Category Archives: North Carolina Music

FAREWELL TO… Game Theory’s Gil Ray

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1956-2017 R.I.P. Ace drummer also manned the kit for the Rain Parade in recent years. Above photo by Robert Toren.

UPDATE 1/29: Gil’s wife Stacey wrote a moving comment on Facebook, noting that she struggled all week to find the right words. Ultimately, she found the perfect words.You can read it HERE.

By Fred Mills

This one, for obvious reasons to anyone who visits the BLURT site on even an irregular basis, hurts more than most. Gil Ray, erstwhile drummer for ‘80s power pop legends Game Theory, passed away on January 24 following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was only 60, and he leaves behind an extended family of fans, friends, and fellow musicians that, even as I write this obituary, is grieving as heavily and publicly as any artists I can think of from the recent past. Just one visit to Gil’s Facebook page will confirm the outpouring of sorrow, accolades, and remembrances. Many have also posted pictures of Gil from over the years, and one friend also posted an image that I’m taking the liberty of reposting here, because I think it sums the man up in ways I could never match:

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I suppose you can peruse his overall bio readily enough at his Wikipedia page, which summarizes his long career, which started in Charlotte, NC, in the late ‘70s, hit an early peak in the mid ‘80s on the West Coast after he joined Scott Miller’s band Game Theory, and after a spell resumed, as drummer for Miller’s subsequent outfit, the Loud Family. He also embarked on several side projects, additionally cutting a wonderful solo album in 2006, I Am Atomic Man!

Then in 2012 he was tapped for kit duties in the Rain Parade, and enjoyed renewed fame alongside his fellow Paisley Underground alumni. BLURT’s own Jud Cost documented a particularly memorable 2013 concert in San Francisco that featured the Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, the Three O’Clock, and the Bangles.

On a personal level, I feel compelled to add that I’m eternally grateful to have reconnected, if on a long distance level via Facebook, with Gil during the past six months. Whenever I got to see Game Theory back in the day, he and I would chat and catch up on North Carolina goings-on, especially about Charlotte since I was living there at the time. (He was clearly the hometown hero when GT came to Charlotte, with old friends coming up, hugging, asking him what he’d been doing aside from the band, etc.) As it turns out, Gil had seen some of the Game Theory coverage that yours truly and fellow GT fanatic Michael Toland had been diligently publishing here at BLURT. Among those clips:

Dead Center” album review, 2014

Nighttime of The Season” feature, 2015

Lolita Nation” bonus track MP3, 2015

Unreleased Live ’88 track” MP3, 2015

The Big Shot Chronicles” album review, 2016

Then there was a piece written last year by Jason Cohen and featuring exclusive photos by Robert Toren. It concerned the band during its Big Shot Chronicles period, and for some reason I decided to title it “This Band Could Be Your Life”—yes, a nod to the classic Michael Azerrad book about the alt- and college-rock era in the ‘80s—because Game Theory seemed so emblematic of what a lot of us, from fans to writers to musicians, experienced during that time. Below is one of Toren’s photos that he so kindly shared with us.

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Gil seemed particularly surprised and proud that his old band commanded such reverence among both his fans and his peers, and he expressed his appreciation to me for remembering him and his bandmates so fondly.  And after we had reconnected after all these years, he popped in from time to time with an observation, comment, or anecdote regarding something I’d posted at BLURT. A passage from the Cohen piece involving Gil now stands out in my mind, and by way of tribute, I’m going to repost that section here. Meanwhile, to Gil, all I can say is—you are already deeply, permanently missed, and while I know this is a cliché that gets uttered all the time, at least we still have the music and the memories. As I type this, I’ve been spinning GT music for the past hour. I never get tired of it. Please say hello from all of us here to Scott Miller when you run into him…

By Jason Cohen, from “This Band Could Be Your Life” article: In the fall of 2012, The Rain Parade announced that they’d be getting back together to join the Tim Lee 3 at an Atlanta benefit show for Lee’s Windbreakers compadre Bobby Sutliff, who’d been in a bad car accident. The Rain Parade’s Matt Piucci posted on Facebook that they needed a drummer, prompting both Lee and Dan Vallor (the other co-producer of these reissues) to send separate Facebook messages to Ray, who hadn’t played live in 12 years.

