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T S N I GA A LAUGH he t September 15, 2021

Endorsements: Our 2021 Durham Primary Picks

The Muslims make incendiary punk with a wild sense of humor. On their new album, they aren't holding back. by Jessica Kariisa, p. 14


Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 35

Young Hearts Distillery embraces traditional spirits and modern cuisine, p. 19 PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

CONTENTS NEWS 5

Bull City voters will likely elect Elaine O'Neal or Javiera Caballero as their next mayor—either way, they'll make history. BY THOMASI MCDONALD

FEATURE 8

Our 2021 Durham Mayor and City Council endorsements. BY JANE PORTER

ARTS & CULTURE 14

On their latest album, The Muslims have a clear message: Fuck these Fucking Fascists. BY JESSICA KARIISA 16 The Connells never stopped playing music—but their new album, Steadman's Wake, is the first in 20 years. BY BRIAN HOWE 19 Opened by the team behind Trophy Brewing Company, Young Hearts Distilling is a new distillery with an old soul. BY JOHN A. PARADISO 20 North Carolina sommelier star Paula de Pano is opening a principled new wine shop. BY SARAH EDWARDS 21 Chatting with author Walter Bennett about The Last First Kiss. BY FRED WASSER

THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes 12 Photo Series

COVER Photo by Brett Villena / Design by Jon Fuller

WE M A DE THIS PUBLI S HE RS Wake County

MaryAnn Kearns Durham/Orange/ Chatham Counties

John Hurld EDIT ORI A L Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West

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Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards Senior Writer Leigh Tauss Staff Writers Jasmine Gallup Thomasi McDonald Editorial Assistant Lena Geller Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

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Contributors Will Atkinson, Madeline Crone, Grant Golden, Lena Geller, 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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A D V E RTI S I N G

Creative Director

Wake County MaryAnn Kearns

Annie Maynard Graphic Designer

Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Brett Villena

Durham/Orange/ Chatham Counties John Hurld Sales Digital Director & Classifieds Mathias Marchington

C I RC U L ATI O N Berry Media Group

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BACK TA L K

Last week, Leigh Tauss wrote about North Carolina and how it’s the worst state to work in the nation, according to a study from the nonprofit Oxfam. That makes sense, as our $7.25 minimum wage, poor unemployment benefits system, and lack of worker protections truly does make it hard out there for the working man (or woman). Hoo boy, did our readers have thoughts.

From reader JENNIFER SOFO: “Your opinion is interesting. As a lifelong former resident of NJ, where unions are prevalent, property taxes astronomical, over population for a variety of reasons including safe haven sanctuary cities, toll roads everywhere, criminal car insurance prices and horrible infrastructure- something NJ has been working on with Fed money and increased toll roads/gas taxes for decades (to 0 change). NC is very appealing for those middle class families seeking affordable housing with low property tax, significantly reduced crowds/traffic allowing for much more work/life balance for workers, and more school choice with charter school options if your local school isn’t the right fit for your child’s needs, something unions prohibit. The assumption can only be made your article is meant to highlight the difference between working conditions for those states with government handouts vs those states without. You should due more research and be more objective in your writing or at least more honest in your reporting.” And from reader JERRY WOJENSKI: “Interesting article, however, just because minimum wage is set to the lowest threshold doesn’t mean employers are all paying $7.25/hr. In fact, the labor crunch has inflated wages including in traditionally low paying service industry jobs. Private employers are offering $12/hr wages in order to attract and retain unskilled labor. (I’ve even seen some fast food chains offering signing bonuses.) In our own company, 95% of the workforce makes at least $15/hr, has access to health care benefits, parental leave, and student loan repayment assistance. This wasn’t the case 10 years ago. Just because the State doesn’t force employers to offer higher wages or benefits, doesn’t necessarily mean employers are not already offering them. I would argue that OxFam should have used actual wage and benefit data in their ranking, not just State policy, because the reality here may not match policy. I do agree on the legalizing of marijuana though.”

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Chapel Hill

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15 MINUTES Scott Nurkin, 45 Muralist and owner of The Mural Shop BY JASMINE GALLUP jgallup@indyweek.com

How did you become a muralist? I was taking an art history class at UNC-Chapel Hill and the professor [asked], ‘Is anybody in here planning on becoming a professional artist?’ I was the only person who raised my hand. He said, ‘Well, there’s a muralist looking for people to come work with him this summer,’ and that was Michael Brown. That was my summer job immediately after graduation. I learned how to paint murals. Then I begged and pleaded for [Brown] to let me stay on and work as his assistant, which I did for three years.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

How did mural-painting become a career?

What’s your favorite thing about your work?

I play for two bands in the area, Dynamite Brothers and Birds of Avalon. From 2002 to 2010, I toured nonstop every year. I painted murals to make enough money to go out on the road for a couple of months at a time.

I have a hundred billion amazing stories of interactions with people. I work by myself, I don’t have any employees. I get to travel all over the region and occasionally into a different country and paint a picture for people to see. That, right there, is something people are already gonna start questioning.

In 2010, my wife got pregnant and we had a baby, a little girl named Finch. I decided I needed to make a go of the business if I wanted to pursue painting murals as a career. So I formed an LLC called The Mural Shop and I began taking on any and all jobs, big and small. Here it is 11 years later and it’s still kicking.

How do you make a mural?

What’s your most memorable interaction with a bystander?

Those [murals] involve a grid system where I mark out a series of patterns on the wall and then overlay the image on top, so I can understand where the eyes connect … the nose and the mouth, and flesh it out.

I was doing a mural in Hamlet, a 60-foot-tall mural of John Coltrane who was an African American saxophonist, maybe the greatest of all time. And this guy walks up to me, he’s a Black guy, and he goes, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I was taken aback. I said ‘It’s John Coltrane, he’s the greatest sax player of all time and he grew up right over there, a block-and-a-half away.’ And the guy started tearing up and he said Black people weren’t allowed in that building.

If it’s a smaller mural, I’ll use a projector. On large-scale stuff, I use the building as its own grid. A lot of stuff is freehand. [The new Green City mural in Raleigh] is a little bit fluid. It’s a geometric pattern, triangles interlocking. So it wasn’t a pattern I followed exactly. There was some adjustment on the site for that.

It hit me in the chest because I hadn’t considered that before. It’s painted on the side of what’s called the Hamlet Theatre … and Black people weren’t allowed in that building for a lot of the 1900s. It was a real moving moment. W

[The method] changes. I started a project last year, the “North Carolina Musician Murals Project,” where I travel all over the state and paint portraits of famous North Carolina musicians in the towns they were born in.

