When some of our staff members were putting up flyers for an event in October, there were posters for a band called Stray Local in every store or restaurant window. We’d never heard of them but they already had gigs all over town. A few months later we met another group we’d never heard of called Chasing Opal, and then they too were suddenly everywhere. The two bands shared a bill at Orton’s this past weekend and we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to review two of the newest – and hardest working – bands in town.
Stray Local began when UNC Greensboro alums Jamie Rowen (vocals/guitar/harmonica/banjo/fiddle) and Hannah Lomas (vocals/mandolin/shaker) reunited in Wilmington to pursue their mutual love of music. They became a trio with the addition of local percussionist Nick Simon. In just 6 months they have played some of the most popular venues in town including an opening slot at Ziggy’s by the Sea and a coveted slot on WHQR’s Soup to Nuts Live, in addition to recently winning Hourglass Studios’ free EP contest. The EP they recorded with Jeff Reid (of Beat Magazine fame) has just been released and can be purchased at shows or select Wilmington stores.
Stray Local at Orton's - January 4th, 2014
We’ve seen them play before and they didn’t disappoint at Orton’s. Lomas and Rowen’s harmonies were tight and sweet sounding, and the trio was obviously well-practiced. In addition to vocals, all three members handled their instruments expertly; Rowen exhibited skilled fingerpicking on his 1946 vintage Gibson and also played some nice harmonica solos, Lomas performed expertly on mandolin and shaker, and Simon was the jack of all rhythm instruments as he jumped back and forth between cajon, handheld snare, and an upright acoustic bass made from a washtub which the band has christened “George Washintub.”
The band plays mostly original songs with a few covers thrown in, and their performance runs the gamut from folk to blues to country. Our favorites were the haunting “Wilderness Hymn” and the sassy blues number “Lucky Card.” These hardworking and skilled musicians put on a great show and it’s obvious that they love what they do. Catch them in the smaller venues while you can, because it’s only a matter of time before Stray Local takes the rest of the nation by storm just as they have done in Wilmington.
Chasing Opal recently arrived in Wilmington by way of Utah and, although they’ve only been in town since April 2013, they have already caught the attention of the Star News and venues all over the Cape Fear region. It’s not hard to see why. Whitney Blayne has a breathy but sweet voice and strums her Takamine acoustic guitar with passion. Steve Seguin manages the cajon with what can only be described as grace, vacillating between percussive solos and gentle rhythm, often throwing up a foot onto the drum to further sculpt the sound.
Chasing Opal at Orton's - January 4th, 2014
While Blayne and Seguin are both skilled musicians, their onstage chemistry and banter is what really makes them fun to watch. Their set was roughly half cover songs and half original songs. While we at KFR prefer original songs, we can’t help but tip our hats to a band that makes Sublime’s “Santeria” sound like a light and airy love song. Besides, Chasing Opal can hold their own when it comes to original songs just as well. “Bad Seed” is a catchy folky number that could easily find its way onto a TV show or commercial and “Six Feet Under” is a delightfully morbid song inspired by Blayne’s love of CSI and the resultant nightmares. The beachy and summer-sounding “Fun” was true to its namesake; the duo threw in some audience participation during the choruses which sounded especially sweet due to the number of musicians who happened to be in the audience. Chasing Opal hands out demos at their shows and you’d be a fool not to take one. Also be sure to check out their forthcoming EP.
In addition to the obvious talent, it’s worth noting that both bands are just plain likable. They work hard but they also support other musicians and their community. They make it a point to attend other bands’ shows even though they’re busy with their own schedules. Hardworking, talented, charismatic, and gracious to boot: these bands are definitely on their way, and we’re glad they’ve come through Wilmington.
Karmic Fury took in shows three nights in a row last week (artists: Brandi Carlile at Brooklyn Arts Center, Taylor Chadwick Bryan & the Songwriters’ Showcase at TheatreNOW, Axiom at Projekte, Black Hellatones & The Hufton Brothers at Orton’s) and we could have gone to more! There was just too much going on!
We are also proud to introduce the video companion to the text review. Check it out and read the full review below!!
Wednesday night we hit the Brooklyn Arts Center on 4th Street for the Brandi Carlile concert. It was a packed house. Local musician Mike Blair opened (without the Stonewalls), followed by Andy Hull. Despite our initial disappointment over the lack of a female opener, Carlile’s show was fantastic, much more rockin live than her alt-country recordings.
Brandi Carlile at Brooklyn Arts Center
The show started with an old 78 playing on a gramophone, followed up dramatically by a wall of noise. This show was big. Songs went from soft, nuanced singing to huge, epic escalation. The sound quality alone was amazing. We’ve never heard better sounding drums, and drums that weren’t amped too loud! Brandi switched from acoustic guitar to electric guitar to piano. At one point the band quieted the audience and did a full song completely unplugged, nothing amped, no microphone, just upright bass, acoustic guitar, violin and vocals. It sounded fantastic. During the encore, the crowd went wild for the new single “That Wasn’t Me,” the twins kept on smiling, and Brandi tipped her hat to us at the side of the stage.
Thursday night we went to the Stone Soup Songwriters’ Showcase at the new venue TheatreNOW. The showcase, held on the second Thursday of each month, is the brainchild of event organizer and local musician Susan Savia. We arrived at the show a couple of performers in; while most shows say they are going to start at a certain time and then start at least an hour later, this show starts promptly at 7:30pm, and anyone who attempts to talk over the music will be shushed just as promptly. It’s a rare delight to walk into a crowded room where everyone is paying attention to what is happening onstage, and you know you won’t be sitting around for hours waiting for the music to start.