He got the gig. “It was one of the best things a 56 year-old guy could have dreamed of,” Ray says. “We were meant for each other. Some of the best shows I have ever been involved with were the Rain Parade shows. The fact that I was a former member of Game Theory made it even more special. Worlds collided in a fabulous way.”

I’d gotten to know Tim and his wife, Susan Bauer Lee, both on the Internet and IRL, when they started playing in the Tim Lee 3 around 2001. When the Sutliff benefit was first announced, I tweeted that I wished the Dream Syndicate and the Rain Parade could follow that up by playing SXSW with the Windbreakers and Game Theory. When the Three O’Clock reunited to play Coachella 2013, I fantasized out loud on Twitter about Game Theory following suit (and more than once). So when the Lees heard from Gil about Scott’s death, Susan knew I’d be almost as heartbroken as she and Tim were, and sent me a Twitter DM.

Losing Scott in the social media era–balancing public virtual grief with private grief–was “one of the most messed up things I’ve had to deal with, ever,” says Ray. “I did not know how to process and handle my loss, his family’s loss, and his closest friends’ loss…on Facebook.” This was especially true in the days before Miller’s death became public knowledge. That ended up happening during the Three O’Clock’s April 17 show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, between the two Coachella weekends.

“I knew it was going to be a very emotional night,” says Ray. “Before the band went on, Matt showed me his phone. It was now public knowledge. We hugged each other and cried. I looked up and a large part of the audience were staring at their phones. I will never, ever forget that. It was the most emotionally charged moment of my adult life. This was the new world. This was social media. This was fucked up. But I made it through somehow.”

Then the Rain Parade came to Texas to play Austin Psych Fest. It’s a show I wouldn’t have missed in any case, but now it was also something of a wake. It was where I needed to be to feel Scott’s loss, but also to temporarily fill the void. And it was where Ray and his Rain Parade bandmates needed to be to expel their own grief at high volume. A show of strength. An offering to the rock’n’roll gods. One more for St. Michael.

“The audience knew,” Ray says. “They gave me great respect, and we played what Matt called ‘our most punk rock’ set ever. It was healing, for the moment.”

Below: Gil and Suzi Ziegler performing at a 2013 memorial for Scott Miller. Via Wikipedia: By Lwarrenwiki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34079211

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NC-based Second Motion Label re-launches as Schoolkids Records

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We ain’t just fishin’ around…

By Fred Mills

The rumors were true: Stephen Judge, our esteemed owner and publisher, who also operates indie label Second Motion (Bettie Serveert, Church, Tommy Keene, Swervedriver, etc.) as well as the three-store North Carolina record store chain Schoolkids Records (yes, where yours truly worked from 2012-2015) is relaunching Second Motion under the Schoolkids imprint. The move coincides with Judge additionally opening an office in Dublin, Ireland, where he is currently living.

The newly-christened record label’s first signing is Chapel Hill’s Happy Abandon.

Full details tba – for the time being, you can read the official press release at the Schoolkids website. Gonna be a party, everyone!

Watch New Peter Holsapple Video, Listen to 45

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The “power-pop powerhouse” is interviewed at the Indy Week, too.

By Fred Mills

Not long ago the news arrived that Peter Holsapple from the dB’s (and Stamey/Holsapple, and Continental Drifters, and R.E.M., and Hootie & the Blowfish, and – what the hell – Rittenhouse Square) was dropping a new 45 on Feb. 3.  Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style will arrive on his own Hawthorne Curve Records, and you can previews both tracks at YouTube and SoundCloud, respectively. Check ’em out, below – the A-side in particular is additionally illuminated with this accompanying video.

Incoming: New Peter Holsapple (dB’s) Single

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Is a full length in the offing? As the artist himself notes, “I thought it might be easier to only give people a couple things to chew on, just to get my name around again. Hence, a 45.” Um, we keep your name around, so don’t worry about that, brutha!