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Durham Judge Elaine O’Neal (left) and Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATES

Succession The Bull City is likely to make history this year by electing its first Black or Latina woman as mayor. BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

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hen Durham Mayor Steve Schewel announced in late May that he would not run for re-election, he said he wanted to spend time with his not-yet-born granddaughter. After decades of public service, the mayor said he looked forward to new adventures. But for some political observers, Schewel’s decision looked like an attempt to make room for the candidacy of pioneering judge and lifelong Durham resident Elaine O’Neal, who announced she was running in late January. O’Neal seemed to have some degree of support from Schewel; in 2018, he appointed her to co-chair the city’s inaugural 17-member Racial Equity Task Force, which spent nearly two years studying wealth and the economy, criminal justice, health, environmental justice, education, and public history through the lens of race before releasing last summer a blunt, tough-minded, visionary report

that called for the reform of systemic racial inequities for a healthier, more inclusive city. O’Neal quickly emerged as the frontrunner. Then, things got interesting. On August 13, the last day of candidate filings, city council member Javiera Caballero threw her hat into the mix just before the noon deadline. Schewel promptly endorsed Caballero on social media during the last weekend in August. “Her care for the people of Durham is immense. Her vision for our city is radically inclusive, and she has shown that she knows how to make that vision real,” Schewel wrote on Facebook. “She has the quality that I think is most important in a mayor. That is, she can pull people together—unite us—to get big things done for our community.” Schewel’s predecessor, William “Bill” Bell, the Bull City’s longest-serving mayor endorsed O’Neal on social media that same weekend.

“Elaine was born in Durham and has lived here her entire life. She knows Durham and its people but, just as importantly, the people of Durham also know Elaine,” Bell wrote, adding that O’Neal’s “resume and experience are impeccable and provides the qualities we need in our next Mayor, especially during these critical times of Durham’s development.” This week, Caballero told the INDY she began “pondering” a run for the mayor’s seat after Schewel announced his retirement. She says her work as a council member has prepared her to take on mayoral responsibilities, and she discussed with her husband and children a potential campaign and the challenges of governing if elected. “It’s particularly hard for moms, and even more so during the pandemic,” Caballero says. “Yet I believe experiencing these stressors has made me more resilient and ready for this role.” Caballero says her own experiences motivated her to seek higher office. “I think about people I know that are so often left out of our policy solutions and am driven to make Durham more equitable and inclusive,” she says. “I know how isolating and frustrating it is to not be able to access resources due to language or cultural barriers. I remember my mother [navigating] so much and how people treated her. I never want anyone to be treated that way. We all deserve dignity and respect.” Even though she already has a seat on the city council, Caballero says as mayor she will be able to set the tone and agenda, while being uniquely positioned “to convene many different voices to help solve our biggest issues. “The affordable housing bond is an excellent example of what the power of the mayor’s office can do,” she says. “During the pandemic we have seen how the mayor’s role and responsibilities were vital in keeping Durham safe. Durham had a mask mandate in place weeks before Governor Cooper implemented one statewide at the beginning of the pandemic.” Caballero says she has “tremendous respect” for O’Neal and the “deep relationships” that she has built throughout the years all over the city. She says if O’Neal is elected, she will work closely with her “on shared priorities.” The council incumbent says her candidacy “is about uplifting the voices and stories of working-class people in Durham” and implementing policies that work for all in a growing city that has become a destination point for immigrants and young people. Caballero was first appointed to the city council in 2018 when Schewel was elected mayor. Like O’Neal, she made history in 2019 when she became the first Latinx person elected to Durham’s council. INDYweek.com

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“I think about people I know that are so often left out of our policy solutions and am driven to make Durham more equitable and inclusive.” Caballero’s road to a historic victory was a trial by fire, paved with personal and xenophobic attacks. Her campaign exposed uncomfortable, sometimes ugly rifts between the city’s African American and Hispanic political communities. Failed city council candidate Victoria Peterson accused Caballero—falsely and without evidence—of being ineligible to hold office for not being a U.S. citizen. Caballero’s family moved to the United States from Chile when she was a child. Just before the election, filmmaker and activist Rodrigo Dorfman ruffled political feathers, ostensibly on Caballero’s behalf, when he submitted a heated missive to fellow Latinx activists accusing “elements” of the Black political community of being against “any” Latinx representation on the council. Caballero’s level-headed response offered a stark contrast to the ensuing fracas. “This firing squad right now is not useful ... it gets us nowhere in the long run,” she said at the time. “Eyes on the prize, people.” O’Neal shares similar views to Caballero on equity and inclusion, but says, first, she wants to help unify the city. The retired judge says she’s never seen Durham as polarized as it is today. “We’ve always had issues in the community, but we’ve never been fragmented like this,” she told the INDY. “It was always about compromise and building on the road to improvement. But now it’s ‘your way or the highway.’ That’s not the Durham I grew up with. I remember a more diverse downtown in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s never been about one race, or one class of people. You saw everybody. I’ve never seen us this divided.” O’Neal grew up in a working-class home in the West End. She graduated from Hillside High School and then walked across the street to N.C. Central University, where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees. She was 32 in 1994 when voters elected her as the county’s youngest district court judge, and she later became the first woman to serve as chief district court judge. Following her runoff 6

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victory in 1994, she was never contested in her seat again until she ran for superior court judge in 2011. Again, she became the first woman elected to the position. O’Neal credits her success to a community with which she had something “almost like an agreement” and whose members pushed her. “I love my community because my community loves me,” she says. From the outset, O’Neal’s run for mayor excited a large swath of voters in the city, particularly among the old guard. “She’s the voice that Durham needs right now as the head of the city,” Omar Beasley, the former chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, told the INDY following O’Neal’s announcement of her intention to run. “She’s Durham born, Durham bred, and during her life she’s seen all the changes, gentrification, the gun violence, and changes in the schools. She saw it as a child, as a young adult, and on the bench. No one will bring the perspective that she brings. She’s seen it all. She is Durham.” In the questionnaire she submitted to the INDY last week, O’Neal reiterated her top priority: uniting Durham. “Durham is not harmonious right now,” she wrote. “We need a mayor who can work to unite us while also understanding that the closest to the pain need to be closest to the power. Durham needs to have more listening leaders. My time as judge meant I listened to all sides and assessed it before making decisions; too many in Durham feel like those in power are not listening.” O’Neal wrote that she has “learned how to cross cultures and understand how to bridge and bring people together for a common cause.” After a decades-long career as a judge and dean of N.C. Central University Law School, O’Neal says she’s had to immerse herself in the issues of affordable housing, community safety, and economic advancement for underrepresented communities. “It is clear that these priorities all intersect,” she says. The two years O’Neal spent studying those challenges while co-chairing the


Racial Equity Task Force were significant. More than any other candidate, O’Neal proposes a boots-on-the-ground leadership approach. She points to task force community engagement sessions that included translators for Latinx residents and hosting youth-centered meetings to ensure their voices were heard. O’Neal recalled how young people at the task force meetings talked about how evictions affect graduation rates and the real-world impact of housing insecurity while balancing school and family responsibilities. In the INDY’s candidate questionnaire, O’Neal said her experiences are rooted in being from “the hood,” on the bench as a judge, and a former law school dean. “I am able to speak the language of a diverse Durham from the language of the streets to the language of the board room,” she says. “My advocacy is rooted in getting into details that make systemic change possible. I am a problem solver that can address the big picture while also affecting change systematically.” So far, O’Neal has garnered endorsements from the political action committees of the Friends of Durham and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, which celebrated its 86th anniversary last month. The Durham Committee PAC cited O’Neal’s 28-year-long career in Durham and praised her deep roots in the community. “She was born, raised, and educated in Durham and is highly qualified to be the first Black Woman Mayor of Durham,” the PAC’s endorsement states. “She has an extremely long list of honors, awards, and community involvement in Durham. Her leadership and commitment to Durham is well documented. Elaine O’Neal has earned the trust of the community.” Meanwhile, the influential Durham Association of Educators (DAE) and the powerful People’s Alliance, which has played a formidable role in the election of city and county officials over the past decade, both endorsed Caballero. Caballero has a “strong vision” for the city as well as “concrete, actionable policies and ability to advocate for those policies at the local level while navigating roadblocks from the state government,” the DAE states on its website. “She has shown herself to be dedicated to the minutiae of city policy, including in zoning, which heavily affects affordable housing. She has been a crucial voice in organizing and collaborating with others in elected leadership to enact multiple progressive measures in Durham. She is also the best mayoral candidate