TheatreNOW is a brand new building that sticks out in the rough-around the edges neighborhood on 10th Street. Already home to dinner theatre and a gospel jazz brunch, as well as movie screenings, this is a space we can see hosting a lot of community-oriented events. Equipped with tables throughout the room, bar seating, and a balcony all pointed in the direction of an impressive stage, the room was filled to capacity (45-60 people).
The showcase featured three song sets of original music from local artists Mike Adams, David Pell, Skylar Smith, and Brent Stimmel, as well as Paul Obernesser who closed out the evening with a set of his own despite working behind the bar all night. The featured musician was Taylor Chadwick Bryan (also known as Chad Taylor), a 20-year-old college student and country singer.
We enjoy most kinds of music here at KFR, however neither of your capable reviewers would describe ourselves as being “into” country. So we were a little unsure whether we’d be able to give a country singer a fair review based on our own personal tastes.
Taylor Bryan at the Songwriters' Showcase
However, Bryan could have been singing any genre of music and it wouldn’t matter. Several things were immediately apparent: he loves music and the joy he gets from performing is mirrored by the joy the audience receives listening; he can sing, and he’s not afraid to go for it with a big note; and he can write catchy radio-friendly songs. Bryan took the stage looking every part the modern cowboy in a large hat and boots with tight jeans. He sang songs that most 20-year-olds growing up in the south would relate to – songs about girls, driving around, and a homage to “homemade wine and good times” on which he was joined on harmonica by Clayton Cole. Bryan’s acoustic set also featured superb leads by acoustic guitar player Anthony Lowery. The addition of the second guitar gave the set depth and fullness, and raised the music to the next level.
Artwork by Cammeron Batanides
The showcase wrapped up around 10:00 and we were ready to call it an early night, until we drove by Projekte and saw there was a three-piece band playing to a decent-sized crowd. Projekte is an art gallery/bar/coffee house at the corner of 3rd and Castle that recently re-opened under new ownership. The band, Axiom, was engaged in an epic jam of world music as we walked in. We were immediately distracted by the vivid paintings adorning the walls. The pieces had underlying music themes, integrating guitars and keyboards throughout and invoking the idea of sort of an Alice in Wonderland with musical instruments. The stunning display was created by local artist Cammeron Batanides.
Axiom at Projekte
After taking in the artwork, we turned our attention back to the band, who had just finished what seemed to be a 10-15 minute song that featured congas, bass, and solos on both melodica and acoustic guitar. Lead-singer Perry Smith looks every bit the everyman, but he managed to sing in Spanish while juggling improvised solos on multiple instruments. Axiom is a trio comprised of Smith on vocals/guitar/melodica, Diana Zaccaria (Dr. Z) on bass/vocals, and Matthew Waltenberger on percussion. We’ve seen Smith and Zaccaria play before as part of Cosmic Groove Lizards, but we especially enjoyed them as part of this trio. All three members are seasoned musicians and they riffed and improvised off each other for the duration of their set. We also spent some time talking to Waltenberger afterward and he noted that he will be giving Middle Eastern drum classes at Projekte.
Friday night we set out for recently renovated and reopened Orton’s Underground (formerly Orton’s Pool Hall, which has been referred to as America’s oldest pool hall). Entering through a narrow opening on Front St. we were expecting a tiny little room at the bottom of the stairs in which we’d be battling claustrophobia all night. What we found was a huge underground club with tables and chairs, pool tables scattered throughout, and a fairly large bar that seemed to be much too big for the lone bartender to handle. The fact that such a huge place lay in the catacombs of downtown is absolutely amazing. The start time for the show was listed as 9:00, and we found ourselves walking in the door just before 10:30. A few minutes later, the first band took the stage. The opening band was supposed to be Black Hole Jets, but ended up being the Black Hellatones, minus lead singer Kelly Dickson. Guitarist Storm Castañeda launched right into some serious guitar riffs right off the bat, and he was then joined by his brother Kazz Castañeda who was just as lively on the drums. With fearless guitar solos and a larger-than-life stage presence, Storm is not just another guy with a guitar. We were watching the next generation’s Hendrix; powerful yet effortless, Storm played and danced and sang without once missing a beat or playing anything that could be considered ordinary.
Black Hellatones at Orton's
At 11:15 the Black Hellatones from Jacksonville officially took the stage, with the brothers continuing on guitar and drums and Kelly Dickson taking over on vocals. Each member of this experimental/progressive rock band is active on stage and not afraid to get loud and in your face. In fact, Dickson spent just as much time off stage dancing around as she did on. The lyrics may have been hard to understand, but the band’s freedom and energy was infectious. Storm jumped around the stage without missing a note, his long hair flying about. Kazz grinned with pure joy as he wailed on the drums.
The Hufton Brothers at Orton's
This feeling continued as The Hufton Brothers, also a three-piece band with a full sound, began their set around 12:45. The Hufton Brothers brought their share of energy, with brothers Jesse on vocals/guitar and Justin on bass/vocals, joined on drums by Shane Soles. From the sound of their recordings, the band would fit snugly in the genre of americana with some jangly bluegrass undertones. Live, however, the band rocks. The Huftons unleash on their instruments, and the sound coming through the speakers is more punk than country. The Brothers showcased new songs, which were well-received by the crowd, and they also had a videographer filming the show. From what we saw, it looks like The Hufton Brothers are gearing up for something big, and we can’t wait to check it out. When we left at 1:30 am, the boys were still rockin’.