One of my all-time favorite songbirds will be singing tonight from the small stage at the Carrboro ArtsCenter: the wonderful Iris DeMent. What a songwriter! What a storyteller! What a compelling voice! When DeMent’s first album, Infamous Angel, appeared in 1992, I could hardly play anything else for months. She makes me feel home. Not necessarily comfortable or happy (“Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Ev’ry Day”), but home. Other great records of wise poetry and fine playing joined it–but until last fall, it had been sixteen years since a new Iris album came out. It’s called Sing the Delta. Hallelujah, y’all. When she came to the Cat’s Cradle years ago, I saw practically everyone I knew there, pressing close to the stage. It will be nearly as intimate in the ArtsCenter, with the advantage of actual seats. Show’s at 8. See you there.
Thursday is just the beginning. The ArtsCenter, now led by the highly music-knowledgeable Art Menius, has announced a really incredible roster of concerts–many kinds of American music–for the forthcoming year. Friday, May 3 brings another legend–Roger McGuinn. This is the man whose sparkling 12-string and musical verve lit up the 1960s and beyond. He was one of the founders of the Byrds. Need I say more? Maybe just three words: “Mr. Tambourine Man.” McGuinn has not slowed down, but he has turned back towards his folk roots. If you were, perhaps, born too late to know him from the first wave, check out his recordings of numerous songs here (listen for free). Should be a great concert.
But wait, there’s more–it’s a one-two-three punch. Not the Byrds, but The Stray Birds, a charming singer-songwriter trio from southern Pennsylvania, will play the ArtsCenter on Saturday, May 4. The musicians of this young band were steeped in music from infancy–Appalachian mountain music, classical, and (for them) classic Americana. Lead singer (guitar, fiddle, banjo) Maya De Vitry grew up singing along with Iris DeMent in the family car, and you can hear it in her words, and the spaciousness she gives them. De Vitry’s voice is smoother, more golden, than DeMent’s, but no less honest. Band mate Oliver Craven (guitar, fiddle) wrote half the songs on their fine, self-produced CD, and he and Charles Muench (bass, banjo) create beautiful harmonies with De Vitry. NPR named their album one of the best of 2012, and I totally agree. Smart songs, lovely sounds, great energy. Really great energy: “I like surprising people with music,” De Vitry told me in a phone interview. Explains why the now 22-year-old was successful busking her way around North America and Europe. Prepare to be happily surprised on Saturday night.
However, if you just can’t take your nouvelle old-time music sitting down, choose option B.
Local favorites, The Five Points Rounders will be playing one of their Rowdy Square Dances, this time at Nightlight Bar & Club near the Chapel Hill/Carrboro line. Warning: this is not your mama’s square dancing. Too much fun, and you can buy beer.
I’ll be missing Roger McGuinn on Friday, because I will not miss the opening of the final show in Manbites Dog Theater‘s great 25th season. Ed Hunt and Jeff Storer changed the theatrical landscape in Durham and the Triangle when they created their theater, and here’s a play to demonstrate how far we’ve all come. At the beginning, MDT did a lot of “issue” plays about gay identity, AIDS, discrimination and so on–all good–but now they can make plays about people, not symbols.
As Jeff Storer says: “In the early days we did queer theater because our friends were dying and it was a way to tell the stories and raise awareness about our responsibilities as a society. A play like THE HOMOSEXUALS is political by virtue of its title. But it is not an issue play. It’s about FAMILY. About finding a family and a home when the one you were born into disapproves. The play is sexy and playful and It’s about change and loving friends. It’s about the “here and now.””
Storer, a master at coaxing maximun humanity from actor ensembles, directs this recent play by Philip Dawkins. He’s got a dream cast of several of this area’s finest actors. The show will run through May 18. Tickets on the website. Don’t let this one slip by.
Also in Durham, and just a block away, something entirely different. Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents The Wooster Group’s Diary of Anne Frank at The Shadowbox. This experimental production of an experimental work that never happened, in a new experimental performance space, is directed by Jay O’Berski. It could be a steaming mess; it could be brilliant. Probably both. Guaranteed that LGP will take you for a wild ride. Opened May 1, runs through May 18. Tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org or 919.452.9204.