By Fred Mills

What would you say to a new record from Peter Holsapple? Maybe you’d think, “Awesome! I love the dB’s!” Or possibly even, “Awesome! I love the Continental Drifters!” Or maybe you’re kinda like yours truly, and the rest of the North Carolina-based braintrust of BLURT, and you simply say, “Hell yeah, support the home team!”

Our fellow Tarheel and Durham resident (not to mention Winston-Salem ex-pat) Holsapple is self-releasing a new vinyl 45 record, “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style on his own Hawthorne Curve Records. The single drops Feb. 4, and while we presume you will be of a vinyl inclinations, the songs will also be available for purchase as digital downloads at the usual online kiosks.

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The details, courtesy the Holsapple camp:

“Don’t Mention the War” is a poignant look at one man’s post-traumatic stress syndrome and how it affects his adoring nephew. With low, somber brass (Mark Daumann on tuba) and echoes of battles past, this is another engaging Holsapple story-song, steeped in dark emotions and vivid character assessment.

“Cinderella Style” doesn’t sound like a typical Peter Holsapple song, but then again, is there such a thing? This delicate tune visits a darkened sewing room for a look around and a quick reminisce. Rising star Skylar Gudasz lends her flute to the recording, and the whole thing is light, clean and just a little foreboding.

Joining Holsapple are James Wallace (Max Indian, Phil Cook) and Mark Simonsen (The Old Ceremony). They had convened in Simonsen’s studio last year to record “hi-fi versions” of tracks the songwriter had previously put out on the Radio Free Song Club podcast. “James and Mark were willing to take the plunge and make this record with me,” says Holsapple. “They brought years of recording and arranging experience to the project, and we’re all well pleased with how the songs turned out.”

Boy howdy to that, sir. We’ll be making space on our record shelf beside the P.H. “Big Black Truck” 45 and “dB’s In A Can” album come Feb. 4. Meanwhile, let’s review:

 

BJ BARHAM – Rockingham

Album: Rockingham

Artist: BJ Barham

Label: self-released

Release Date: August 19, 2016

http://www.bjbarham.com/

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The Upshot: A sonic and lyric revelation from the American Aquarium frontman, and the type of album that, in the past, might have drawn critical hosannas along the lines of “new Springsteen.” Watch the video for the title track, below.

BY FRED MILLS

To these ears, an instant addition to my 2016 Top Ten—and there’s a degree of serendipity at play with American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham’s solo debut, because it is, in all likelihood, the last 2016 new release I’ll have heard prior to compiling that list. Talk about a welcome addition to the playbox. See, although Rockingham was released months ago, I’d only heard it in bits and pieces until now, owing to it not being available at any of my local stores—they consistently sold out, testimony to Barham’s popularity as frontman for American Aquarium and having a fanbase that instinctively trusts his music. When I finally tracked down a copy last week, Rockingham was more than just a musical pleasure—it was a sonic and lyric revelation. Barham, joined by such stellar Tarheel players as Phil Cook and Brad Cook (both of Megafaun; Brad also produced the album), and Whit Wright and Ryan Johnson (from American Aquarium), has crafted a minor masterpiece that seems destined to do more than just make people sit up and take notice. It’s going to endure.

On the surface, the record was inspired by Reidsville, North Carolina, Barham’s small hometown that, like other small hometowns across the South, has seen the American Dream gradually dissipate with the shuttering of textile mills and the decline of the tobacco industry. (Ironically, Barham’s decision to employ the name Rockingham as a stand-in for Reidsville caught me off-guard: I grew up about 20 miles from the actual Rockingham, NC, another town to whom the modern era has not been kind; and where Barham sings of Rockingham/Reidsville being situated “right there on the River Dan,” my Rockingham is located beside the Pee Dee River, which I also know quite well.)