for DAE to partner with because she has been involved in the development of the Community Schools movement from the ground up, and has actionable ideas on improving and expanding the model going forward.” Along with O’Neal and Caballero, five other candidates are vying for the mayoral seat. Charlitta Burruss, Sabrina Davis, Jahnmaud Lane, Rebecca Barnes, and Daryl Quick have all revved up campaigns to succeed Schewel. Two of the more intriguing candidates with potentially bright political futures are Barnes, a Presbyterian minister, and Davis, a social entrepreneur and researcher. Although their chances of winning appear slim—but who can fathom the mind of the American voter after millions elected Donald Trump as president and still believe the 2020 election was a fraud?—Barnes and Davis offered thoughtful responses to the INDY questionnaire. Barnes praised the city council’s ongoing work and listed environmental and climate reforms, public safety, and affordable housing as the top challenges facing the city. She notes that the Bull City will not become a “Beloved Community” as long as it is beset by people living in the streets and hard-working people are faced with unsafe and unaffordable housing options. “Durham will need to continue to do all it can to address this important issue,” Barnes stated in the questionnaire. “Smart, thoughtful planning utilizing inclusionary zoning and the city’s own affordable housing investment plan has set us on a positive trajectory but policy doesn’t move as fast as development so we have got to act with urgency on this important issue.” Davis, who formerly worked as O’Neal’s campaign manager, describes herself as a centrist Republican campaigning on issues that the GOP has scorned at best and, at worst, obstructed. Chief among the planks in her platform is an increase of $60 million from $6 million in the city’s “Reparations Budget,” along with “substantial increases every year after.” Davis, a native of South Florida, told the INDY that she moved to Durham nearly 12 years ago after being drawn by opportunity and the city’s history. She says the downtown district was more diverse when she first arrived. The GOP challenger says she envisions “Durham creating better environmental, economic, and strengthening opportunities for racial healing among our residents.”W INDYweek.com

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2021 Durham

Primary Endorsements BY JANE PORTER jporter@indyweek.com

D

ear INDY readers and voters, Welcome to our first slate of endorsements for the 2021 local election cycle. Early voting for Durham’s primary municipal election begins this week, and we want to bring you the resources you need to head to the polls well-informed. To make our endorsements in these races, we relied heavily on our own reporting from the past year. We also considered messages from Durham residents and community members, endorsements from local leaders and PACs, read candidate questionnaires submitted to us and other outlets, and decided, as a staff, who we truly believe will be the best representatives to lead the Bull City over the course of the next two- or four-year terms. First, a disclosure: we are not endorsing in the Ward III race. One of the candidates, AJ Williams, is the son of our staff writer Thomasi McDonald. (The Ward III race will not appear on primary ballots, either, as there are only two candidates in the race). But completed candidate questionnaires are available on our website for both AJ Williams and his opponent, Leonardo Williams. We've tried not to let AJ Williams’ candidacy influence our reporting in the three other primary races. Finally, this year’s slate of candidates are of an extremely high caliber. Coming to our decisions was a difficult process, and we took great care to make what we believe are the best choices. All candidate questionnaires that were submitted are available on our website, and we’d urge you to read them in addition to these endorsements. We also have information online about early voting and voter registration. Durham’s municipal primary Election Day is Tuesday, October 5. If you’re a Durham resident (or one of a handful living in Wake or Orange Counties who votes in the Durham municipal elections) please do your civic duty and cast your ballots in the primary, and then again in the general on Election Day on Tuesday, November 2. Your city needs your voice at the polls!

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DURHAM MAYOR

Elaine O’Neal Other candidates: Javiera Caballero, Rebecca Barnes, Charlitta Burruss, Sabrina “Bree” Davis, Jahnmaud Lane, Daryl Quick The two frontrunners in the Durham mayor’s race—council member Javiera Caballero and retired judge Elaine O’Neal—are both exceptionally qualified, experienced, and pioneering public servants. Appointed as an at-large council member in 2018 and elected to the seat in 2019, Caballero is the first Latina to serve on Durham’s city council and a champion for the city’s growing immigrant and refugee populations. Not only has Caballero advocated for inclusion in city government processes, but she has achieved outcomes: she helped build a language-access program and pushed for funding for an immigrant and refugee coordinator; she helped establish an immigrant legal defense fund, and she organized community members and health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caballero is a solid supporter of city initiatives on affordable housing, sustainability, and community-centered policing. By all accounts, she’s an engaged, hard-working, kind, and dedicated leader. Elaine O’Neal has spent a 28-year-long career in the judiciary, including as the first woman elected to the county’s Superior Court. In addition to her work in the judicial system, the Durham native served as interim dean of N.C. Central University’s law school and chaired Durham’s 17-member Racial Equity Task Force, which submitted a comprehensive report last summer. As mayor, O’Neal will be well-positioned to implement the actionable recommendations as outlined in the report from the Racial Equity Task Force that she led. She might have to ruffle feathers to achieve measurable equity, but we think she will be bold enough to do so. That disruption will not be disruption for its own sake but in the service of the greater good—for O’Neal’s own stated goal of uniting Durham and its fragmented social and political factions, so that the Bull City can enjoy a future in which everyone thrives. It’s our opinion that Durham needs both Caballero and O’Neal in leadership positions on the council. That scenario is within Durham voters’ grasp: with the election of O’Neal as mayor, Caballero will keep her seat on the council until 2023. If Caballero is elected mayor, her seat will, in all likelihood, be filled by appointment by the sitting council members. O’Neal is the most qualified candidate in the mayoral race. We believe she will be a transformative force for the Bull City. Honorable mentions go to Charlitta Burruss, Sabrina “Bree” Davis, and Rebecca Barnes. We hope to bring you more coverage of these candidates in the next several weeks.


