Tar Heel Sound Fest urges listeners to open their ears

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 03:47 PM

In 2010, N.C. State University’s Emerging Issues Forum discussed the importance of creativity to the modern economy. Everyone from politicians to artists extolled the virtues of innovating by thinking outside of the usual norms – also called “the box.”
This weekend, the organizers of a new music festival, Tar Heel Sound Fest, want to encourage music listeners to open their ears to different sounds.
Co-producers Josh Zaslow and Bruce Stevens have programmed a one-night festival that seeks to break down some of the barriers among styles and genres. Eighteen local bands and musicians will perform at the festival. Among the sounds represented are the Klezmer music of Gmish, the ambient sounds of White Cascade, and the jazz and improvisational music of trombonist Jeb Bishop and Crowmeat Bob. 
Festival organizers have purposely “mixed up the lineup, so we don’t have all one kind of music at any one club,” said Zaslow. “We tried to mix it up a bit so people would be exposed to a variety of music.”
Tickets also are being sold in one-, two-, or three-venue packets to encourage listeners to be adventurous. “As you go to see the band you know about, you will perhaps accidentally or on purpose give a listen to another band you haven’t heard of,” Zaslow said.
Trombonist Bishop’s biography in many ways represents the mission of Sound Fest. Born in Raleigh, for the past 20 years he has been composing and playing music in Chicago’s jazz and improvised music community. He studied classical trombone repertoire at Northwestern University but decided not to pursue an orchestra career, his website states. He also has played in various rock bands. As an improviser, he has toured North America and Europe, and worked with the ensemble Vandermark 5 and many others, as well has his own trio. He moved to Carrboro in July.
“It seems to me it’s part of human nature that people have some sort of resistance at first” to improvised music, Bishop said. “One thing I’ve found about this music is that if you put it in front of people and do it well and show your commitment and passion about it, then people will respond to that, even if they haven’t been exposed to it before.”
Often, new listeners walk away with an appreciation of the beauty and skill of improvised music, he said. “The problem is getting people to take that step to expose themselves to it in the first place,” Bishop said.
At Night Light, he will perform a solo improvised set. “It’s a particular kind of challenge, and I enjoy doing it,” he said. The most difficult challenge in going solo is that in improvised music “you are listening to and reacting to what other musicians are doing.” Soloing alone is more of “a dialogue with silence” as well as the audience and the acoustics of the room, he said.
Phil Blank, who plays the accordion for the Klezmer band Gmish, also has a multi-genre background. He grew up playing in the blues and bluegrass traditions, which he still loves. Klezmer, a style rooted in the Jewish culture, offered more looseness. “There’s a little less improvisation in traditional music than I’m comfortable with,” Blank said. He likes Klezmer for its “heterophony [different voices playing at the same time] and improvisation.” Old time music is “wonderfully powerful and tight. Klezmer is not tight. It’s wonderfully wild with frayed edges,” he said.
Gmish has played at The Station, Night Light, and for social occasions. Sound Fest will be the group’s first festival, Blank said. He likes the genre-defying aspect to the festival, and he praised Zaslow for designing a festival that is in town, with venues that are walkable and near each other.
He plans to catch as many of the performers as he can. “A lot of these musicians know each other, which is interesting, even if they’re in different genres,” Blank said. Musicians are “always curious and fascinated about what their colleagues are doing.”


Go and Do
WHAT: Tar Heel Sound Fest
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 12,, beginning at 4:30 p.m. (Different venues have different times.)
WHERE: Local 506, 506 W. Franklin St.; Night Light, 405 ½ W. Rosemary St.; and The Cave, 452 ½ W. Franklin St. (All venues in Chapel Hill.)
ADMISSION: Tickets, starting at $5, are available for one, two or all three venues. For information, visit tarheelsoundfest.com.