As such, most of the songs here, though more or less fictional, are written in first person narration style, Barham singing through the eyes of his protagonists. They include the tobacco factory worker who works his “fingers to the bone/ Just to have a little something I can call my own” (“American Tobacco Company,” which lends sonic credence to the singer’s optimism via chipper banjo and Dobro lines and a reassuring organ hum). Elsewhere, there’s the man who reflects upon growing up in and getting out of the aforementioned small town, where he’d worked at an auto parts place while trying to raise a family at “twenty-eight years old [and] feeling twice my age,” but is now contemplating moving back there because it’s permanently in his blood (the Whiskeytown-esque “Rockingham”). And then there’s the farmer whose farm failed and subsequently got repossessed by the state, forcing him to turn to other means of survival (the stately-yet-solemn “Water in the Well”). This song’s lyrics bear repeating here. Singing in a weathered tone of resignation and regret, and with more than a tinge of desperation, Barham conjures images of both The Band and Nebraska-era Springsteen:

Dear heavenly father, I come before you now

A bottle’s in my left hand, a pistol’s to my brow

The preacher says salvation will cleanse all my bad deeds

But I could never forgive myself for failing my family

What will I do when all else fails?

What will I do when no water is in the well?

What will I do when there is nothing left to sell?

 Oh what will I do? Only time will tell”

Indeed, like Springsteen, Barham has an instinctive and empathetic understanding of the working class. That may come from growing up amid humble, small town roots; one can’t help but sense that while these songs are character driven, Barham is still drawing psychologically from personal experience, or from the experiences of those around him, creating characters that ring true to him emotionally. (The CD cover and the lyric/credits booklet feature numerous vintage snapshots and Polaroids of a young couple and their kids, possibly images from his own childhood.) It also may come from that classic songwriter reflex wherein one perpetually views the world through the lens of storytelling, and even the merest of glimpses or briefest of anecdotes can trigger an avalanche of nuance and detail. Probably both.

Barham is among a latter-day crop of gifted songwriters and rockers working within the Americana field that includes Jason Isbell, Patterson Hood, and Sturgill Simpson, artists who can create believable images and write in plain-spoken terms that still have a poetic, at times ballet-like, elegance. We’re fortunate to have these folks operating in the present era, keeping us honest while inspiring the next generation of young artists.

And Americana is a funny genre, when you think about it. Some of the most cringe-inducing songs on the planet have been authored in its name—those standard-issue strum/twang confections dotted by lyrics like, “Got up this morning, looked around the empty house, poured a cup of coffee, and wrote this song about her.” (Then he rambled on down the road, natch.)

But some carry an uncommon emotional heft and back up the lyrics with alternately luminous and adrenalin-charged arrangements guaranteed to have you shivering with recognition one moment and pumping your fist the next. Barham—solo or with American Aquarium—is the type of artist that falls in to the latter category. He’s the real deal.

DOWNLOAD: “Madeline,” “Water in the Well,” “Rockingham”

Chris Stamey Launches Holiday-themed Radio Special

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On hand are Branford Marsalis, Nnenna Freelon, Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Skylar Gudasz, Django Haskins, Millie McGuire Kirsten Lambert, Eric Hodge, Walker Harrison, and Presyce Baez.

 By Blurt Staff

Longtime NC music scene aficionados already know the term “Occasional Shivers”: it’s a song penned by Christ Stamey (The dB’s) and released as part of a Christmas single in 1986. More recently, it has a new context: a “brand-new old-fashioned radio play airing this holiday season on public broadcasting” that Stamey has newly composed and produced.

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The play features the above artists (Marsalis is the host) plus a jazz band featuring the likes of Bill Frisell, John Brown, Scott Sawyer and Will Campbell, and is a “one-hour musical drama tells the story of two young lovers who meet at a pair of Christmas parties…. With characters such as society hostess Birdie McDavenish (“I Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love with You”), famed composer Paul Carter (“Intoxichoclification”), and aspiring songwriter Will Cassidy (“Manhattan Melody [That’s My New York]”), the play harkens back to an era, after West Side Story but before the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, when jazz had gone from hot to cool and it looked like rock and roll was on its last legs.”

It premiered live in September in Chapel Hill at UNC’s Kenan Music Building, and the broadcast is now going to be available as an expanded “director’s cut” starting Christmas Day via iTunes and Amazon. Below, watch a couple of versions of the trailer. Happy holidays, everyone!

