Live music’s return to downtown to bring rich benefits to Siler City

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The 2022 Siler City Downtown Music Series will bring live music every third Saturday from April-October. This week, we speak with organizers Michael Feezor and Lisa Fedele about the series, which kicks off April 16, with music and more from 6 to 8 p.m. All performances will be held at the Chatham Rabbit in downtown Siler City.

Feezor is the executive director of the N.C. Arts Incubator (NCAI). He has a fine arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and has been involved in the incubator and downtown Siler City in various capacities over the last six years. He was named executive director in 2020 and tasked with helping the incubator navigate the challenges of the pandemic. Working in conjunction with board chairperson Fedele, Feezor rapidly reset the strategy to expand the NCAI’s mission to support community needs.

Fedele is the global creative operations lead for Cisco Systems and the founding member of Siler City’s Alliance Community Leaning Hub. The Alliance collaborates with statewide community-based arts and educational organizations to offer hands-on educational experiences and to provide technology access to prepare community members to meet 21st-century challenges and opportunities with courage and confidence.

The music series has reached its goal of $10,000 in sponsorships, but is still accepting sponsors. NCAI is a 501c3 nonprofit, so all donations are tax deductible. Funds exceeding the cost of producing the series will be used to support ongoing community programming.

You call this the “return” of a long tradition. What can you tell us about the history?

The music series was started a decade ago as a way to bring people to the Arts District in Historic Downtown Siler City. Activities were halted during the pandemic, as the N.C. Arts Incubator (NCAI) focused on supporting the community in other ways, such as providing access to internet and a safe place for students to attend virtual classes.

This year, the NCAI joined forces with Brooke Simmons of The Chatham Rabbit Coffee Shop. We all decided that it was time to resurrect the series as COVID began to decline, so we made personal appeals to businesses and individuals in the community to help. The response was amazing, we were able to raise over $10,000 in less than two weeks. This music series is really for and by the people of Siler City. The generosity of the community makes it possible for us to produce this incredible event, and it is a big win for everyone involved. Local businesses had the opportunity to market their business to the community, all while supporting local live music. Donors are able to see the money making a difference, right here in their community.

We are excited to bring back live music to Downtown Siler City. This series is the embodiment of our mission to incubate the artistic, cultural and intellectual growth in North Carolina. It allows us to provide a stage for some of the most exciting and gifted performing artists in the state, while opening our doors and welcoming the community of Siler City into our home. The last two years of the pandemic have taught us the importance of connections and community, and we are proud to be part of the rebirth of downtown Siler City.

The setting is the Rotary Stage at The Chatham Rabbit. There’s an effort, we know, to add more “walkable” elements to downtown Siler City. How will this add to the vibe downtown?

The Historic Downtown area has been the home of a strong and vibrant arts community in Siler City for more than 20 years with the NCAI serving as the heart.

As a leading center for creative entrepreneurship, we know that building a strong downtown community requires consistent access to quality food and entertainment for all, and we want to do everything we can to make that a reality. That is why we worked so hard to make this a free event — we wanted everyone in Chatham County to have access to it.

Music is a powerful means of connecting people. It plays a vital role in bridging cultural divides and is a vehicle for cultural expression like no other. As an Arts Incubator, we know the collective power of creating a rich music ecosystem. It generates rich social, cultural and economic benefits to its community.

A vibrant downtown and creative economy drives value for cities in many key ways: It fuels job creation, supports community economic growth, enhances tourism development and strengthens a city’s brand. A strong creative community attracts highly skilled workers and families for whom quality of life is a priority. This in turn attracts business investment and benefits everyone in the community.

So … it’s about the music. Let’s hear about the bands.

Over the course of the series, we are featuring homegrown, locally sourced bands. We searched for musicians that represented the heart and soul of North Carolina. We have a mix of bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz, rock and everything in between — music that celebrates the traditions of the past and also a vision for the future.

April: We kickoff this year’s season featuring Checkerboard Suede. They are a rock-infused blues trio from Durham who play original and classic blues music.

May: This month features The Radio. The band deftly tunes the radio dial, picking up phantom stations broadcasting roots rock, Americana, traditional country/western and soul. And like the best road trip music, these songs make you want to boogie down the road and onto the nearest dance floor.

June: We welcome Siler City’s own THC (short for Tommy, Hank and Cecil) to the stage. Best know for their breakout hit “U.S. Open Blues,” featured on ESPN and the Golf Channel, they opened for country star Shania Twain and even played New York City’s legendary CBGB. This is sure to be a great time!

