INDY Week 6.23.21

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill June 23, 2021

Sounds Hiss Golden Solo Messenger

Gets Personal by Madeline Crone, p. 16


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Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 23

Maggie Bryant, NCCU's oldest living graduate, on a visit to the James E. Shepard House, p. 12 PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

CONTENTS NEWS 9

The consequences of faculty members of color leaving UNC-Chapel Hill go far beyond lost scholarship. BY ELLIE HEFFERNAN 10 For Pride month, Durham DA Satana Deberry talks about her role models, justice for all, and life as a queer Black woman. BY GRACE ABELS 12 Maggie Bryant, N.C. Central's oldest living graduate, shares the secrets to her longevity. BY THOMASI MCDONALD 14 We crunch the budget numbers for Orange County and its municipalities. BY SARA PEQUEÑO

15 A Raleigh fire department division chief sued the city for allegedly discriminating against him because of his race. BY LEIGH TAUSS

FEATURE

16 Hiss Golden Messenger's tenth album, Quietly Blowing It, is his most personal yet. BY MADELINE CRONE

ARTS & CULTURE 18

Three new albums out from Sam Fuller-Smith, Treee City, and Magic Tuber String Band shine with the fullness of Durham's musical range. BY HARRIS WHELESS, BRIAN HOWE, AND DAN RUCCIA

20 An outdoor production of the musical Evita almost strikes the right notes. BY BYRON WOODS

THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes

5 Op-ed

6 Photo Series

COVER Photo by Brett Villena / Design by Annie Maynard

WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper

Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald

EDITOR I AL

Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño

Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards Senior Writer Leigh Tauss

Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

Contributors Madeline Crone, Jameela F. Dallis, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla Khoury-Hanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan

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Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Brett Villena

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Interns Caryl Espinoza Jaen, Ellie Heffernan, Rebecca Schneid

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BACK TA L K

Last week, we wrote about Sen. Thom Tillis co-sponsoring legislation that would prohibit federal

funds

from

being

used to teach about systemic racism and The 1619 Project in

elementary and secondary schools across the country. As often happens when our junior senator makes news for doing something inane, our readers had thoughts. “Much of the history we learned growing up was edited. The reality is much more complicated… and interesting. Filling in those gaps is a good thing!” wrote Facebook commenter CHRISTOPHER BOYCE. “Who’s surprised?” asked commenter LISA MEEKER. “Thanks Cal,” wrote DOUG MAYNARD. MARSHA WRAY LOWRY calls Tillis “ALEC legislator of the year,” while BRIAN CASTLE calls his posturing the “tears of a clown.” Durham Minister PAUL SCOTT writes, “For the record, Some of us in Durham have not just been sitting around watching these attacks on our history but have been organizing to stop them.” Look up “ Senator Thom ‘Tone Deaf ’ Tillis Defunding 1619 Project During Juneteenth Week” on YouTube to learn more. We also wrote about residents of an affordable housing complex in southeast Raleigh who are worried about losing their homes. They’re not the only ones. “Watch out Durham! It can happen here too,” wrote Facebook commenter MARY MOLINA. “Ought to be ashamed of themselves!” wrote commenter EBONYE B. RENDER of, presumably, the landlords.

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Durham

15 MINUTES Naomi Dix and Stormie Daie Members of the Durham drag community BY ELLIE HEFFERNAN backtalk@indyweek.com

Naomi Dix and Stormie Daie belong to Durham’s first drag family, The House of Coxx. They host educational drag shows featuring local queer Black and Brown artists. Their upcoming June 26 performance at Motorco kicks off their Sister Sister Tour 2021.

What’s it like being people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and drag queens? N: People automatically may not take what you do as serious, professional, or quality. Drag is very centered around white queens. We look at things like RuPaul’s Drag Race and see a lot of white queens that gain momentum and popularity. It’s also based on white privilege and having designers who would rather work with white queens because they don’t understand our body types, our hair textures, our melanated skin. So, makeup can be hard for a Black queen, sometimes.

What are the biggest challenges facing Durham’s LGBTQ+ community and how does your work attempt to address them? S: One of the hardest things is just creating space, not just space for Black people, but finding space that can have us perform in it, that we can safely fit, and bring an audience into. A lot of venues that we go to, we have to pioneer them, bringing information about politics, talking about the cultural zeitgeist and what’s important to us. That’s also something a lot of drag queens don’t do. When we went into drag shows, they hadn’t really had Black queens talk about racism. A lot of people we perform for are straight, so they hadn’t had people have a lecture about HIV, raising money for trans and Black lives, or the fact that you can’t touch people just because you paid to see them perform. You have to ask for consent. No one was talking about these things in clubs or

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECTS

performance complexes, and then we’re taking this to apartment complexes, hotels, theaters.

Pride has recently been criticized by some in the LGBTQ+ community for becoming corporate. What are your thoughts? S: Now y’all wanna divest from Pride, when this entire time, Pride has always been a celebration about what’s going on in the world. The problem is that gays and lesbians divested Black-Brown struggles from Pride. Pride has always been about the struggles of the LGBT community, specifically the lives that are often the ones who can’t hide: flamboyant, trans, Black, and Brown. That’s why Stonewall happened, why Pride started, why they made the flag. We started divesting actual causes from Pride, and Pride just became about a celebration—not unlike Juneteenth. It’s not just a celebration. It is a memorial of people, died, lost, and gone.

How will Durham’s accelerating gentrification affect your community? N: We’re not scared. We welcome the change— as long as we are involved. We don’t want to just be looked at as, “That’s not the look that we’re going for, so let’s get rid of The Pinhook. Let’s get rid of these safe havens that have always been here because that’s not the aesthetic we’re going for.” If you wanna try that bullshit in Raleigh, in Charlotte, please go ahead and do that. We are trying to keep Durham different and community-based, welcome change at the same time, but keep all these spaces so we can continue the work we are doing. If we welcome too much of these huge, corporate, whitewashed idealists in, then what happens to us? Are we just kind of thrown away? We don’t want to be just another basic city. We want to be a city where people can find refuge. W


OP - E D

Essential But Unprotected It is time to root out anti-worker corruption in the N.C. General Assembly BY NATHAN T. DOLLAR, KEVIN GOMEZ-GONZALEZ, AND ANGELA STUESSE backtalk@indyweek.com

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early 30 years ago, in the wake of the infamous chicken plant fire in which 80 workers were injured or killed in Hamlet, N.C., our state elected officials passed legislation to protect North Carolinians’ rights to speak up about risks to our health and safety, wage theft, violence, and discrimination at work. Now it appears some legislators would undermine this legacy of the Hamlet fire victims and survivors—a benefit to all working people—for their own gain. The Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) ensures that the state Department of Labor investigates alleged violations of workers’ protected activities, attempts resolution and settlement of valid worker complaints, and notifies workers of their right to pursue further legal action when settlement is not possible. This spring, in an amendment to the 2021 North Carolina Farm Act (SB 605), Republican lawmakers sought to strip workers of their private right of action under REDA. They proposed to instead entrust the Department of Labor to make decisions about the merit of workers’ claims, knowing full well that over the past decade this office—long criticized by worker advocates for its pro-employer bias—found a meager 10 percent of worker claims to have merit. Perhaps less shocking is that this amendment was filed by District 10 Senator Brent Jackson, who, as a grower, has been accused by at least seven employees of violations of minimum wage and other Fair Labor Standards Act protections—complaints protected by REDA. Although Jackson later tempered the language of the bill after pushback from advocates, and alternative language remains under discussion in the House, it is clear that the intent is to dissuade workers from taking legal action against their employers who violate the law, and make it harder for those workers who do pursue legal action.