WARD I:

DeDreana Freeman (incumbent) Other candidates: Marion Johnson, Waldo Fenner Marion Johnson has worked on LGBTQ+ health care policy at the national level and brought that advocacy to North Carolina in her work in opposition to Amendment One. As a budget and tax policy advocate at N.C. Justice Center, Johnson described her mission in that role as making sure North Carolina residents “feel engaged and empowered by our state’s budgeting process, and recognize their powers as constituents to hold their elected officials accountable to their values.” It follows, then, that as a Ward I candidate, Johnson has made inclusionary budgeting a centerpiece of her campaign. The rest of her platform is, accordingly, rigorously detailed: Johnson proposes advancing the city’s living wage policy from $15 an hour to a “thriving” wage policy of $25 an hour for municipal employees and contractors; connecting the city via sidewalks and bike lanes, and installing bus shelters; advocating for small area plans so residents have a say in development; and expanding city resources for residents facing eviction. A progressive candidate through and through, we have no doubt John-

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son would make an excellent addition to Durham’s city leadership. But DeDreana Freeman has been a fine leader on the council and has done nothing—including voting against the 2019 affordable housing bond proposal and, initially, against a budget that she felt didn’t appropriately center equity initiatives—to warrant removal. Freeman has always insisted on equity as a core value and work to achieve greater equity in Durham has guided her actions and votes. Freeman is revered in the local community for her passion and dedication to service. Freeman deserves recognition for her efforts working with young people, including organizing summits on racism

and childhood poverty; raising money for the Thriving Communities Fund to stabilize local businesses owned by women and people of color during the pandemic; implementing policies to address environmental justice; working closely with McDougald Terrace residents; and introducing the CROWN resolution to end discrimination on the basis of hair styles and textures. We applaud Freeman’s commitment to creating a more equitable Durham.The council shouldn’t be an echo chamber. Dissenting voices, in our view, create balance when big-picture goals align. We therefore endorse Freeman for another term.

WARD II:

Mark-Anthony Middleton

(incumbent)

Other candidates: Sylvester Williams, Robert Curtis Perennial candidate Sylvester Williams (he challenged mayor Steve Schewel for the seat in 2019) has some interesting ideas, especially around economic development. The pastor and former financial analyst suggests incentivizing corporations relocating to Durham to subsidize affordable housing, leveraging federal Opportunity Zones in the city, and using money from Durham’s “failed light rail project” to fund transit and infrastructure improvements. Williams also wants a lot more police. While Durham is experiencing significant public safety issues and a marked increase in gun violence, it’s not clear that adding more officers to the city’s police force will actually help the situation. It’s also not clear where Williams stands on the city’s newly created Community Safety Department, which we think is a good idea. The good news is incumbent Mark-Anthony Middleton is one of the Community Safety Department’s biggest proponents, one of the first members of council to propose hiring, training, and deploying unarmed mental health professionals to respond to crises in Durham. Middleton has championed several other progressive ideas during his first term on council, too, including the Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program, which will begin paying out $500 to Durham’s residents most in need next month. And his ideas for the future, including his proposal for “a Marshall Plan type infusion of municipal funds into Durham’s historic legacy Black neighborhoods for the purpose of stabilization and preservation” are similarly exciting. Middleton is an effective, engaged, visionary candidate. We endorse him for another term representing Ward II. W


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PHOTO SERIES 12

Hopscotch 2021

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Still Festive WORDS BY LEIGH TAUSS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRETT VILLENA

Hopscotch didn’t have it easy this year. The resurgence of the pandemic stripped the festival of iconic indoor venues like King’s and Duke Energy Performing Arts Center, while the lineup primarily consisted of headliners that hit their peak a decade ago. Still, sunny weather and an eclectic mix of vendors made for a surprisingly chill weekend, with families spreading out blankets in Moore Square to enjoy the music. Day parties at Slim’s and Pour House drew crowds while at night the main stage transformed Fayetteville Street into a bustling dance party for Animal Collective and Flying Lotus. W

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M U SIC

THE MUSLIMS: FUCK THESE FUCKING FASCISTS

[Epitaph Records; September 24]

From left: Ba7Ba7, QADR, & Abu Shea of The Muslims PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Laugh Against the Machine The Muslims make incendiary punk with a wild sense of humor. Their latest album has a clear message: Fuck These Fucking Fascists. BY JESSICA KARIISA music@indyweek.com

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isclaimer, we’re a little ridiculous,” says QADR, “Let us know if you want us to, like, answer the question seriously…” Before I can respond, Ba7ba7 jumps in: “But don’t let us know that.” It’s a sticky, hot summer afternoon and I’m sitting with punk band The Muslims having a cool-down beer, totally unsure of what I’m getting into. Musically, the Durham-based band (identified here by their artist names) specializes in incendiary, laser-focused punk music that rages against all forms of oppression. In person, the bandmates specialize in shenanigans, and an earnest answer often devolves into a joke. Within the first 10 minutes of the interview, Ba7ba7 pivots from recounting the racist backlash the band regularly receives online to asking me if I’ve ever heard of cancel culture. Without missing a beat, QADR and Abu Shea help fill in a mock narrative that involves a sponsorship from the 14

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Ben Shapiro show, a career-defining performance at the RNC, and this kicker: Ba7ba7: “We were three white guys from Seattle.” QADR: “Then we became marginalized.” Abu Shea: “Then we became melanated.” By this point, The Muslims can barely contain their laughter. In all seriousness, or whatever is left of it, their humor is less curveball than icebreaker. The three band members are genuinely warm, attentive, and kind, and their ability to laugh in the face of injustice, while still ripping it to shreds, is refreshing. Fuck These Fucking Fascists, The Muslims latest album (and their first under illustrious indie label Epitaph Records), comes out digitally September 24th. It packs

the same political punch as the band’s previous releases, with added attention to melody and repetition, and a goal to have everyone, adults and children alike, both consumed and tormented by how catchy it is to curse reactionaries. “I want to have earworm songs where a five-year-old kid is singing, ‘Fuck these fucking fascists’ and then their parents hate-email us like ‘My kid just called their teacher a fascist,’” says QADR, the band’s lyricist. “I want it to be a problem.” Lead single “Fuck These Fucking Facists” is an F-bomb laden storm of pop-punk mastery, with racing guitars and drums that reveal the band’s more obvious influences, like Blink-182 and Green Day. QADR’s occasional sweet vocal turns also signal the soulful influences of her youth, like Lauryn Hill, and K-Ci & JoJo. This balance provides a loose frame for the rest of the album—12 songs, all under three minutes—as the group rails against racism, homophobia, religiously-sanctioned patriarchy, and COVID-19. It’s not all righteous rage: “Froot Of The Loom” is a rousing pride anthem for baby gays, and my personal favorite “John McCain’s Ghost Sneaks Into The White House And Tea Bags The President,” is a hilarious fever dream that you’ll undoubtedly find yourself humming. Political statements in music often risk getting lost in the noise—in cliches and boring production, or in the incongruous behaviors that frequently trip musicians up—but on their latest album, The Muslims have provided a way forward, reminding listeners that good music can be fun, radical, hard, and hysterical, all at once.