July: This month features the Simon Quartet. Simon Dunson is one of the most interesting and versatile mandolinists of his generation. His virtuosity, unique lyrical style and compelling compositional voice all combine to create a new, exciting sound that throws the mandolin into unknown territory.

August: We have a really special event — KooDayTah, the annual celebration hosted by The Incubator’s own resident artist, Terry McInturff, the founder of TCM Custom Guitars, located right here in Siler City in the NCAI.

He has created custom exquisitely handcrafted guitars for over 40 years for some of the best guitarists in the world, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Dave Hildago of Los Lobos.

This event will feature three bands, and Terry himself is known to take the stage and join in — it is a guitar fanatic’s dream.

September: We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in partnership with the Hispanic Liaison. In addition to the all-day Hispanic Heritage Event, the series will feature the music of Saludos Company. This Latin trio’s music runs the gamut from traditional, contemporary and original music from Latin America and the Caribbean. This amazingly versatile trio is sure to bring everyone to their feet, so bring your dancing shoes!

October: We round out the series with a Halloween-style celebration featuring incredible Impulse Machine band and media collective based out of central North Carolina to the stage. Music makes up the heart of their creative output and their eclectic work, which generally gravitates toward experimental rock and metal. They have been praised for its darkness and emotional intensity, receiving comparisons to artists as diverse as Mr. Bungle, Tom Waits and Danny Elfman.

People are encouraged to attend in costume, and of course there will be something for the kids!

With the pandemic’s wane (knock on wood), how excited are the organizers (and bands) to be part of a “live” event?

The response to this event has been amazing. This is a long-awaited chance for our community to come together and enjoy great local music and each other. These past two years have taught us the importance of gathering with neighbors, friends and family, and it is clear that everyone is starved for laughter and live music.

And aside from music — what else will be featured and included during the Music Series nights?

In addition to some amazing food options that will be rotating in during the course of the series, we are really excited this year to partner with Leslie Chartier of The Travelling Café Culinary Studio to offer themed boxed meals for the event. We wanted to do something different this year. We’ve created themed dinners that can be pre-ordered monthly and picked up the night of the event. Think of it as concert mixed with a pop-up dinner!

Our series starts on April 16 with rock-infused blues for Durham’s own Checkboard Suede to honor the deep Southern roots of blues, and we will be offering a menu featuring a Southern classic: fried green tomato stacks with chicken or seafood croquettes topped with mini pimento cheese ball. On the side, we’ll serve deviled eggs and for dessert, mini hummingbird cake.

Meals must be ordered by 5 p.m. the Friday before the concert. Menus will be announced on the NCAI Facebook page at the beginning of each month and can be ordered online in advance of the event. We will also have a small number of plates available for sale the day of the event.

What’s good for parents and kids?

There is something for the whole family! We will have kids’ arts and crafts activities and games in the Kid Zone, sponsored by The Alliance and BGood, two local nonprofits. Each month, we have a different project for kids and parents to participate in together. It is a great opportunity to learn while having fun!

There are also wonderful shops located downtown. You can find everything from custom jewelry, handmade leather goods, pottery, fiber arts, home furnishings, antiques and an amazing new toy store all within walking distance.

How will this series of events help nonprofits in Siler City?

Each concert will feature an information booth featuring Chatham County nonprofits serving the Siler City community. It is a chance for the community to learn more about the programs offered by these nonprofit partners, sign up to volunteer and/or donate to lend a hand.

In addition, we will be hosting a fundraising raffle during the event. The incubator is working with several other private companies and nonprofits including BGood, The Alliance, South Wind Retreat Center, Communities in Schools, Robin Hoods Kitchen and others to raise funds for a shared community warming kitchen located within the Incubator. Our goal is to raise $25,000 to build the kitchen and support its ongoing operations.

This shared kitchen will allow local nonprofits to have a place to assemble and distribute meals to the community on a regular basis. It will also be used in conjunction with The Siler City Collaborative Garden to provide healthy living and food preparation classes to educate our community.

What else do those interested need to know?

The NCAI is always looking for artists, writers and musicians to teach, perform, collaborate and educate. If you have a passion for arts, please consider volunteering. And come out for the music! We will have some seating, but we encourage folks to bring their own chairs. Music begins at 6 p.m. and ends at 8. Come early and enjoy the town!

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