Self-serving, anti-worker corruption like what we’re seeing today from Senator Jackson has infused the N.C. General Assembly for at least 120 years. During the earliest decades of the twentieth century, when the state first began passing legislation to prohibit child labor, the N.C. Cotton Manufacturers’ Association held a tight grip on the legislative committees through which all child labor bills had to pass. Their open hostility to all labor regulations is best captured in a pamphlet, pithily titled “Child Labor” Legislation. In it, John F. Shenk, Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the N.C. Cotton Manufacturers’ Association, referred to advocates for child labor reform as “active agitators of labor legislation” who “have declared war against us.” The anti-labor political culture in North Carolina continued to proliferate throughout the 1920s and 1930s and had an effect on the progressive New Deal labor reforms of that era. For example, only four Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted against the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which granted most workers the right to form unions and collectively bargain with their employers; Joseph Bailey from North Carolina was one of them. Notably, legislators from North Carolina and other southern states were also instrumental in excluding farmworkers and domestic workers from these protections, as well as from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Later, members of the N.C. congressional delegation would be among the most outspoken critics of FDR’s progressive agenda and advocates of legislative efforts to roll back the New Deal labor

reforms. The crowning achievement of these efforts was the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which gutted the NLRA and, among other things, opened the door for “rightto-work” legislation at the state level. The N.C. General Assembly immediately passed North Carolina’s “right-to-work” law, which helped stifle labor organization in the state for the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond. Today, 30 years after the devastating Hamlet fire, North Carolina faces another crossroads in moral leadership, one in which the precarity of those who bring food to our tables has again been laid bare. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “essential workers” across the food chain have been compelled to keep working despite great risks to their own health. As a result, in the first year of the pandemic at least half a million farmworkers nationwide caught the deadly virus, and at least 9,000 died. Here in North Carolina, conservative estimates widely believed to represent a significant undercount put the numbers at 5,856 infections and 24 deaths. Meanwhile, researchers have found that North Carolinians living in meatpacking counties faced statistically higher rates of COVID-19 death than those of us in non-meatpacking counties. If anything, the pandemic has laid bare the absurdity of recognizing workers as essential, but refusing to protect them. How will our leaders respond to this moment of sacrifice and struggle? Will they stand with those who seek to further the injustice wrought on food chain workers only to protect their own agricultural

“How will our leaders respond to this moment of sacrifice and struggle?”

business interests? Will they continue to foment a political culture that has enabled a long history of stifling action against workers’ rights? Or will they instead step up, as their predecessors did following the Hamlet fire, and work to protect those whose labor sustains us all? As the 2021 N.C. Farm Act wends its way through the state House, we call on House representatives to strip the bill of all of its anti-worker stipulations, including all language making it harder for workers to prevail when pursuing a private right of action. If the General Assembly fails to protect workers’ rights, we urge Governor Roy Cooper to veto the bill. Beyond the Farm Act, we implore North Carolinians to root out anti-worker corruption in the General Assembly. It’s time we push our elected officials in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., to protect workers from abuse and enshrine our right to organize and bargain collectively with our employers. W Nathan T. Dollar is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. His research lies at the intersection of migration, labor, and population health. He also serves on the governing board for the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program. Kevin Gomez-Gonzalez is a student at the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism. His stories cover labor, particularly in industries with predominantly Latino workforces. He is an intern with the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center. Angela Stuesse is a cultural anthropologist at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill and author of the award-winning book Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South. @astuesse INDYweek.com

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PHOTO SERIES 6

Transfer Co. Drag Brunch

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Queen City Pride is back and in 2021, it’s as fierce as ever! At downtown Raleigh’s Transfer Co. this weekend, Triangle queens Alexandra Vittz, Erica Chanel, Giselle Cassidy Carter, Jada J Agave, and Chloe Cassidy steamed up the afternoon with show-stopping performances while DJ Luxe Posh spun the tunes. Guests mingled at mixedup tables and enjoyed food from Transfer Co. vendors. A portion of proceeds from the acclaimed photographer Steven Paul Whitsitt’s photo booth will benefit the LGBT Center of Raleigh. W

PHOTOS BY BRETT VILLENA

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Chapel Hill

The Exodus The consequences of faculty members of color leaving UNC-Chapel Hill go far beyond lost scholarship BY ELLIE HEFFERNAN backtalk@indyweek.com

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he stakes keep rising as the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees remains silent around its decision to deny tenure to the acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The university may soon see a sizable Black exodus—a direct response to the board’s decision that many say will harm UNC’s scholarship and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Black community. At a meeting of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Black Caucus last week, 70 percent of faculty members in attendance said they are considering leaving the university. More than 60 percent are actively searching for a job outside the institution. Although just fewer than 30 people attended the meeting, it doesn’t lessen the magnitude of such statements, says Dawna Jones, assistant dean of students and chair of the UNC-CH Carolina Black Caucus. “One is too many, right now. We are often working to continue to recruit Black faculty, Black staff, and students to UNC-Chapel Hill, to create a more representative body and a more inclusive body for the university as a whole,” Jones says. “And no matter if it’s one or 100 faculty or staff who are intending to leave, that’s just too many. This is a situation that we believe certainly could have been avoided, and we hope that this wrong against Nikole Hannah-Jones will be righted by the Board of Trustees.” Hannah-Jones’ tenure denial brought to light a more systemic, endemic issue impacting Black faculty and staff, says Jones. Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellow, is as credentialed, or more so, than former Knight Chair holders, yet she’s the first candidate ever not offered tenure. “Black faculty and staff, students, and alumni can attest to a history of micro-aggressions, of feeling undermined or under-

valued,” Jones told the INDY. “This particular situation highlights circumstances where the goalpost keeps getting moved when it comes to Black folks in general. There is one set of rules, it seems, and we’ve worked through and worked toward whatever those sets of rules are to meet that goal, and in [this case] we see that goal post was moved. And so, it just shows for us the systemic nature of being undervalued either via our scholarship, but also our humanity as Black people.” When Black professors, faculty, and students make up such a small portion of the UNC community, a single departure can have a large impact. In 2019, there were eight Black women serving as full-time, tenured professors at UNC and 23 serving as tenured associate professors, the INDY reported. This means about half a percent of full-time professors with tenure are Black women. Only about eight percent of UNC’s student body is composed of Black students. One Black student who has been outspoken is Lamar Richards, UNC’s student body president. Richards said in a tweet that he firmly supports incoming undergraduates of color who are reconsidering attending UNC. “I love my people too much and UNC is not worthy of us. Period,” Richards said. He elaborated in an open letter to the UNC community, where he wrote that racial oppression continues to flow through the university and that Carolina is “not prepared for the ‘reckoning’ of which it continues to speak.” “Our student body president is living his values as a leader,” Jones says. “And he is being honest about what his experience has been, what he has heard from his constituents in the Black community. And he chose to be honest with what he thinks the expe-

