Finding cool music downtown
Summer evenings in Durham are hot, no question there. But the day’s end, and weekend’s start, can be a little cooler for those who enjoy free outdoor music. The Find Your Cool free music series has been held Thursday evenings at CCB Plaza in the center of downtown Durham since May. In its second year, the series draws a crowd to the polygon space that is also home to the statue of the city’s unofficial mascot, Major the Bull.
This past Thursday, the summer sun still blazed as the weekday turned from workday to after-hours. Just before 7 p.m., two people moseyed by on bicycles, pedaling slowly to see what was happening on the plaza. The grassy patches were filling up with lawn chairs and blankets. A line formed at the Bull City Burger and Brewery tent that was selling beer, wine and water. People walked out of The Parlour ice cream shop on Market Street, eating ice cream cones as they gathered. The band of the night, PitchBlak Brass Band out of Brooklyn, warmed up and then took a break before the official start to the show. A few people danced.
For a day that had a high in the 90s, a light breeze came through the plaza, drawing away the stifling heat. Young trees offered a little shade. The short brick walls lining the plaza became seating.
Bettie Lee came for the band. She lives in Garner and had seen PitchBlak Brass Band a few months ago at a Durham Central Park food truck rodeo. It was her first time to CCB Plaza, and it was smaller than she thought it might be. Still, she found street parking nearby and stayed for the entire show.
Further along the brick wall sat Fred Atiemo, who works downtown at Self-Help Credit Union. He’s so new to the job that he’s staying in the Marriott hotel right next to the plaza. The music was in a perfect location between his home and work.
“I think it’s very cool, very very cool,” Atiemo said. “It reminds me of Vancouver, [British Columbia] and Portland, Oregon.” He just moved to Durham from Portland, which also has musical performances outside downtown.
“It’s a good economic strategy to bring people downtown after hours and support businesses and activities,” he said.
At the Marriott nearby, several stories up, people watched the concert from their hotel windows. Another person had a good view of the concert from the former Jack Tar Hotel building on the Corcoran Street side of the plaza.
As PitchBlak Brass Band started playing hip-hop brass, about 50 people watched. At first, just a few people danced in front of the stage, but as the evening wore on, the crowd grew as a diverse range of youth, couples, families and friends filled in the plaza. Children climbed on Major the Bull.
Halfway through their set, PitchBlak Brass MC and trombone player T.J. Robinson reminded the crowd: “It’s the weekend – only one more day of work.”
During a break, PitchBlak trombone player Max Sholl said they were “naturally down to come back” to Durham after playing here before at Central Park. They also performed in Raleigh for St. Patrick’s Day. Sholl liked the set-up for the music series on the plaza.
“It’s awesome. It’s great the way people can come out and relax and enjoy music, and it’s all free,” he said.
Tess Mangum Ocana, who runs Sonic Pie Productions, books the shows for Downtown Durham Inc.’s series and other events. When she organized its first series last year, she though DDI’s tagline of “Find Your Cool” would work for the music series, too.
“As you can see, everyone’s doing their own thing,” Ocana said.
Jordan and Angie Capps came to the concert with their 15-month-old daughter, Lydia, and their German shepherd, Duke. Jordan Capps said they live on the edge of downtown near Golden Belt, so the plaza location is great for them in terms of walking distance and ice cream. The Capps came to the music series last year, too. They started off their time at CCB Plaza with a visit to The Parlour.
Ocana said that The Parlour is Find Your Cool’s bathroom sponsor, so people who come to the shows can use a real bathroom, and might buy some ice cream while they are in the shop. Bull City Burger and Brewery is back for a second summer, and Ocana expects concert-goers to bring pizza again from nearby Pizzeria Toro once it reopens.
As the sun began to set, the show rolled over the scheduled 8:30 p.m. end time, the crowd of now about 100 applauding heartily for the band.
The Find Your Cool series is off this Thursday because of the holiday weekend, but returns July 10 with Toon & Defacto Thezpian. The remainder of the schedule is Africa Unplugged on July 17, Kenny Roby on July 31 and Zansa on Aug. 7. Down the hill, Durham Central Park has taken on the Warehouse Blues series of free shows featuring slide guitars, which starts in July, and the American Tobacco Campus has its own free music series this summer, too.
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