Folk Music

Black Haüs

Hundreds of North Carolina musicians set up a desk and camera this spring for their chance at NPR stardom. The annual Tiny Desk contest gives unsigned musicians the chance to perform behind Bob Boilen's desk at NPR's Washington D.C. headquarters. 

Sylvan Esso on stage performing for a standing crowd, backlit by blue stage lights.
Graham Tolbert

They are a Grammy-nominated duo of musical magpies. The shared nest of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn is woven with treasures from ambient, Appalachian gospel, EDM, post-rock, folk-pop and trap music. Yet Sylvan Esso is anything but patchwork. 

Ross and Ruiz-Lopez headshot.
Courtesy of Violet Bell

When North Carolina duo Violet Bell started recording their debut album, they planned to feature  a drummer, plus band members Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez. But once the tape started rolling, Ross and Ruiz-Lopez realized the music warranted a bigger sound.

Courtesy of Mebanesville

The musical project Mebanesville started 20 years ago with just five friends playing in a new coffee shop.Two decades later, the project has seen band members come and go, but nobody ever really leaves for good.

Middleton singing into a mic and playing an acoustic guitar.
Courtesy of Nancy Middleton

Durham called folk rocker Nancy Middleton back home after 11 years in Nashville.

Gray playing his guitar in front of a mic.
Anita Rao / WUNC

Barry Gray’s debut release is the culmination of a family man’s slow-burning reflections.

Newton posed in a red beret and blue blouse on the balcony of The Carolina Theatre.
Beth Mann / Durham Magazine

As a kid Rebecca Newton loved performing for her family. Around the piano, she discovered her skill for harmonizing and found that showcasing her musical talents was a way to keep the peace in a tumultuous and sometimes violent household.

Press photo of Carrboro-based band Dissimilar South.
Hayes Potter

The Carrboro-based band Dissimilar South is focused on transitions right now. Their recent debut EP, “Treehouse,” tracks the bittersweet flavors of change as a relationship ends. It contrasts the desire for nostalgia with dreams of the future. All of the band members have recently graduated from college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they met and began the band.

Le'Andra McPhatten is a musician and the director of Le'Andra's Music Studio in Durham.
Denise Allen / Courtesy of the North Carolina Arts Council

North Carolina’s strong cultural traditions in music, crafts, dance and food have been evolving for generations. Millennials are now taking the helm and putting their own spin on various folk and traditional art forms.

Ms. Connie B was a dream come true for her father. He was a gospel singer who loved to harmonize. Unable to rely on local performers, he prayed to father children who could sing so that he could have his own singing group.

Austin McCombie and Sarah Osborne McCombie storytelling with strings and songs about North Carolina.
Courtesy of Kendall Atwater

Chatham County was once best known for its rabbits. The wild animals were so plentiful in the region at the turn of the 20th century that thousands were shipped out as cash crops each year. This piece of forgotten North Carolina history is just one story of many that inspires the new folk duo Sarah McCombie and Austin McCombie. 

Graham Nash is best known as a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter and musician. A co-founder of the British pop group The Hollies, Nash went on to form a little group called Crosby, Stills & Nash. Both groups would get him inducted into the Hall of Fame, but his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and later, Young, became the voice of a generation. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1969 with huge success in the U.S. and their legacy would include songs that remain part of American culture.

Abigail Dowd
Todd Turner/Courtesy of Abigail Dowd

Singer-songwriter Abigail Dowd’s latest album reflects her years-long process of coming home. In 2009 the folk artist moved to Florence, Italy and then to Maine in search of herself. She swore she would never come back.

photo of Ben Phan holding a guitar
Ben Phan

Ben Phan remembers living in a van with his ex-girlfriend, bumming around the country and searching for a place to clean up his act and reinvent himself.

Natalie Rhea / Courtesy of Tish Hinojosa

Tish Hinojosa grew up with her feet in two worlds. Her parents are Mexican immigrants who raised her and 12 siblings in San Antonio, Texas. 