UNC–Chapel Hill

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

rience could be for people considering coming into the institution at this time.” Although Jones says she hopes the board will call the vote to consider Hannah-Jones for tenure, she says she does not know whether sharing intentions to leave the university will impact trustees’ decisions. Regardless of the outcome of Hannah-Jones’ tenure case, UNC has not yet made a serious commitment to antiracism, Jones says, which is not true for all universities. “No matter where you go, there are going to be some kinds of challenges,” Jones says. “But I think there are opportunities out there that are with institutions or with employers that have a serious focus on antiracism and a plan to break down the systemic barriers that have been put up around people of color.” The consequences of Black faculty leaving will likely reach beyond UNC’s campus. Because many Black staff and faculty live nearby, the board’s inaction could potentially lead to further population decline in the historic Northside neighborhood, Jones says. The university already bears partial responsibility for Northside’s recent gentrification, largely due to growing interest from college students who appreciate the neighborhood’s proximity to campus, character, and comparatively affordable rent prices. But living in Northside is becoming less affordable for longtime residents. The Marian Cheek Jackson Center, which advocates on behalf of local historically Black neighborhoods and their residents, told the INDY in May that the property owners they work with will pay 53 percent more on average this year in property taxes. In

a neighborhood that saw its Black population decline by more than 40 percent from 1980 to 2010, every departure is a loss, says Jones, who is also president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, not only in terms of scholarship. “What they pour into our community members is just as important,” Jones says. “We see a lot of connections to the NAACP, to the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, and many other different spaces. And so when we lose faculty and staff at the university level, we also lose that commitment to community and that is where it becomes really drastic and sad.” The board’s decisions may have unprecedented ramifications for all members of the university’s faculty, says Mimi Chapman, chair of the faculty at UNC. This weekend, she sent a letter to all members of the university’s faculty urging them to speak out in support of hiring Hannah-Jones with tenure. For Chapman, this controversy is different from any that has happened at UNC before—even Silent Sam. “[On Silent Sam], there were differing opinions,” she says “On this, there is really no differing opinion. I have heard from faculty members all over campus saying this is outrageous. If it happens to this person, it could happen to somebody who’s studying something in the hard sciences that is controversial or becomes politicized. It could happen to someone who’s studying climate. It could happen to someone else who studies race and uses critical race theory. It could happen to all manner of scholars on our campus.” W INDYweek.com

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Durham

Her Best Self For Pride Month, Durham DA Satana Deberry discusses life as a queer woman, justice for all, and her inspiration BY GRACE ABELS backtalk@indyweek.com

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n the eighth floor of the Durham courthouse, a beige tower that is home to the county’s criminal justice system, you will find the office of District Attorney Satana Deberry. With colorful pillows and local art on every wall, her office seems out of place in the drab building. But Deberry, a Black queer woman, hasn’t been a typical prosecutor. She oversees a system that often entangles people that look just like her. But she is the one running it—and trying to change it. Studies have found that LGBTQ people, like people of color, are disproportionately harmed by our justice system. Deberry, elected in 2018 on a mandate of criminal justice reform, has brought a unique understanding of the LGBTQ community to the DA’s office. In an interview for Pride Month, she spoke with The 9th Street Journal about her life as a queer woman and her feelings about representation and justice. We all have idols that shape us. In a framed photo tucked into the corner of her office, Deberry memorializes hers: Barbara Jordan. Jordan, a towering figure in the 1970s, was one of the first Black women to serve in the Texas State Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. She, like Deberry, was unafraid to challenge the status quo. During President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearing, Jordan famously declared: “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder.” 10

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While she never publicly revealed her sexuality, Jordan lived with a partner for 20 years until she died in 1996. “I wanted to be Barbara Jordan,” says Deberry. “Barbara Jordan was the first Black woman that I saw that I knew.”

Building a life With Barbara Jordan in mind, young Deberry chased excellence in school. She decided good grades would be her path out of Hamlet, N.C.—a town of 6,000 between Charlotte and Fayetteville. It worked. Her determination and focus on academics carried her all the way to Princeton and through law school at Duke University. To this day, she still doesn’t “see light blue.” She was always focused on her studies, so it wasn’t until her mid- to late 20s, after graduating from law school, that Deberry began to understand her own sexuality. “It started to occur to me that I had to build a life. And how was I going to build that life?” She realized there was only one option. “It was never a case that I wasn’t going to be out. Because that’s just not who I am,” she says. The core values of openness and transparency that she brings to her office stem from her own disposition. “I’m always trying to be my best self. And so, I don’t really think of being myself as being brave. I mean, that’s what we’re all doing.” When she came out, her parents were not surprised. “We already knew that,”

Satana Deberry

PHOTO BY BECCA SCHNEID

they told her matter-of-factly, “so you should probably tell us something new.” Her parents were supportive, but for her mother, queer life was associated with tragedy. Deberry’s aunt, who today would likely identify as trans, lived a dangerous life and was ultimately killed. “I think for my parents, especially for my mother, that was the only kind of life you could have as a queer person … on the edges of society.” Deberry worked for a few years as a criminal lawyer before taking jobs at various nonprofit groups like Self-Help and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Then from 2013 to 2018, she served as the head of N.C. Housing Coalition—all while raising three daughters as a single mother. In 2018, she was elected the county’s chief prosecutor by promising bold reform. Rejecting the hard-line approach of many district attorneys, she vowed to put less emphasis on non-violent crime and said she would address racial bias in the system. Black women account for a tiny share of the nation’s DAs. In 2014, 79 percent of elected prosecutors were white men, and only one percent were women of color. Talking to Deberry, who sports hoop earrings and blue Adidas tennis shoes, it

becomes clear that she has not made it to the eighth floor in spite of her intersecting identities, but rather because of them. “Because I come at this from a cultural position of traditionally being powerless, I feel like I understand what’s at stake in a different way,” she says. District attorneys wield tremendous power in deciding which criminal cases get prosecuted. Unlike many prosecutors, her identity as a Black, queer woman overlaps with many of those likely to be involved in our imbalanced criminal justice system. She says she brings her unique perspective to her work. “There are just experiences in my life, certainly as a queer person, that inform the decisions I make and the policies that we implement here.”

