shallow played often with his band, as a solo act, and as a duo with Bob Russell throughout ILM.
2019 looks to be another busy year, as he tours as a duo with Russell to support a live record with an early 2019 release. Shallow also will head back into the studio for another album, with line-up to be determined.
The marvelous Mavis Staples came on October 21 to lift our spirits, hearts and souls after a long few weeks post-Hurricane Florence. The civil rights activist and American rhythm and blues icon took us to church with songs from her gospel catalog; shared messages of unity and hope from 2017’s “If All I Was Was Black” (another collaboration with Jeff Tweedy); and got down and dirty with a cover of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” —Shannon Gentry
All photos by Tom Dorgan.