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ead singer and guitarist QADR, drummer Ba7ba7, and bassist Abu Shea first came together as The Muslims in 2017, following the election of Donald Trump. The bandmates have roots in New York, Charlotte, and Raleigh, respectively, and have made Durham their home the past few years. QADR and Ba7ba7 first played together in the early 2010s in the Greensboro-based protest band Cakalak Thunder, which Ba7ba7 co-led. On QADR’s urging they decided to give it a go as a punk band and put out a call for a bassist, eventually bringing Abu Shea into the fold. For The Muslims, identity is central—any press mention of them won’t fail to include the fact that they are brown and Black, queer and muslim—and they love punk music too much to see it tainted by bigotry. “Being in the punk scene, I’ve noticed racist, problematic ass white dudes in public spaces that are not being fucking checked,” QADR says. “For them, punk spaces have been a safe haven of exercising white male rage and that’s not what the fuck punk is. This is a space of outrage, of speaking out against establishment and oppression in the system.” “It’s really great to make those white folks feel like we’re invading their space, because Black punk has always existed,” says Abu Shea, who also grew up going to punk shows, “Raleigh has a really, really deep historic punk scene that


“Raleigh has a really, really deep historic punk scene that has always been dominated by white dudes. Being in the Triangle and being a POC, Muslim, queer, punk band, it’s the antithesis of the Triangle’s history. That’s one of the biggest things that I miss about playing shows right now actually—there’s always somebody who feels affronted.” has always been dominated by white dudes. Being in the Triangle and being a POC, Muslim, queer, punk band, it’s the antithesis of the Triangle’s history. That’s one of the biggest things that I miss about playing shows right now actually. There’s always somebody who feels affronted.” The group’s identity-driven approach is also a way to reclaim their faith, and confront the dissonance between the lives they live now and the constraints they encountered growing up in more rigid Muslim communities. “As an organizer, my belief in justice and cosmic accountability is shaped by Islam,” says Ba7ba7, who is of Palestinian orgin. “But there’s hella shit I don’t like culturally and politically about the ways that people practice their faith or leverage their faith that I was super repelled by. The great thing about being in The Muslims is that it’s a space to practice something that I used to have a harder time with a decade ago, but now I’m getting better at embodying the way that I am a Muslim.” QADR, who was born into a Black Muslim community adds, “For me, religion wasn’t a liberatory practice or liberatory space. For a very long time, I was very adamant about not claiming Islam. The reclamation of my identity is similar to the reason I decided to firmly come out, knowing what the con-

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Cadwell Turnbull, No Gods, No Monsters with John Kessell

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sequences would be for me interpersonally and in my family because it was about agency. I deserve to be as free as I need to be.” Detractors in the band’s YouTube comments are quick to try and find contradictions in the band’s identities, while failing to recognize that their impulse to police Muslims from the outside is itself rooted in Islamophobia, not to mention the blatant double standard applied against Christianity. “When I was driving through Virginia, this country song came on,” QADR says, “And the chorus is ‘sitting here, drinking beer, singing God, amen.’ And the verses are like, ‘Never been to church. But like, you know what, yeah, I’m thanking God for where I’m at.’ No other religious group could do that. No one could ever be like, ‘Sitting here, drinking beer saying, Alhamduliah’ Like what the fuck? Hopefully we’ll do that, but that’s just absolute hypocrisy.”

I

t’s no small thing, then, that The Muslisms, despite the heaviness they balance on a regular basis, can braid silliness with the seriousness of their mission. In practice sessions, QADR leads on lyrics and music and will bounce the drafts off of Abu Shea and Ba7ba7 until a song comes out of it. “We provide a musical plate for QADR to hash out the emotions she’s working through,” Abu Shea says.

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

“Sometimes we’ll end an actual song that we have, and then one of us will just like keep fucking around and keep playing and we’ll all add stuff then I’ll just start yelling stuff over it and then through the process of yelling, I realize, ‘Okay, this is actually could be thing, let’s record this,’” says QADR. Despite a seemingly ad-hoc approach, in just four years the band has managed to produce three cohesive albums and an excellent EP of winding, exploratory jams. Most recently, in early July, they also achieved the major milestone of signing to Epitaph Records. While they appreciate the significance, they also hold it loosely. “A lot of bands are grinding and a lot of bands have been out here kicking ass [and] doing amazing things,” QADR says. “What we’ve got, I want it for everybody.” As the pandemic drags on, the band has collectively found solace in gardening, video games, family, and trolling their fans. In the past, their releases have come out on April 1st, so a late fall release is disorienting to their dedicated fanbase. And when I ask them if the record will actually come out on time, they refuse to confirm or deny. “We’re going back to the early Netflix days where basically what’s going to happen is you preorder and you get mailed a piece of candy,” Abu Shea deadpans, “Put it in your DVD player and see what happens.” With that, The Muslims are laughing again. W

Antoni Porowski, Let’s Do Dinner

9.17 7PM

From left: Ba7Ba7 QADR, & Abu Shea of The Muslims

Joseph Bathanti & David Patorti (editors), Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 and Its Aftermath with Jaki Shelton Green, Lenard Moore, Shelby Stephenson, Maureen Sherbondy, Joan Barasovska, Elisabeth Corley, John Balaban, and Michael Beadle

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September 15, 2021

15


M U SIC

THE CONNELLS: STEADMAN’S WAKE

[Black Park/Missing Piece Records; Sep. 24]

Underdogs on Top of the World The Connells were never the coolest local indie-rock band, but Steadman’s Wake shows why they’ve been one of the most successful and enduring BY BRIAN HOWE music@indyweek.com

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uckily, there are legions of fans who like The Connells much better than Mike Connell does. The founding songwriter and guitarist of the immortal Raleigh indie rock band is disarmingly self-deprecating, to a degree that would be suspect, were it not for his apparent total lack of bitterness. His line of patter is as distinctly Southern as his music, though it also conveys the genuine humility of an un-entitled artist who, despite having scaled enviable commercial heights, is still just so happy to be here. The Connells, which now consists of brothers Mike and David Connell, Doug MacMillan, Mike Ayers, Steve Potak, and Rob Ladd, met and formed at UNC-Chapel Hill but played their first show in Raleigh, their hometown, to which they promptly returned after graduating. “For some reason, people took note and liked some of what we were doing,” Connell says, with typical understatement. In the mid-eighties, so-called “jangle-pop” bands from Southern college towns were in vogue. The Connells swiftly broke out of North Carolina, riding the patchwork airwaves of college radio to a contract with TVT Records, a release on Elvis Costello’s label, MTV and commercial radio play, the U.S. charts, and, by the early nineties, international hits. Though The Connells never stopped playing, Steadman’s Wake, which comes out September 24, is their first new album in 20 years. The fresh, open, undistorted sound framing their signature guitar leads, so near to and yet so unlike the 16

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Merge generation that came along five years later, hasn’t aged a day. Recently, Mike Connell gregariously indulged our obsession with local music history from The Connells unique vantage as underdogs on top of the world. INDY WEEK: When The Connells got started, who were you inspired by? MIKE CONNELL: I was absorbed mostly

with what was coming out of England. Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, The Cure, and above all The Clash. Closer to home, obviously, R.E.M. was casting a huge shadow and showing that garage-caliber bands from the South, like The dB’s and Let’s Active and Pylon, could do it. You get lumped in with those jangle-pop bands, but your early stuff sounds more like a goth-rock Byrds.

That’s really perceptive, because early on, [former guitarist] George Huntley and I were both playing Rickenbacker 12-strings. It’s absurd for a band to have one 12-string, so having two was doubly absurd. Some critic—not intending this as a compliment in any way—said that we sounded like we were trying to be R.E.M. with Morrissey singing. Fair, probably. [Laughs]

Mike Connell (second from left) with his immortal Raleigh indie rock band PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Superchunk and those guys came along, we were fortunate enough to have sort of spread our wings and ventured out through the country. We would come home, and it became evident what was happening in Chapel Hill, and it was amazing. But we also understood—being us, being from Raleigh, not having that hip quotient—we were never going to be included in that scene. So I just admired from afar and marveled at Polvo and a lot of those bands. I guess they were aware of us, and maybe the thinking was, “let’s do everything in our flippin’ power to avoid that,” whatever that is coming out of Raleigh. [Laughs] So who were the bands you played with?