‘The worst day of their lives’ During her time as DA, Deberry has limited the use of cash bail, scaled back prosecution of school-based offenses, and focused on prosecuting violent crimes rather than low-level drug possession charges. She says these policies work


“The dirty little secret of the criminal justice system is that not only are all the defendants poor Black and Brown people, but the victims are as well.” to reduce the jail population and keep vulnerable people out of the criminal justice system. She also recognizes the way the system harms LGBTQ people. According to the most recent National Inmate Survey, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are three times as likely to be incarcerated, and a third of all women in prison identify as queer. Studies show transgender people are more likely to be incarcerated at some point in their lives. This rate is even higher for LGBTQ youth, who make up 20 percent of the juvenile justice system. LGBTQ people also are disproportionately victims of violent crime. The Williams Institute found they were four times as likely to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault. Deberry knows the statistics—and the challenges they reflect. “The dirty little secret of the criminal justice system is that not only are all the defendants poor Black and Brown people, but all the victims are as well,” she says. “So being poor, being Black, being Brown, being LGBTQ, all of those things put you in a situation in this country of just having access to fewer resources.” To combat these disparities, her office uses a broader definition of domestic violence than does the state government, to include same-sex dating couples. Her office also recognizes people by their chosen gender identity, a respect not common in the criminal justice system. And their special victims unit, which focuses on sexual assault, now handles cases in which someone is targeted due to race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender presentation. “If that is part of the crime, we talk about it,” Deberry says. She wants to bring humanity to a system that can be insensitive and biased. “The way that the system acts is to reduce people to the worst day of their lives,” says Deberry, “and there’s so much focus on that particular act that we don’t spend a lot of time focused on the person.”

If Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy For Deberry, her choice of the word queer reflects her belief that sexuality and identity are about more than who you love. “For me, queer is about culture, and about a worldview.” As Deberry has gotten older (she is now 52), she has noticed that her queerness has ruffled fewer feathers. “It’s been interesting to me how little it comes up in this role,” she says. Most people just don’t know or don’t ask—she is not sure which. “I think that the real stick in the system is that I’m a Black woman. I think that is what really pisses people off.” But to Deberry, her work is all part of a larger goal. “When you’re growing up in a Black family, there’s a saying, ‘If Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.’ And really the truth of the world is that if Black women, Black queer women, and Black trans women are safe, then everybody is safe.” She is working to create that world for her three daughters—two are 16 and one is 19—who predominantly communicate in TikToks and GIFs. They, too, have offered Deberry a window into the evolving queer community. “For my kids’ friends, they just try on a lot more things. They have friends who are pan, and friends who are trans, and friends who are nonbinary. They have friends who have already transitioned genders,” says Deberry. “In that sense, I think those kids are brave.” The life she has led was not one that many people could have envisioned when she was first coming out, she says. But today, “you get to be anybody as a queer woman.” This is what pride means for her: “Representation matters. And, you know, you hear people say, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ I don’t necessarily believe that, but I do know that somewhere out there, seeing me is meaningful to somebody—just like seeing Barbara Jordan was meaningful to me. And so that’s really what pride means for me. That you get to see the full range of who you get to possibly be.”W INDYweek.com

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Durham Maggie Bryant PHOTO BRETT VILLENA

N.C. Central’s Centenarian The university’s oldest living graduate turns 106 next month BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

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he morning sun rose early last Friday and by noon it was hotter than a red Porsche in the projects. Despite the broiling temperatures, there was a touch of revelry in the air. A small group of people had gathered at the Durham home of the late N.C. Central University founder James E. Shepard. They were dressed in their Sunday best to witness the taking of an official photograph of the school’s oldest living graduate, Maggie Poole Bryant. Bryant, who graduated in 1938, today lives less than a block from the school. She will celebrate her 106th birthday on July 2. The finely-turned-out group that had gathered to celebrate Bryant reminded this writer of an observation by 12

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the poet Ntozake Shange in her 1984 poem, “Madison Square Garden.” We dress up, we dress up because we got good manners/ We honor our guests even if it costs us all we got...It’s just, when you got an audience with the Pope you want to look your best. And no doubt about it: Maggie Poole Bryant is NCCU royalty. The diminutive woman stands barely five feet tall and weighs less than 120 pounds. It was about 12:30 p.m. when she arrived at Shepard House on Fayetteville Street with Andre Vann, the school’s archivist and historian. “The photograph will be shared on all of the university’s platforms on her birthday,” Vann said.

The gentle, bespectacled centenarian was impeccably dressed in the school’s colors. She wore a maroon button-down blouse with a ruffled front, matching earrings, and gray houndstooth trousers. Bryant spent the previous day with friend Cheryl Brown, who took her to a beauty salon to get her hair done into a swirling spray of silver-gray curls pulled back from her forehead and touching her shoulders. Brown says that the day before the school took its official photo of Bryant, she picked her up around 10:45 a.m. and got her back home around four. “She actually asked if she could get her nails done,” Brown said. “I said, ‘of course.’ It was her first time going to the salon since COVID, and things are getting back to normal.” Bryant uses a cane to get around. She has a slight stoop and wore black, sensible, flat-bottomed shoes that spoke of the 43 years she worked as a high school English teacher and librarian before retiring in 1982. Someone asked Bryant how she was doing as she leaned on the arm of Vann and ambled up the concrete driveway of the Shepard House. “I’m trying to be good,” Bryant replied. “I feel good.” Prior to taking her official photo, Bryant participated in an interview with Vann. “I am Maggie Poole Bryant,” she said by way of introduction, “and I am the oldest alumna at North Carolina Central University. I have lived through World War I, the 1918 epidemic, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, 9-11, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.” In a word, Bryant said her long life was “unexpected;” her parents did not expect her to survive childbirth because she was born prematurely. Bryant said the key to her longevity has been to “eat what your body needs, not what it wants, exercise, walk” and “use the body and the brain.” “I read the Bible,” she added. “Like they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Notably absent from Bryant’s secret to her longevity was any talk of marriage or children, both of which have worried a great many people to death, the world over. According to the NCCU archives, Bryant was the oldest child and only daughter of four children born to Robert Kelley and Maggie Poole Bryant in Rocky Mount. Although she was born in Rocky Mount, her roots in Durham ran deep even then. She was named after her mother and great-grandmother, Margaret “Maggie” Faucette, who founded the White Rock Baptist Church in 1866. The church still stands on Fayetteville Street. Her eyes lit up with memory recalling the city’s Hayti district during its heyday. “There were all these businesses and people enjoying their home life,” she said. “We had a lot of fun, and we had a lot of different stores. Believe it or not, they used to have a Kroger (grocery) in Hayti. What else? Cafes, a bakery, doctors, and pharmacists.”