28th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam is Ready to Roll!

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Friday brings the Gov’t Mule mainman’s pre-Jam in local Asheville rock club, while Saturday ushers in yet another (potentially 10 hour) marathon at the convention center.

By Fred Mills

Let’s cut straight to the chase: it’s Haynes Jam time again in beautiful downtown Asheville, North Carolina (where the BLURT Western Bureau is located, comfortably lodged on a luxury schooner moored in the South French Broad River near Biltmore Village – we’re kind of like one of the offshore pirate radio ships that entertained England back in the day).

First up: The estimable Mr. Haynes will be making an appearance Friday (Dec. 9) at 3PM out at Habitat For Humanity’s McKinley subdivision to mark the opening of two houses that the Haynes Jam’s 2015 event funded. Did I mention that the Jam and all associated events raises funds for Habitat? (As an aside: purely by chance, I ran into Warren Thursday afternoon at an Asheville coffee shop, and it was not only nice to catch up – you can read yours truly’s commentary on previous Haynes Jams elsewhere on the site, along with selected interviews he and I have done over the years – but it was quite a treat to be re-introduced to his lovely wife Stefani, who has worked tirelessly over the years with Warren to make the Jam be a success, and to be newly introduced to his young son. It will come as no surprise to learn that the kid’s gonna be a rocker.)

Then on Friday evening the traditional pre-Jam takes place at Asheville’s venerable Orange Peel club, featuring selected musicians slated for the Saturday night blowout taking part in a slightly lower-key (but no less engaging) series of fluid sets, all broadcast by regional community powerhouse radio stations (and BLURT buddies) WNCW-FM. Those of you not in the WNCW listening area of 88.7 can tune in online around 6PM—and as long as I’ve got your attention, allow me to gently suggest that you can make donations to Habitat during that broadcast. Trust me—I’ve donated annually myself—it will make you feel good. And if you’re like me, you might be inclined to fire up that old tape deck and record the show so you can revisit that good feeling later. I estimate that the pre-Jam will only cost you 4 c90s and part of a c60—plus the Habitat pledge, natch.

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Meanwhile, a bit tip o’ the BLURT hat to all the Saturday night Jam attendees. For the rest of us, the Jam is making a special webcast available via Nugs.tv, in both SD ($19.99) and HD ($24.99) formats. It’s not quite the same as being on hand in Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center (formerly the Civic Center), but assuming that the webcast personnel are prepared to point their gear at the stage until the wee hours of the morn—ask me sometime about leaving the venue at 2:30, 3:00 and 4:00 in the a.m.—there’s a good chance you’ll get a reasonable bang for your buck.

And that buck goes to a good cause. As Stan the Man might put it—Excelsior!

 

THE INTERSTELLA℞S – I Keep Coming Down

Album: I Keep Coming Down

Artist: Interstella℞s

Label: self-released

Release Date: November 11, 2016

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The Upshot: A perfect prescription of kosmiche space rock, Madchester shoegaze, and dreamy, Floydian psych fromNorth Carolina’s Queen City.

BY FRED MILLS

No, it’s not a font glitch on your screen: Based on the album’s sleeve art, this Charlotte, NC, band Interstella℞s does indeed employ the prescription signifier as part of their name. And that’s more than appropriate—as is the title I Keep Coming Down—considering the druggywoozycool vibe of this remarkable record. (Good luck with the Googling, though.)

As crafted by studio auteurs Jason Herring and Paul Jensen, along with some fellow Queen City mainstays, I Keep Coming Down sets the controls for the heart of the kosmiche sun, charting a shoegazey trajectory guaranteed to keep the synapses pinging. The Interstella℞s album is billed as remixes from 2000-01 sessions for Firefly in a Headlight, although you wouldn’t get that from the songtitles here, as there’s only a subtle overlap (such as “Sweetdreaming,” referencing early song “Daydreaming”; and “Blues in Drag,” a live version of the prior “Blues in Drag”). And regardless, the record is utterly compelling in its own right, from the shimmering, shuddering, Spacemen 3-meets-The Church opening track “This Close to Venus” to the return-to-Madchester-acid-house rock of “Sweetdreaming” to the anthemic atmospherics of “Stillwater” (somebody in this band has studied his Pink Floyd bootlegs closely).

