The best things in life, as they say, are free. In Durham this summer, the best things are also free. Summertime – or late spring, really – ushers in a cool wave of free music series in the Bull City. From downtown to the malls, there are enough concerts to fill your calendar from now to Labor Day.
First, two big anticipated Durham events. The 45th Annual Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival sponsored by Durham Parks and Recreation always draws well-known names in rap or hip-hop. This year Biz Markie will take the mic, along with Da Brat and Nice & Smooth. This year’s festival will be held from noon to 8 p.m. May 17 at Rock Quarry Park, 71 Stadium Drive, near Durham County Stadium.
Bimbé is a family-oriented event that celebrates African and African-American history, culture, art and traditions. Along with the concerts there will be food, arts and crafts, and a children’s area. If you want to sit down, make sure to bring a chair. No alcohol or coolers permitted. Bimbé will happen rain or shine, and shut down temporarily if there are storms.
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park will host the All-Star Game and celebrate with two parties in one day. On July 12, the All-Star Fan Fest will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the DBAP. For fans, there will be batting practice, games, ballpark tours and fun stuff for kids. Then after a midday break, the All-Star Block Party begins at 6 p.m. that day on Blackwell Street next to the ballpark. There will be food trucks, beer tents and a headlining concert by The Baseball Project, a band that includes members of R.E.M. For information, visit www.durhambulls.com.
If a theater production could be compared to a bagel, Andrea E. Woods’ new show would be of the everything variety. That’s because, for the first time, she’s been able to concoct an evening-length work that has everything she’s always wanted to include. Her new work, “The Amazing Adventures of Grace May B. Brown,” features dance, music, singing, narration, folk art and photographic images.
“I call the work a contemporary praise dance/folk performance because it uses dance, song, spirituality, music and narration as multilayered storytelling,” Woods writes.
“American Idiot,” the rock opera by Green Day, took the stage Tuesday night at the Durham Performing Arts Center and showed that you don’t need to wait until a band is retired to make a musical, you just need to make it good. “American Idiot” is. Here in Durham for two nights, it’s the tour of the Broadway show based on the California band’s 2004 album of the same title. “American Idiot” is about the coming of age of three young men wanting out of suburbia. It’s a universal story of being an angst-ridden young man who needs to go on an adventure – good or bad – to come of age. Alex Boniello, the understudy of lead character Johnny, performed Tuesday night and did a great job as the guy whose suburban angst results in urban drug addiction. Dan Tracy as Tunny, who joins the Army and goes to war, does a fantastic job as well as Casey O’Farrell as Will, the guy who stays behind on the couch with a pregnant girlfriend.
Akua Allrich recalls some advice vocalist Dianne Reeves once gave her: “‘Just listen.’” Allrich’s many vocal influences include Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba, and she frequently performs tribute concerts to those artists. These days she is listening to Abbey Lincoln as well as more pop music. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” is “in heavy rotation in my house,” Allrich said in a phone interview.
Allrich will be performing with bass player Kris Funn today during the opening day of the inaugural Art of Cool Festival. “If you listen to genres in recent years, the walls have been taken down,” Funn added. “When you listen to hip-hop, you’ll hear elements of rock,” and hip-hop elements in rock, he said.
In the music of Revive Big Band, swing rhythms and instrumental solos, the core language of jazz, fuse with the rhythms of funk, rhythm and blues, soul, and the word play of hip-hop. This 18- to 20-piece band has performed tributes to the music of late rapper Guru, and arranged tunes by composers like Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter.
The band will perform Saturday at Diamond View Park during the two-day inaugural Art of Cool Festival. The band is made up of musicians around the New York area, many of whom went to school with trumpeter Igmar Thomas, who started the band and writes all the arrangements and original compositions for Revive.
There are a lot of people who love Durham and North Carolina, but no group is more enamored of our area than photographers, and the Will Grossman competition has been organized to encourage that love. This year’s theme was “People, Places and Things in North Carolina.” All photographs must be made in the state. Beyond that rule, the artists could interpret those guidelines any way they wanted.