In 1910, Shepard, a Raleigh native and pharmacist who attended Shaw University, founded the private National Religious Training School and Chautauqua in the Hayti District. Two of Bryant’s aunts were members of the inaugural class. One of those aunts lived 101 years. The Great Depression had ended by the time Bryant graduated from Rocky Mount’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1934. She earned a scholarship to NCCU, which was then called the North Carolina College for Negroes. She studied history and library science. According to the school’s archive, Bryant’s class was the first to graduate from B.N. Duke Auditorium, which was completed in 1937 by the Public Works Administration as a project during FDR’s New Deal era. Bryant earned bachelor’s degrees in history and library science and, later, a master’s degree from the university. She worked as an English teacher and librarian at G.C. Hawley High School—now a middle school—in Creedmoor and later at George Washington Carver High School in Kannapolis. Maggie Bryant’s civic-minded younger brother, R. Kelly Bryant, worked with many of Durham’s most prominent Black companies and community organizations, including the N.C. Mutual Insurance Company, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. In 2010, the city of Durham dedicated the R. Kelly Bryant Bridge that frames the southern entrance into the city on Highway 147. After sitting in a Victorian-style chair for her official photo, Maggie Bryant sat in front of an antique Gulbransen player piano. The mood shifted after her photograph was taken. Bryant’s friends and family asked her to play the piano. “We are going to light up the world on your birthday, Ms. Bryant!” Vann told her. “We are going to party like it’s 1999!” someone else chimed in. “I wish I could play,” Bryant said before gamely picking out a few chords. Undeterred and ever the optimist, Vann told her, “Ms. Bryant, you’ve been holding out!” She smiled. A woman who lives in a community where young people are being violently cut down in the prime of their lives doesn’t live for more than 100 years by pretending to herself—or anyone else for that matter. “No, I haven’t,” she quietly answered. No, she certainly hasn’t been holding out. Maggie Bryant’s existence has been the essence of a life well-lived. She has given it her all. Happy birthday, Ms. Maggie! W

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Orange County

Crunching Numbers Where will your tax money go this year if you live in Orange County? We break it down for you. BY SARA PEQUEÑO spequeno@indyweek.com

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he past year’s COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice protests and subsequent calls to defund the police have left many local governments in a tough position—and Orange County, and the county’s municipalities, are no exceptions. Orange already has some of the highest municipal tax rates in North Carolina and living in one of its larger towns can mean paying more than $1 for every $100 you spend on property or other goods. This year, while both Orange County and Chapel Hill tax rates are dropping by a few cents, property revaluations mean residents could still end up paying more.

Orange County The Orange County Board of Commissioners approved a $240.7 million budget last week on a 6-1 vote. Commissioner Mark Dorosin, who will move to Florida this summer to take a position at Florida A&M College of Law, was the lone dissenter due to the budget’s removal of a multi-million dollar project that would have expanded Durham Tech’s Orange County campus from the county’s capital improvement fund. He called the move a “tragic misstep.” “It’s inconsistent with everything we talk about related to education, social justice, economic equity, diversity, economic development,” Dorosin said, “and I’m heartbroken that the board has decided to pull the plug on this right now.” Commissioner Renee Price voted to approve the capital improvement funds, but also noted her disappointment. 14

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Following a property tax revaluation this year, the Orange County tax rate will be 81.87 cents for every $100, five cents less than last year’s pre-revaluation rate, but residents will likely pay more in terms of real dollars because property values have increased across the board. The county continues to spend more than $4,000 per child in its school systems each year. The sheriff’s budget also increased by more than $650,000 because Orange County made Juneteenth a paid employee holiday.

Chapel Hill Chapel Hill’s Town Council approved a $116.7 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a 5 percent increase over last year’s budget. Despite this jump, one of the most notable changes to the town’s budget compared to previous years is, as with Orange County, a decrease in the property tax rate by three cents. Again, residents will still likely pay more overall. As the INDY reported in May, property revaluations shocked many lower-income residents in the historically Black Northside neighborhood, whose values went up dramatically despite their homes remaining unchanged for years. The Marian Cheek Jackson Center has been helping dozens of neighbors file appeals to correct the record. The council is still exploring the possibility of creating a fund to assist retirees with their property taxes. “Property taxes is an under-regarded element of affordability, living in a place like Chapel Hill,” Council member Allen Buansi said at the June 9 meeting.

Northside Neighborhood in Chapel Hill Some of the town’s increased spending will be geared toward returning Chapel Hill to its normal cycle, including the three percent increase in town employees’ salaries. During the pandemic, wages were frozen and a hiring freeze was implemented alongside other new safety measures. The salary increase is a response to market rate, but Town Manager Maurice Jones also frames it as a “thank you” to the employees for observing the safety protocols. The budget also gets close to a near$300,000 personnel increase, thanks to the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer position. Shenekia Weeks, a former district administrator working with foster kids in Surry and Stokes counties, was hired to the position in June. Chapel Hill is one of the rare municipalities that doesn’t spend the majority of its budget on police operations (that title goes to transit, thanks to the town’s free bus system). The town is also one of the few that cut its police budget this year, eliminating 15 vacant officer positions it had previously planned to fill, as well as a 20 percent decrease in spending on special events, such as Halloween

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

on Franklin Street. The department also plans to hire an additional crisis counselor to work with vulnerable populations in the area. There will also be a decrease in funding for the Chapel Hill Public Library, but only because the group received a one-time grant in the previous fiscal year.

Hillsborough and Carrboro Hillsborough’s Board of Commissioners will wait until next week to solidify its budget but employees across the board are likely to receive 3.25 percent merit raises that were frozen last year, plus $1,000 cost of living adjustments. Police officers could also receive higher starting salaries to bring their pay in line with compensation in neighboring municipalities. Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson will present tax rate options to the board at its June 28 meeting. Carrboro’s Town Council was to vote on its budget after the INDY went to print, but before it hit newsstands. The budget will likely include a notable 75 percent increase to the town’s Climate Action plan. W


