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Arts & Culture

Pop-Up Music Club: Kevin Roughton

For more than 25 years, Kevin Roughton has made his living singing and playing guitar in the bars of North Carolina's Outer Banks
Biff Jennings, copyright Shooters at the Beach

Last Saturday, we launched an experiment we’re calling WUNC’s Pop-Up Music Club. It’s a series made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council – a statewide non-profit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The idea is to hit the road and ride shotgun with working musicians in North Carolina. We’re not after polished performances and well-worn anecdotes. Instead, we’re after the sound of real life for North Carolinians who rely on music to put food on the table. And we’re listening to hear how the culture of where they live comes across in their music.

In today’s Pop-Up Music Club, producer David Schulman takes us back to that thin strip of barrier islands between the mainland and the Atlantic Ocean … the Outer Banks. David’s hitched a ride with a beach troubador, a guitar player with some mileage on him.

Kevin Roughton’s driving a beat looking, smooth riding old Lincoln down US route 64. Kevin’s given the car a woman’s name I won’t reveal. His guitar is in the trunk. For roughly 30 years, Kevin’s played bars on the Outer Banks.

He plays solo, and for many years performed as part of a small band called the Wilder Brothers.

We’re coming now to Alligator River — and one of the last big bridges vacationers cross on the drive east to the beach. It’s where you start to smell the salt in the air and think, we’re almost there.

Now this may seem a strange place to launch a career in music, but that’s pretty much what happened for Kevin Roughton. Alligator River lies on the Atlantic intracoastal waterway, the inland shipping route that stretches from Key West to Norfolk. Kevin worked for several years as a “bridge tender.” When large boats came up the water, it was his job to open and close the draw.

Kevin used to work nights here, holed up in a solitary cabin in the middle of the bridge. It was the last regular job he ever had. Back in 1984. This is the first time since then he’s gone back to the bridge tender’s cabin.


This project is made possible in part by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Barbara Garrity-Blake advised us on the project.

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