Punk rock can have a place on Broadway. “American Idiot,” the rock opera by Green Day, has been a success on Broadway and on tour, and is coming to Durham next week. Based on the California band’s 2004 album of the same title, “American Idiot” is about the coming of age of three young men. It will be at the Durham Performing Arts Center April 29-30.
Jared Nepute plays Johnny, who takes the urban drugs and music path to adulthood from suburbia. There’s no act one and two – just one 95-minute performance without intermission. Nepute said he likes it that way. Songs in the show are those from the album, including “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Holiday” and “21 Guns.”
If you are still suffering from the post-winter blues, or simply need an excuse for a treat, Saturday is Record Store Day, and local stores and music labels will have limited-edition releases and special deals to bring out music lovers.
All Day Records in Carrboro will have discounts on records, and a sidewalk sale of stereo equipment, said Jeremy Harris. Ryan Richardson of CD Alley in Chapel Hill said labels across the country have produced some 300 special releases for the annual event, and CD Alley has ordered about 180 of them. “It’s amazing how much stuff there is,” he said.
When the Blue Ribbon Healers hit the road, they don’t just come for one show, then load up the car and take off to the next town. They like to stick around for a little while, whether it’s a month in Colorado or California. The duo will bring their original brand of foot-stomping swanky tonk music to Durham on Sunday for two shows – first at Fullsteam Brewery, then after a break another show across the street at Motorco Music Hall.
Cindy Rose (mandolin, vocals) and Rob Pate (guitar, vocals) formed the Blue Ribbon Healers five years ago.
There is an image of Mickey Mouse, with a skeletal body and his gloved hand poised like a gun. There is a Sun-Maid raisin box, labeled “Sun Mad” with the image of the girl on the box changed to a ghastly skeleton. There is a portrait of Cesar Chavez with the Nike swoosh emblazoned on his cap. And there is a sweet 15-year-old dressed in her coming-of-age finery. These are just some of the images by the 44 artists in the exhibition “Estampas de la Raza.”
Like Maya Beiser, the duo 2Cellos and Durham cellist Shana Tucker, cellist Ben Sollee has pioneered new repertoire and styles for his instrument. Listeners may know him for his work with Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet, or from his three recordings – “Learning to Bend,” “Inclusions” and “Half-Made Man.”
Now, Sollee is adding dance and documentary to his concerts. He is still “experimenting with the show,” he said in a phone interview, and local audiences will get to see and hear his new approach when he performs this weekend at The Carolina Theatre and at the spring edition of the Shakori Hills Festival.
Wyatt Easterling grew up in Chapel Hill and spent 33 years in Nashville, Tenn., as a country music songwriter, singer, producer and a record label talent scout. Last year he moved back to his hometown to write for a while away from the Nashville scene. He has a new record and will perform at the Durham Armory on Saturday afternoon during Durham Art Walk Spring Market.
Easterling moved to Nashville in 1981 upon releasing his first album, and has worked in the music industry ever since, from head of A&R (artist and repertoire, which handles talent scouting and artist development) for Atlantic Records in Nashville in 1990, to writing “Modern Day Drifter” for Dierks Bentley and “Life’s a Dance” for John Michael Montgomery.
The centerpiece of the twice annual Durham Art Walk and Market is visual art. The Durham Arts Council produces the walk to encourage visitors to buy local visual art.
The Arts Council Building, 120 Morris St., is the epicenter of the self-guided walk. Visitors may pick up a map at the building, which will direct them to 31 different sites, where more than 200 artists will have their work on view and for sale.
By the time the Durham Art Walk and Spring Market opens Saturday, Cindy Vega and Neal Carlton, co-owners of Vega Metals on Hunt Street, will have cut out and hand prepared 800 metal ornaments to give away to visitors who stop by the shop during the two-day event.
Since the first Art Walk, Vega Metals has created a new ornament to commemorate each event (held in the fall and spring every year). The ornaments are free. “We say wear them,” Vega said of the popular metal works of art.