And for NC trainspotters, here’s also a track, featuring guest vocalists Hope Nichols (from the late, great Fetchin Bones) and The Mighty D.R., titled “River Euphrates”—when you consider some of the other songtitles here, such as “China Mall,” “Leggo My Echoes,” and “Electric Sheep,” it’s no stretch to presume that the artists here not only know their musical and cultural cosmology, they revel in it. All in all, one of this season’s—hell, make it the entire year’s—most unexpected sonic treats.

Oh, and by the way, gentlemen—apologies for the capital “R” in the Interstella℞s name throughout this review, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to make the prescription symbol in lower case. Call it a font glitch? Either way, we’re looking forward to a refill, and soon.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweetdreaming,” “Stillwater,” “Echoes”

 

CHATHAM COUNTY LINE – Autumn

Album: Autumn

Artist: Chatham County Line

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: September 02, 2016

www.yeproc.com

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BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

North Carolina’s Chatham County Line excel at the ability to create an affecting sound while still maintaining a low-cast gaze. That’s never been more apparent than on Autumn, an album that makes an immediate impact despite the subdued textures that supply its ample allure. Although they’re often been referred to as a bluegrass band, there’s little evidence of that here. So even though mandolin, banjo and fiddle all play a part in the proceedings, there’s scant trace of the unfettered rowdiness and uptempo jubilation normally associated with the drive that genre.

Instead we find the group employing a supple country rock sound that finds its essence at the core of the album’s eleven tracks. They hit their stride midway through on a trio of sweet ballads — “Rock in the River,” “Jackie Boy” and “All That’s Left” — and although the surrounding songs keep to the same tone and tempo, those three numbers give the album its emotional imprint. “It’s time to let the good times roll,” they intone on “Bon Ton Roulet,” and though there’s barely an uptick on the songs that follow — one has to wait for the all-instrumental “Bull City Strut” five offerings later and the unusually upbeat “If I Had My Way” and the jaunty album closer “Show Me The Door” well beyond that — there is a quiet optimism reminiscent of the praise that late folk auteur John Denver once offered for country roads and soaring mountain peaks.

At times, optimism often finds its credence in quiet reflection, and indeed Autumn provides some seasonal celebration entirely its own.

DOWNLOAD: “Rock in the River,” “Jackie Boy,” “All That’s Left”

Schoolkids Records’ Christmas Party Bands Announced

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Independent record store chain (3 cities) to blow it out as usual with The Veldt, Hank Sinatra frontman Jeffro, and Al Riggs.

By Blurt Staff

A lot of you probably know that BLURT has a sister business here in North Carolina, Schoolkids Records, which operates stores in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Our esteemed owner,  Stephen Judge, has announced the annual Christmas party, which will take place on December 23 on the Raleigh location’s stage. As usual, the bash is co-curated by Judge and Hank Sinatra frontman Jeffro, and with the latter also set to perform, who the hell knows what will be going down! And since the Raleigh store sells beer (local and premium draft as well as cans), a good rock ‘n’ roll time is guaranteed for all. See the full announcement, below, and then mark your calendars because everyone from the extended Schoolkids and BLURT families are invited—drop by and say hi to us, why don’t ya?

“Folks, please join us for our annual holiday blow-out party. The event is 100% FREE! and this year we are extremely proud to have gracing the Schoolkids – Raleigh stage: Al Riggs (8pm), Jeffro from Hank Sinatra & Friends (9pm) and The Veldt (10pm) all times are approximate but please arrive early! We all know 2016 has been a very tough year so let’s blow this sucker off the map rock and roll style! see you all then!! help us spread the word!”

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More details at the official Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/215963338847150/

Info on Schoolkids Raleigh: http://www.schoolkidsrecords.com/CustomPage/349

Map to event: 2237 Avent Ferry Rd #101, Raleigh, NC 27606

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