Live at the North Carolina Museum of Art, it was a fine day to be on the green…
TEXT & PHOTOS BY TODD GUNSHER
Having grown up in Raleigh, NC, singer-songwriter Tift Merritt chose to make the hometown stop on her current tour a special one-time only event billed as Tift Merritt and Friends. The friends she brought along for the show were M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, Eric Slick of Dr. Dog, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man, and The Suitcase Junket. These artists have all in recent years played shows and recorded together in various combinations and Tift wanted to get them all on stage together; I’d say everyone in attendance was glad that she did.
In addition to the music, the party had food trucks and a tent made from an old army parachute underneath which was a commissary with unique goods from local vendors. The stage was even set up with a variety of Americana ephemera from Butch Anthony’s Traveling Museum of Wonder, who drove up in the old Cadillac he traded a painting to Leon Russell for. Even the car was a work of art, being adorned with a deer head and trophies from front to back. Tift herself was completely hands on with the planning of the event, all the way down to offering menu ideas to the local food trucks. (I can vouch for the chicken and waffles!)
Over the course of the nearly 2-1/2-hour show, each of the artists took their turn in the spotlight and backed each other up. It was a wonderful evening of songs and musical collaboration. First up was, of course the MC for the evening, Tift Merritt, with a couple songs from her newest record, Stitch Of The World. Next up was a couple numbers by Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, who we were told has her debut solo record on the way.
One of the great things about an event like this is getting to hear new (to me) artists, and experiencing The Suitcase Junket was a treat. Matt Lorenz is a one-man-band who sings his songs with an old guitar and a percussion contraption mostly made up of random found objects. Despite being self-contained, he was accompanied by some of the others who took care to let his unique thing stay front and center. After a couple songs by Eric Slick, the musicians gathered around one mic to sing Tift’s “Dusty Old Man” and “My Boat” who’s lines, “room onboard for my friends” seemed to sum up the ethos of the evening. Next up was M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger who brought a little volume to the proceedings which got the folks up front on their feet. The whole ensemble again gathered around one mic as Taylor asked us to sing along with the chorus of “Drum,” “Take the good news, carry it away. Take the good news spirit it away.”
Adding to the feel good vibe of the night was a recognition of the 20th anniversary of concerts being held at this venue, a jewel of a small amphitheater on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art. After performing Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around A Memory” and “Stray Paper,” Tift waxed poetic about her town, friends, and all the support over the years as a cake was brought out to celebrate the museum’s program director. She then closed the set with “Proclamation Blues” but we knew there was more to come. A couple minutes later she returned, and giving thanks to everyone involved, her love for the hometown she recently returned to was evident as she said, “I can’t think of a better place to raise my daughter.” Sitting down alone at the keyboard she sang an emotional “Good Hearted Man” and as the whole ensemble returned for one more song, she reminded us that “the good is there, no matter what else is going on.”
I once heard someone say that the world can’t have too much love or too much music. On this Saturday night in Raleigh, that never felt more true.