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Raleigh

Fighting Fires The City of Raleigh is to settle a lawsuit this week that alleged racial discrimination against a Black division chief in the fire department who says he was denied promotions because of his race. BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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he City of Raleigh hired its first Black firefighter in 1963. He served for three years before resigning. The second Black firefighter, Welton Jones, rose through the ranks to lieutenant before his retirement in 1988. Kevin Coppage was only the third African American ever promoted to the rank of division chief in Raleigh. Last week, he resigned. A lawsuit he filed against the city in 2020 alleging he’d been denied promotions due to his race should be settled this week. Raleigh has long lagged behind in hiring minorities in the fire department. As of 2019, just 15 percent of the firefighters in Raleigh were Black despite the fact that the city is 30 percent African American. The lack of diversity was nothing new. In 2007, Jones spoke before the city council, concerned about the continued lag in hiring Black recruits. “They kept hiring whites,” Jones said, according to a WRAL article at the time. “Then, when I would complain about it, they would stick a Black in every now and then.” The department hired Coppage in 1994. He had returned from the Marine Corps, where he served in the Gulf War. Steadily, he rose up the ranks. In 2009 he was named “Firefighter of the Year,” by American Legion Post 1. Coppage was promoted to captain, and then division chief, to become only the third African American promoted to that level. But for every promotion Coppage received, there were many for which he felt he was overlooked in favor of less-qualified white candidates, according to the lawsuit. In 2012, Coppage applied to be a training academy coordinator, but the job went to Brad Harvey, a firefighter Coppage had

actually personally trained. Coppage was denied another promotion that year, and again in 2015 and 2017, jobs he claims went to less-experienced white coworkers before he was promoted to the rank of division chief in 2017. Despite his decorated career, Coppage suffered PTSD from his Marine Corps service which led him to drink. On March 4, 2019, Coppage was charged with driving under the influence. He alerted his superiors, who at first seemed supportive. But the support quickly soured, Coppage says. “I was embarrassed. I was at the lowest point of my life,” Coppage told the INDY. “It seemed like every day I went to work I was in one of the chief’s offices, either the chief or my boss. I really felt that the microscope had honed in.” Less than three weeks later, the department published a slate of new policies, including a new rule to deny promotion to employees who had been charged and convicted of DUIs. While the other policies published were dated effective March 21, the DUI policy had been backdated to March 1. “[The department] backdated it specifically to target me,” Coppage says. Coppage applied to be an assistant chief later that year, but was denied due to his DUI conviction. The white man who was hired “had less relevant educational experience, fewer relevant credentials, and less professional experience,” than Coppage. A month later, Coppage applied to be division chief of service and lost out on the job again to a less-qualified white candidate, the lawsuit says. In December of 2019, Coppage filed two grievances with the city, claiming

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

racial discrimination as the reason he lost out on promotions and alleging that the backdated DUI policy constituted harassment and discrimination. Four months later, in March of last year, Coppage filed the lawsuit claiming racial discrimination had created a hostile work environment in violation of the Civil Rights Act. Coppage has been on leave from the department ever since on “administrative duty.” The city declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by the INDY last week. Coppage’s story, while troubling, is not unique. Nationwide, fire departments lag in hiring non-white candidates, the subject of numerous op-eds. In 2018, International Association of Black Professional Firefighters president Addington Stewart penned an op-ed for The New York Times confronting systemic bigotry within the industry. “I’ve served 35 years as a firefighter, and the racism today is as bad as I can remember,” Stewart wrote. Just last year, North White Plains fire chief Andrew Seicol penned his own editorial, opposing negative reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement. “We must acknowledge the presence of systemic racism and the numerous forms it takes in society and, more specifically, the fire service,” Seicol wrote. “We must admit that it exists in our house.”

Raleigh is not ready to clean house, it seems, but rather hoped to settle the lawsuit quietly. Since filing the complaint, Coppage received a series of threatening and harassing text messages from anonymous numbers that the INDY viewed. In February, a year after filing his lawsuit, Coppage got a text warning, “if you try to come back, I got about 5 complaints that will hit HR’s desk that first day. Would strongly advise against it.” In April, he received another, with a link to the lawsuit. “You were a division chief. Race didn’t hold you back. You’re on crack,” the text read. “Harassing women and men in the department is what held you back and got you fired. Dumb ass.” That lawsuit will be settled this week, according to Coppage’s attorney Joe Budd. Coppage agreed to take a voluntary dismissal “in pursuant to a settlement reached between the parties,” Budd said. Coppage tendered his resignation on June 18, the day after the INDY emailed the city asking for comment on the then-active lawsuit. Budd was tight-lipped about the terms of the agreement but said the settlement did not undermine the basis for the lawsuit. “Kevin is standing by his story,” Budd told the INDY. “None of that is a retraction in any way.”W INDYweek.com

June 23, 2021

15


M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: QUIETLY BLOWING IT

[Merge Records; June 25]

Getting Personal

On his tenth album, Hiss Golden Messenger is still searching— but this time, he’s not looking to explain anything to anyone but himself BY MADELINE CRONE

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music@indyweek.com

“M

aking this record didn’t heal me or cure me,” Hiss Golden Messenger’s M. C. Taylor says. He’s talking about Quietly Blowing It, his new album due June 25 via Merge Records. The release, his tenth, is another entry in an unrelenting pursuit of answers to existential questions. Sitting on his back patio in Durham, Taylor looks out at the lush treeline. Miscellaneous toys are strewn about the backyard, dusted by late spring’s yellow haze. “This isn’t the beginning or the end of an experience,” Taylor continues. “This record—like all of my records—is a charting of experiences that are both intensely personal, but in some ways, universal. Like who doesn’t occasionally consider whether they

might have spent the last five years doing something else?” Leaning back in a wrought-iron chair, he extends his arm, revealing a canvas of eclectic ink indicative of a true road warrior. At a closer glance, though, some of the tattoos read more like badges of honor, spelling out names—”Abby,” “Elijah,” and “Ione,” the names of his wife, son, and daughter. His rocker stylings are also threatened by the fluorescent bike helmet at his feet on the patio, graffitied with weather-worn chalk etchings, and as he reflects on the context of the album creation, Taylor further softens. When the pandemic swept the nation in mid-March, last year, Taylor was already home. He had sidelined himself, months earlier, while touring his Grammy-nominated album Terms of Surrender in the UK. Burned out on road life, he canceled the remaining Australian tour dates and headed back to North Carolina to “find peace.” “I’ve created a lot this year,” he says. By “a lot,” he glosses over a bounty of unannounced recording projects and songwriting unfathomable to even a considerably productive person. “But I’ve been dealing with more anxiety, depression, listlessness, [and] feeling more adrift than at any time in my life. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.” Though he’s accrued plenty of evidence of the hours spent in his home studio—an 8’ x10’ cinder block basement enclosure—Taylor still wonders where the time went. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the moments of work and creation are so joyful, and the moments of anxiety and depression feel sticky, like moving in slow motion,” he says. “And so the joyful moments feel like they’re just flying by—there’s no thinking involved.” Quietly Blowing It came into fruition pieceby-piece. Between March and June, Taylor wrote nearly two dozen tracks from his home. He was joined by an impressive roster of collaborators, including Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow, Nashville guitar great Buddy Miller, and producer/musician Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman. Taylor sat in the production seat when they recorded the album at Overdub Lane in Durham over a week in July 2020. “I wasn’t chronicling anything that was going on outside our collective windows,” Taylor says of the 11 songs on the album. “But it’s all in there, somehow.” As to what was going on outside that one rather small studio window, he cites


the broad strokes in an essay, “Mourning in America,” that he wrote about the album: “Class and money and work. Alienation, disorientation, miscommunication, and self-hatred. Climate change.” Also, the positive inverse of all that, too: “Locating hope and inspiration in small moments and movements. Living productively. Making family. Finding and offering sanctuary. Time as a healing agent.” It’s hard to deny that the album is steeped in political overtones, but this blended perspective may be the source of its resonance—a unifying alchemy that can be found only when the personal is applied to the whole. Weary listeners might hear echoes of debilitating uncertainty in “If It Comes in the Morning” while the harmonica-driven “Hardlytown” pulls a page from Bob Dylan’s book. Through his paternal lens, Taylor considers how much we owe one another, hoping the lessons he shares with his children of being a good neighbor are not lost on the self-serving nature of modernity. In the title track, Taylor traces missteps over Miller’s undeniable guitar riffs. Lyrically, he concludes: It was good while it lasted / But that ain’t the answer/ You gotta let someone in / That’s all that’ll save you.