We played a lot of shows with [fellow UNC band] Dillon Fence. A little later, we played a lot with The Mayflies USA. And Queen Sarah Saturday out of Durham, with Johnny Irion—they were great. Johnny ended up marrying Arlo Guthrie’s daughter and moving to the Berkshires. But really, while we would come back to play a couple of shows a year, we were mostly out and about. We befriended a lot of bands from Boston.

To a lot of people, the story of local indierock starts in 1989 with Superchunk and Merge, but you were around a good five years before that. What were the key venues and bands in your world then?

You were on that More Mondo compilation with The Pressure Boys and The Bad Checks and Southern Culture on the Skids in 1985.

In Raleigh, it was The Brewery. As for bands, UV Prom was a huge favorite. By the time

We were over the moon to be included on a record with so many really cool bands. Just

to be on a record had once been unimaginable. You’re holding a piece of vinyl with your shitty song on there, along with a bunch of great songs. It was a kick in the pants, getting on that More Mondo. Your debut record, Darker Days, was produced by Don Dixon, right?

Don Dixon and Rod Abernethy, who had been in Arrogance. They obviously made a huge impact on the music scene in North Carolina starting in the seventies. Don was friends with Godfrey Cheshire, who was writing for The Spectator, so I think Godfrey might have had something to do with that connection. Don came to watch us at the Cradle, and even after that, he still agreed to work on the record with us. Given that he had worked with R.E.M. on Chronic Town and Murmur, with Mitch Easter, we were pretty floored that he would deign to work with us. And Elvis Costello’s label put it out in England. As somebody who was so into British music, that must have been a big deal to you.

Yeah, it felt like a huge deal to me. Ed Morgan, our manager, was interning somewhere in London. He went around with our cassette demo to various labels, and somehow got the ear of someone at Demon Records, and they agreed to release the damn thing.


You mentioned Mitch Easter—you worked with him on Boylan Heights, a title that will resonate with Raleigh readers. That was your first album for TVT.

March of ’87, we went to Winston-Salem to record at the Drive-In with Mitch. We would stop, go play a show at some party, and make some more money to pay for the record. That summer, we were opening for a band from England at The 9:30 Club in D.C., and Steve Gottlieb came down from New York. He had just started TVT, and he came backstage and offered to sign us. Our thinking was, we’re lucky if we make another record, and someone’s offered us $20,000 for a record that’s already in the can. Never mind that he has right of first refusal to seven more; sign us up. You spent a number of years trying to get out of that contract.

We did. But TVT sent us to Fort Apache in Boston to record Fun & Games with Gary Smith, who had worked with The Pixies. In the summer of 1990, they sent us to Wales to make One Simple Word with Hugh Jones, who had produced Echo and the Bunnymen. Again, we were just in disbelief that we would get to record with Hugh Jones in the Welsh countryside, so idyllic and picture-book. It was at Rockfield Studios. Queen recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody” there; Black Sabbath recorded there. There are two studios and living quarters, and The Pogues were recording Hell’s Ditch with Joe Strummer while we were there. So every day, we’re seeing Joe Strummer and Shane MacGowan. Unbelievable. But yeah, after One Simple Word, maybe things weren’t going so great with the label. We tested the waters to see if it would be possible to get off of TVT, and Capricorn Records was ready to snap us up, but we couldn’t. We did renegotiate the deal with TVT for better terms, so when they sent us up to Woodstock to make Ring, things had gotten better. We understood that the contract was not great going in, so we had no one but ourselves to blame. There was no one from the label looking over our shoulders. They gave us enough rope to hang ourselves, which we did. In 1993, you had an international hit with “‘74–’75.” How do you come by the Celtic influence there and in some of your other songs?

I guess you can come from either the British folk tradition or the blues tradition, and some bands, like The Yardbirds, are able to do both well. We knew it would be a joke if we attempted to play any sort of blues-in-

fluenced stuff. So we were strictly in that British folk tradition, with a lot of minor chords, so it wasn’t all sunshine. We were trying to get some darker elements in the songs, though no one would accuse us of being Killing Joke. Were you surprised by how well that song did?

Floored. There was nothing to prepare us for how lucky we got with that tune. It did OK in the U.S. But a label in Stuttgart— Intercord, which is aligned in some way with EMI Records—had a sense that it would connect in Germany. They asked Steve Gottlieb if they could license the Ring album, and he said, sure, but unless and until The Connells do something in Britain, there’s no chance they’re going to do anything on the continent. I think they struck a deal with anticipated sales of a thousand copies. But these guys from Intercord, their hunch was absolutely spot-on. Within three or four weeks, the song was in the top 100 in Germany, and it quickly got to top 10. Steve Gottlieb called me one day and said, congratulations, you got your first number one. From Germany, it spread throughout most of Western Europe, and up into Scandinavia, and then Britain and Ireland. I’m afraid we’re going to have to leapfrog over the rest of the nineties—Good! [Laughs] This is your first record in 20 years. Why now?

Things had died down enough between day jobs and families that we finally could get together and work out arrangements, not just a couple of guys sitting around with acoustic guitars. We had been playing, but all we did was go out and play old songs. At some point, we reached a critical mass of 11 or 12 tunes, which, in our mind, was the requisite number to justify going into the studio to make an album, which I realize is a dated concept—one that we might like better than the last couple of outings. You took on a more prominent role as a vocalist on this record. Does it feel a lot different being The Connells in 2021 versus 1991?

Yeah, unfortunately, I did. Some of the songs are more personal. Two of them are about my kids, who are now 16 and 17. So I sang all of one of those and part of another. But I think the blueprint is pretty much the same. I come in with the idea for a song, and the other guys come up with their own parts. Back then, George Huntley was also contributing songs, and Doug’s contributed some really, really good songs—well, relative to what we do. W

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FO O D & D R I N K

YOUNG HEARTS DISTILLING 225 South Wilmington Street | facebook.com/Youngheartsdistilling

Kindred Spirits Raleigh’s Young Hearts Distilling embraces traditional spirits and modern cuisine in a familiar space BY JOHN A. PARADISO food@indyweek.com