Courtesy of Emily Stewart and Matty Sheets

Magpie Thief is a stripped down folk-duo featuring Greensboro-based singer-songwriters Emily Stewart and Matty Sheets. For Stewart and Sheets, the heat of summer inspires some of their most creative work. They escape the sun and cozy up indoors in cool living rooms. As this summer approaches, Stewart and Sheets are hoping to veer away from their raw and eclectic folk sound and experiment with other genres, including the blues.

Isabel Taylor with guitar
Courtesy of Isabel Taylor

Isabel Taylor wanted to perform on stage for a long time. So long, in fact, that it became one of those dreams that lingered until it felt more and more distant. So she finally set a deadline: by 40 she would take the stage at an open mic.

photo of the band playing onstage
Courtesy of Farewell Friend

Under the umbrella of “alternative country,” you will find the music of Farewell Friend. Guitarist and vocalist Tom Troyer, guitarist Mark Byerly, and upright bass player Evan Campfield perform live at the Triad Stage’s Upstage Cabaret in Greensboro.

black and white photo of jackson and best singing together
Courtesy of A Different Thread

Alicia Best and Robert Jackson met busking on the streets of Ireland. Jackson mistook Best’s ukulele for a fiddle, but what happened next was the spark that created their musical collaboration. The two sang a little ditty called “Yellow Taxi” and quickly knew they were destined to collaborate.

photo of Alexa Rose
Courtesy of Alexa Rose

Alexa Rose was singing before she could talk, but she did not sing or even listen to country music until she was a teenager. She starred in a country-inspired musical theater production, which opened her up to the sounds of the Carter family, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash.

photo courtesy of Young Yonder

The members of the band Young Yonder all have day jobs – in fact several of them met while helping customers at the Apple store. They make music work by packing in practices and tightly coordinating schedules. 

FORTYONCEGOLD

2017 was a big year for both rising stars and foundational artists with roots in the North Carolina music scene. Pop-electronic group Sylvan Esso, hip-hop artist Rapsody, and other North Carolina-based artists garnered Grammy nominations, and the state’s music was elevated once again to the national stage.

An image of Kamara Thomas
Courtesy of The Artist

Durham-based musician Kamara Thomas knew she wanted to be an artist at a young age. But she grew up in a Christian fundamentalist household that frowned upon artistic expression.

www.abigaildowd.com

After working in city politics, and running an art school, Abigail Dowd needed a change. She packed up her great-grandfather’s guitar and took off to Florence, Italy, to Ireland, and later to Maine, to spend some time reconnecting with herself and her music. The trip turned into an eight-year journey.

Image of folklorist Joseph Hall
Courtesy of Ted Olson, ETSU

More than 4,000 people surrendered their homes and land to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park covers more than 500,000 acres and straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Eric Kelley

Daniel and Lauren Goans have had a busy five years. They got married, formed the band “Lowland Hum,” and recorded three full-length albums and an EP.

Brandon Eggleston

In his new novel “Universal Harvester” (Farrar, Straus, Giraux/2017), writer and musician John Darnielle revisits an era about 20 years ago when video rentals were in high demand. The book features a young man named Jeremy Heldt who works at a video store in rural Iowa. Heldt discovers that somebody is splicing mysterious footage into some of the tapes.

The Collection

The Collection started out as a Greensboro-based group with 15 members rotating in as a part of the group’s line up. The collective has now become more of a band with seven concrete members. But the group still sticks to its indie folk roots in it’s upcoming album “Listen to the River.”

Mandolin Orange
Scott McCormick / Sacks & Co.

Mandolin Orange's new album, "Blindfaller," moves between a haunting warning about politics, allusions to lingering effects of historical wars in the South, and a honky-tonk ode to life on the road.

An image of The Bucket Brothers with host Frank Stasio
Charlie Shelton-Ormond / WUNC

Logan Valleroy and Casey Valleroy might be teenagers, but their musical prowess makes them seem like professional musicians. The brothers have been playing music since they were young.

Today, the pair play a myriad of instruments like the violin, keyboard, drums, saxophone and guitar, but started out as kids banging on pots and pans around the house. The Bucket Brothers new album is called "Our State."

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