As he listened, he sought a gut feeling, one that answered his seemingly simple criterion:

“Does it feel good?” In the silence this year, he reflected on the purpose of his artistry. In continuing to create, he wondered, whose opinions should he allow to dictate the art? The result of that introspection, Taylor says, is “music that feels much deeper and more out than I’ve ever gone before. It makes me want to keep exploring.” His first single from the record, “Sanctuary,” has floated atop the Americana charts since its release in January. From a business perspective, Taylor says he understands the purpose that Americana serves as a label. But he finds humor in the categorization. As a listener, his days are filled with music. None of it, he says, is singer-songwriter music. Since his 2008 debut, Country Hai East Cotton, the influence of records that others might not consider Americana has continu-

ously crept in—amalgamating in something reflective of the Orange County, California, native’s journey to this point. “Even this far into my music career, I still fall prey to wanting to make music or records that sound like records I love, instead of following my gut on what people are going to believe, coming from me,” says Taylor. “Maybe I listen to Exile on Main Street and think, I want to make a song like that. And I do. But there’s something off; it just doesn’t feel believable. So I have to acknowledge that. Otherwise, I have this nagging sense of regret, pretending to be something that I’m not.” Taylor points to Curtis Mayfield’s steadfast influence as one that still feels genuine. It’s where he learned the double-tracked falsetto he employs in his artistry.

“When I do it, I don’t think it’s a lie,” says Taylor. “His records are ones I’ve come back to my entire life and examine how he was doing what he did. His music can be easy, groovin’, challenging all while saying things that really cut you.” Mayfield’s musicianship manifests itself in the R&B tones of “It Will If We Let It”—a soulful apology to his wife, Abby. “Hardlytown” hosts a lyrical nod to the icon’s 1965 album People Get Ready. Looking back from another era of unrest, Taylor reinterprets Mayfield’s hope in the line People, get ready / There’s a big ship coming. To keep authenticity in check, Taylor routinely returned to his tunes while he was recording. As he listened, he sought a gut feeling, one that answered his seemingly simple criterion: “Does it feel good?” “I hear a concentrated and condensed version of myself filtering through the smoke of America on Quietly Blowing It that feels kindred; I hear myself talking to myself,” he says. “It feels like the most personal album that I’ve made because I’m not trying to explain anything to anyone except myself.” He’s not pointing fingers here. Who is Quietly Blowing It, you might ask? Well. That’s up to the listener. W

INDYweek.com

June 23, 2021

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M U SIC

Starry Nights From pastoral fingerpicking to prom-dance hooks, Durham’s musical range shines in new releases BY HARRIS WHELESS, BRIAN HOWE, AND DAN RUCCIA music@indyweek.com

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SAM FULLER-SMITH: PIEDMONT PASTIMES [Self-released; June 18] HHH1/2

TREEE CITY: THE WAY [Maison Fauna; June 18] HHHH

The ultimate track on Durham musician Sam Fuller-Smith’s Piedmont Pastimes, “In the Shadow Of the Cardinal’s Wing,” arrives at a kind of album thesis: amid the chime of electric and acoustic guitars, one lagging behind the other like two sets of distant church bells, Fuller-Smith sings, “I was born here but I’m not really from here / Not a native nor a stranger.” The abiding theme here is a tension between the native and the outsider; being in but not of a spatial, internal, or musical world. On title track “Piedmont Pastimes,” Fuller-Smith balances delicate fingerpicking with questions of personal and musical belonging: “Have you been to Surry County? / Did you ever swim Little Fisher River?” … “Can you hear the voices of Doc Watson and Elizabeth Cotten / in your dreams?” The album is replete with lush folk country touches—banjo accents on “Your Song,” for instance, and the slow hum of an electric guitar on “It Takes A Long Time.” Lyrically, Fuller-Smith tosses off several nice turns of phrase—“like throwing diamonds into a well” and “when spring was opening the blinds”—that evoke a quiet pastoralism. “All right, we’re rolling, Jules. You ready?” the singer asks at the start of “Evening Blues (with Jules).” Here, we are given an over-the-shoulder shot of a father’s dialogue with his newborn son. But in other places, the subject of his address shifts to the listener, or to the singer himself, “…making you believe / You could be somebody else.” These songs recall those you might find on a ’70s private press folk record—maybe Jeff Cowell or a Robert Lester Folsom. The production is crisper, here, but it features the same esoteric yearning, as if a veil hangs between the listener and the full-bodied force of the singer’s melancholy. The very name of the record suggests a desire to codify the personal and the traditional. It’s a desire that lends Piedmont Pastimes a cohesive structure, one which guides us through to this pleasant aural journey’s end. —Harris Wheless

As Treee City, the Durham DJ and techno producer Patrick Phelps-McKeown specializes in throwback rave and house music imbued with the immediacy of pop and hip-hop, and he’s been a consistent underground MVP in the city’s nightlife and electronic dance music culture. After cofounding the Party Illegal dance-party series, he collaborated with the rapper and singer Ace Henderson on the hip-house single “Tidal Wave.” It became the tentpole of Treee’s debut EP, Disco Completo, which was released by the Durham beat-music collective Raund Haus in 2018. Last year, he showed growth as both a pop producer and a solo artist, furnishing a breezy beat for M8alla’s R&B summer jam, “Mek Mi Anxious,” and landing a driving deep house anthem on Field Guide I, a vinyl compilation curated by Maison Fauna. Last Friday, those upstart Durham dance impresarios dropped Treee’s second EP, The Way, his best bid yet to get spun on the decks he’s been so stalwart behind. For someone with a Duck Dynasty-worthy beard, Treee keeps his music very close-shaven. He builds tracks from strafing layers of notched rhythms, two-note basses, and one-note pulses, the structures evolving yet unconfused. In “Ancient Grains,” he blends ambient chords into pouncing filter house and dollops it with a starry new wave top melody. Eventually, that prom-night hook meets a whooping vocal sample in a pocket between sweet and swaggering that’s pure Treee. “Liquidity” begins on the rugged microhouse terrain of Ricardo Villalobos before expanding a razor-thin timbral and harmonic range into a wide vista, the bass dipping lower and fuller, the mainspring arpeggio wasting away and surging back stronger. Then a filthy bass cinches the groove so it’s ready to be field-stripped and strewn across stereo space. “Mindsweeper’’ pulls the EP back to its most hectic and contained level, scudding by in a metallic skirl of tonality and glassy rave chords, before “Empty Sky” expands it to its most capacious. Shaker percussion, toy-xylophone lullabies, delay-kissed synth chords, a soul bass line, a