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ntil recently, the space at 225 South Wilmington Street played host to craft beer destinations. With Young Hearts Distilling, opened in late August by the team behind Trophy Brewing Company, a new beverage category is on display—craft distilled spirits—alongside a menu of refined new American cuisine. The latest addition to Raleigh’s downtown landscape should feel pretty familiar to locals: the location previously housed Busy Bee Cafe and Trophy Tap + Table. At Young Hearts, the spirit of these downtown craft beverage staples lives on. “Opening a distillery was always kind of our dream,” Young Hearts co-owner Chris Powers says. “When we got into brewing, we thought distilling was the next step for us. We were thinking about how we could continue to grow and about what gets us the most excited, it was about being experimental and being creative.” The distillery is the natural evolution of the projects Powers and his partners have previously launched. At the heart of Trophy Brewing Co. and State of Beer, another location founded by Powers, is a passion for sharing quality beverages. Having the opportunity to produce their own distilled spirits, then, isn’t so far-fetched. In fact, there are several high profile examples of regional and national craft breweries delving into the world of distilling—New Holland, Dogfish Head, and Rogue come to mind—and offering a variety of spirits including whiskey, gin, and rum. But, Powers and Young Hearts’ Master Distiller, Mena Killough, have squarely embraced the bitter side of things. While Young Hearts Distilling has already launched with a gin and vodka, the true focus of the distillery is reimaging tradi-

tional bitter botanical liqueurs from around the world. Young Hearts taps into the rising mainstream appreciation of complex Italian amaro, Scandinavian Aquavit, and many other botanical-based spirits. The distillery will showcase these spirits in craft cocktails and customers will be able to bring bottles home with them. “The beverage scene here is very interested in trying things out, taking a chance on something a little different,” Powers says. “That’s why Amari are something we’re so excited about doing. Teaching people about them. And we’re going to focus on those botanical-forward spirits.” Curious about trying some amaro for yourself? Powers suggests heading to your local liquor store. “The closest one on the commercial market is Montenegro to the flavors we’re developing with our house amaro,” Powers explains. “It’s got a lot of those citrus notes, a little bit of this honey characteristic but enough of that gentian root kind of bitterness to be assertive. I know the average drinker might not be as excited about the idea of ‘bitter’ but I think they’ll appreciate the use of quality, local ingredients.” Alongside these distilled spirits, diners can expect a lush food menu, prepared by head chef Alex Ricci (formerly executive chef at Guglhupf Artisan Bakery, Restaurant & Café) that prioritizes fresh, local ingredients. “We’re embracing a seasonal approach to New American dishes,” says Powers. “The majority of what we’re getting into the kitchen is coming from local vendors, local providers, and local farms. And it’ll likely change seasonally.”

Chris Powers, owner at Young Hearts Distillery Food and drink come together in the cozy confines of Young Hearts Distilling. The main dining space and bar evokes a classic red-sauce Italian joint with thick leather booths, exposed brick walls, and dark wood floors. The ambiance continues upstairs to the VIP loft, which features leather seats and intimate dining spaces. At the end of the loft area, a bright yellow and pink neon sign lets you know the party continues onto the breezy rooftop bar. And the indoor dining and bar space beside the rooftop patio allows for further seating and a distinct, private dining experience. “We want people to come in and see a new business in an old space,” explains Powers. “We want people to come in and have a new experience. We’ve learned a lot since we started in this same building 11 or 12 years ago and our passion has only evolved for craft beverages.” Having spent years familiarizing themselves with the location, locals may feel like regulars here. Young Heart’s injection of new spirits, a refined menu, and an elegant

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

experience, though, is bringing the space to its next chapter. “When people come in and embrace what we’re doing, connect with the bartender, see 40 different barrels with spirits aging,” Powers says, “we sort of deputize them to go out and evangelize what we’re doing.” Young Hearts Distilling welcomes guests into the distillation process. Char oak barrels line the wall and a stunning vintage copper still housed behind a glass wall greets diners when they arrive. It’s not unlike wandering around the lab of a mad scientist. But, the end result of this experiment is tasty, complex booze and food. “We’ve found that people like to be connected to where things are made. And having people in the space where things are happening around them—spirits aging in barrels, and the distillation process happening, seeing and smelling the ingredients —it changes the connection point for them. That’s why we thought this was the perfect location for it. No one else had a downtown Raleigh distillery. It was the perfect opportunity to do this.” W INDYweek.com

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FO O D & D R I N K

Well Balanced Sommelier Paula de Pano leaves her post at Fearrington Village to open a principled new wine shop BY SARAH EDWARDS sedwards@indyweek.com

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hen she opens her new wine shop, Acid + Rocks, Paula de Pano has a set of firm but friendly principles at the ready: Acid, not alcohol. Families, not factories. Drink, not get drunk. After 15 years in the beverage industry, de Pano—a stylish star in the wine world with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and a lengthy list of accolades under her belt—has come to know her values well. “I know there will be a lot of, like, ‘Oh, this sounds very political,’” she says of her future shop’s mantras. “No, it’s not political at all. I just call it basic human kindness.” At the end of August, de Pano sent out an email to a close group of customers announcing that she was leaving her post as beverage director at Fearrington Village, where she has worked for several years, and opening a wine shop in Southern Village. Todd Chatterton, Maitre d’ at Fearrington since March 2020, will take over her role as beverage director. Acid + Rocks, located at 712 Market Street in the former Medlin-Davis dry cleaner space, does not yet have a set opening date—de Pano says permits have been submitted, and that she’s hopeful that they will be approved quickly and that a more sluggish-than-usual global supply chain will pick up the pace—but she hopes for a Spring 2022 opening. “[Paula] is easily one of the most knowledgeable sommeliers in the country and offers a fun and laid back approach to wine,” sommelier Max Kast, a friend of de Pano’s, told the INDY over email. “Her space will be a spot where people from novice to expert will be able to find great wine and learn about new wines and regions, all in an approachable and non-intimidating way.” The name of the shop is a nod toward terroir and acid-focused wines (“No, it is 20

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INDYweek.com

not a record store or a rock climbing club for fans of LSD,” she joked in her announcement email), which she hopes to carry from “far-flung regions of Argentina to the steep hillsides of Germany,” with an eye toward environmentally friendly winemaking practices. “You see a lot more care put into the wine, and more noticeable sustainable practices, with smaller families as opposed to larger factories or corporations. I really want to highlight those producers who are very focused on non-interventional winemaking,” says de Pano, referencing terroir (an ineffable French term that translates to a ‘sense of place,’ or, a bottle of wine that distinctly reflects the soil, atmosphere, and human effort behind it). De Pano says she hopes the shop, an airy, 1,150-square-foot space with a garage door that pops open to the outside, will fill the void left by Southern Seasons, which closed in early 2020. The shop will stock a rotating inventory of 300-350 labels, with bar seating (and a menu of cheese and charcuterie options) indoors and seating for up to 15 outdoors. She also plans to teach wine classes. De Pano grew up in Manila in the Philippines in a non-drinking Catholic family. Curiosity led her to wine, and a marketing job at a wine bar; then, in 2008, she moved to the United States and enrolled in New York’s Culinary Institute of America. She then began the certification process toward becoming an advanced sommelier— the second-highest sommelier rank (following master sommelier, a distinction held by just 155 people since 1997, 131 of whom are men.) She’s worked at Fearrington Village since 2010, save for a two-year stint at New York City’s prestigious, three-Michelin star restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, where she was a senior sommelier.

Paula de Pano hopes to open Acid + Rocks in the spring of 2022 PHOTO BY DANIEL TURBERT

The road to becoming an industry leader has not been without its challenges. At Eleven Madison Park—the kind of restaurant where, at least pre-pandemic, you have to book a reservation 28 days in advance, or else risk being on a nightly waitlist of 150—de Pano recalls asserting herself with three-inch boots while serving customers accustomed to discussing the wine program with white male servers. “People have always looked at me differently because of my color and because of my accent,” she says. “I lived in New York for a couple of years, working in fine-dining restaurants, and there’s a different treatment that you get. You always have to prove that you are as good as everyone else.” Opening her shop is the chance to create and share her vision of what a wine shop can be—the shop firmly bills itself as “pro-women, Immigrant, and POC, and LGBTQ+”—as well as to deepen roots and open doors in North Carolina’s intimate wine community.