late-breaking G-funk hook, and more gather into an organic dub-techno dream that closes that closes Treee’s mini-opus on a note of limitless possibility. —Brian Howe MAGIC TUBER STRINGBAND: WHEN SORROWS ENCOMPASS ME ‘ROUND [Feeding Tube Records; June 25] HHHH Courtney Werner’s layered violin drones go on for over five minutes at the start of the new cassette by Durham’s Magic Tuber Stringband. They’re hardly ever static notes, though. They shift and shudder as if alive, changing their hue and density, driven by the bright flash of overtones as they subliminally trace the soon-tobe-revealed melody of the song. The moment is unique on the album— after a short pause, Werner and guitar/ banjo player Evan Morgan play a new, but ageless fiddle tune—but it is a fitting invocation. At every moment, the album seems to breathe with the vivacity of a million peripatetic creatures constantly alighting in different directions. On their last album (2019’s Wayward Airs for Earthbound Vagrants), the duo seemed to alternate between two distinct approaches: abstracted improvisations and old-time fiddle tunes. Here, those two modes seem much more closely enmeshed, with those abstracted textures buttressing the endlessly enjoyable songs they write. In “Waltz for Things with Wings,” Werner sighs and shimmers around Morgan’s stately waltz, giving it extra vibrance. When things pick up in the middle section, the two gently intertwine as the song picks up speed. Something similar happens in the hypnotic “Teo’s Farewell,” which careens forever forward in a shifting locked groove, peaking when Morgan pulls out a jaw harp and starts tapping his guitar with a mallet. More abstract moments become grounded with the sounds of wood thrushes or campfires or Werner’s voice singing a Tommy Jarrell song. When they do go more traditional, as in the Morgan-sung ballad “Once I Was a Falling Star,” the results are just as beautiful. I think I could listen to their closely harmonized instrumental counterpoint for a long time. Throughout, they fill every nook of their songs, showing just how much life two instruments can contain. —Dan Ruccia W INDYweek.com

June 23, 2021

19


STAGE

EVITA | HH1/2

Burning Coal Theatre Company | Dorothea Dix Park, through June 27 | burningcoal.org

Raleigh's Community Bookstore

The Evita cast

Listen to the latest podcasts on Bookin’

PHOTO COURTESY OF BURNING COAL THEATRE COMPANY

Gina Nutt, Night Rooms

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6.21

Events IN-STORE SPECIAL EVENT

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6.28

10-11AM

Meet and Greet with James Ponti, Golden Gate (City Spies #2) Ages 8+

TUE

6.29 7PM

Theodore Johnson, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America with Natalie Bullock Brown

Register for Quail Ridge Books Events Series at www.quailridgebooks.com. www.quailridgebooks.com • 919.828.1588 • North Hills 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh, NC 27609 Offering FREE Media Mail shipping and contactless pickup!

History Lessons An outdoor production of the musical Evita almost hits the right notes, but still has room to grow BY BYRON WOODS arts@indyweek.com

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rtistic director Jerome Davis hit the jackpot when he found the Spruill Building for Burning Coal Theatre’s outdoor production of Evita. The back courtyard of the space in Dorothea Dix Park still has the feel of institutional menace, and bars line every window of the dilapidated three-story brick building that used to house a psychiatric hospital. Two perimeters of chain-link fence with barbed wire barricade the only exit onto Umstead Drive. It’s a fitting venue for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which takes place in Argentina during the time of a strong-armed militia and centers on the rise of the mercurial, ambitious Eva Duarte, who catapulted from small-town obscurity to low-grade fame as a radio singer and actress before becoming first lady of Argentina and a world celebrity after her marriage to the charismatic military leader Juan Perón. Though historians have reassessed the level of calculation in the philanthropic work that secured her the love of millions, Tim Rice’s libretto still casts a jaded eye upon her motives. It’s no accident that he enlists the revolutionary icon Che Guevara as her implacable inquisitor and critic throughout the show’s two acts. But even with a venue this apt, a show still can’t just go coasting on its looks.Though veteran set designer Elizabeth Newton adorns lighting towers with union banners and patriotic bunting, this production leaves its set—a raked central platform—mysteriously empty. Only the audience’s imagination, and the occasional political poster, convey the seamy dressing rooms and swank nightclubs, the military garrisons and Argentinean halls of power that Eva and Juan Perón must negotiate. With such minimal stage design, Stacey Herrison’s costumes, including smart suits and dazzling evening wear for Iliana Rivera’s Eva, and a crisp tuxedo for Steven Roten’s charismatic Juan, go the farthest in this production to evoke the many layers of Argentinean society in the 1930s and 40s.

But if acting and music are left to anchor a musical that’s never fully grounded in a world, only the first was fully functional on opening night. Dancing, the third element of full-scale musicals, was dilatory and workmanlike in the absence of a choreographer. Rivera and Roten bring no shortage of the star quality Rice references in the early number “Buenos Aires.” The pair are abetted ably enough by George Jack’s smarmy cameo performance as vocalist Agustin Magaldi, and yeoman’s work from an ensemble of political operatives and fixers including the funny, ever-dubious Juan Isler. When Davis chooses to scatter the lines of Che Guevara among members of the ensemble instead of a single actor, the effect invests a voice of social and political conscience among the Argentinian people, and our own. Robert Kaufman’s carny roustabout and an expressive Alexandra Finazzio set the cynical tone in “Oh, What a Circus,” before James Merkle’s radio journalist needles the powerful in “Peron’s Latest Flame.” Ashley Keefe circles in for the kill as a backstage dresser who knows Eva’s vulnerabilities in “High Flying, Adored.” But Micah Meizlish’s muddy audio mix, bedeviled by intermittent wireless mikes, may well have exacerbated noticeable pitch problems throughout the cast. While musical director Diane Petteway is a local legend by now, untransposed songs buried vocalists beneath their range or coerced them beyond sustainable heights enough times to notice. Though individual numbers, including Rivera’s smoldering torch song, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” shone, musical issues needing additional management on opening night left the ultimate achievements of this show up in the air. If launching the first live regional run of a full-scale Broadway musical following a pandemic had to entail challenges well beyond business as usual, it can’t have helped that Evita is the third production Burning Coal has launched in the last two weeks—immediately after Second Stage productions of Girls and Boys and Nine Lives at Murphey School Auditorium. It’s hard doing everything simultaneously. Will less-overscheduled companies meet the daunting demands of upcoming full-scale musicals more fully? Stay tuned. W


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