Hai Tran, a Philadelphia-based sommelier who knows de Pano from time spent in the Triangle, recalls how the wine community used to discourage “mixing politics and social beliefs.” He’s excited to see a shop with a different approach. “Paula has always been a detail-oriented individual and hearing her talk about designs, layouts, and overall ambiance, this will be a wine shop unlike anything that currently exists in North Carolina,” he says. “Being her own boss, Paula has the opportunity to impart her philosophies and beliefs into the business, as can be seen by her stance on how wines will be selected, who will be represented on the shelves, and what causes she will actively work to promote.” De Pano says she’s also excited about Southern Village because it’s a community that’s very “curious” and “open to a lot of different wines.” As to whether curiosity about wine then lends itself to a cavalier customer, there’s another future shop mantra for that: “We welcome the curious to the savvy, but not the snooty.” W


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WALTER BENNETT: THE LAST FIRST KISS

[Lystra Books; September 14]

Sea Change Walter Bennett’s second novel traces the contours of lost love, faulty memory, and second chances BY FRED WASSER arts@indyweek.com

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vacation home on the North Carolina coast is the setting for Walter Bennett’s contemplative second work of fiction, The Last First Kiss. The novel’s protagonist, Ace Sinclair, is in his mid-70s and retired from law practice in Raleigh. His wife died about ten years ago. As the book begins, Ace and his high school sweetheart, J’nelle Reade, are back in touch—and she’s coming for a visit. The book unfolds over the course of four days. “Who has not dreamed of it?” author Lee Smith writes in a blurb for the book, “Here is the story of an American generation, the ’60s, of all our lost young loves, and a brilliant meditation on the passing and relevance of time.” For Ace and J’nelle, the relative remoteness of the Outer Banks—where, Bennett says, “there’s a sense that you’re disconnected from the continental United States”—could be the perfect place to rekindle a romance. But there’s also emotional risk in such a reunion: Why stir up the past and so many memories, both good and bad? On top of that, a hurricane is on its way. “You’re on a strip of land that is hugely vulnerable,” says Bennett. “The sea is on both sides of you, the sky is huge, the wind is stronger. You feel out there. Whether they want to be or not, Ace and J’nelle are ‘out there’ too in old age and whatever is coming toward them—and that could be a hurricane or the vicissitudes of life.” Bennett is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Before retiring, he was a trial lawyer, a District Court Judge in Charlotte, and a Professor of Law at UNC-Chapel Hill. His first novel, Leaving Tuscaloosa, was published in 2012. A story of racial conflict in 1960s Alabama, it received the Alabama Author’s Award and was a finalist for both the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and the Crook’s Corner Book Prize for debut novels set in the American South. The INDY recently discussed The Last First Kiss with Bennett while he was staying at his vacation home in Bozeman, Montana. INDY WEEK: How did the title of the new book, The Last First Kiss, come to you? BENNETT: It was after I’d gotten into the book and realized

what the story was going to be about: the passage of time,

Author Walter Bennett in the Outer Banks

PHOTO BY BETSY BENNETT

recapturing dreams of youth, or the impossibility of that. This is Ace and J’nelle’s last chance to create the sensation that they had when they were in their youth and fell in love. I guess it’s also the last chance for a first kiss. Not absolutely the last chance—but statistically it probably is. My wife, Betsy, warned me that the title sounds too much like the title of a traditional romance novel. Perhaps, but once I got that title in my head, nothing else seemed to work as well. I got the impression at the beginning of The Last First Kiss that Ace was stuck.

Yes, that’s exactly the word I would use. And I think he would have stayed stuck if something hadn’t happened. This woman comes into his life who clearly was very bright and two steps ahead of him when they were younger, and to my mind still is, and stirs things up. I think relationships do have a way of shaking up a person. I think, in part, this book is saying it’s a good thing to be shook up.

Yes, I think so. I think it’s harder to do that when you’re older. I’ll be 78 in a few days. There’s something that doesn’t want to be shook up anymore. Let’s just put the landing gear down and coast on in, now. Ace and J’nelle are desperate in a way that they don’t know. They are both fraught with a great deal of sadness and feelings of loss. The Last First Kiss is, in part, about memory and how faulty it is. I can imagine that the issue of faulty memory has been on your mind your whole career as a lawyer and judge.

It has. Not only memory in the sense of going back and trying to understand recaptured memories that you cherish or fear—but what we do with memories. Along those lines, Ace and J’nelle are struggling with the past, trying to make sense of it. Why is it important for them to know why their relationship from 60 years ago ended?

I think it’s important for Ace and his understanding of himself to know that his own ideas of why it might have ended are not correct and that there’s another version which involves her life and her interests and wants and needs and so forth that he was not aware of at the time. That’s part of a universal problem of youth that persists to old age—not really seeing what’s going on with other people. You transitioned from lawyer and judge to fiction writer. Was that freeing for you personally and creatively?

I never thought of it in terms of being freeing. I guess it was. It was a very tough process because I had learned to think in one way as a lawyer, which is a very linear progression usually. If you’re a lawyer you’re trying to make a story fit a preconceived version that you want the judge or jury to see. I’m talking about trial lawyers. It’s almost a deductive process, a narrowing process to get it into focus. If you’re a judge, you’re trying to make all that very clear— take different versions and clarify it into a story that you accept or can go with. Frequently you don’t really believe or know what to believe. But with fiction, you’re going in the opposite direction to find truth. You’re opening yourself to everything that you can, and you let the creative mind come up with all those options and ideas. W INDYweek.com

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From Ginny S. How are local independent book shops ensuring they stay relevant while competing against Amazon, E-books, and Podcasts? What role do you wish to serve in the community?

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Hey, Ginny, thanks for the question. I’d argue that Amazon has never been relevant, merely convenient, pervasive, and maybe addictive. Just as social media is not a good stand-in for society, but it’s convenient, pervasive, and addictive.

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But I hear what you’re saying. Amazon touts itself as the “Everything Store” and Letters’ slogan is a purposeful riposte to that: “not everything for everyone— just something for you,” so they are the elephant in the room, in the landfill, in the road, in our economy, and now, in space. I don’t have a concise response, but there is something in the fabric that is strengthened with variety and smallness, when on a ten-minute stroll through downtown, you can get service and conversation from Ninth Street Bakery, Chet Miller, Exotique, and Dolly’s while you get your bike repaired at Seven Stars Cycles. And my bet is we all want more of that, not less: That people are aware of who views them as a person, instead of data for an algorithm. Economically, a dollar always goes farther when spent locally, when a store answers to the stakeholders of the community, not the stockholders of a corporation. Even if the juggernaut of online shopping and impersonal corporations is unstoppable, there is value in the struggle. Podcasts, however, are great! May I suggest two great book focused ones: Bookworm and Marlon and Jake Read Dead People.

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