Charly Lowry is a hard lady to pin down.
In the past couple of weeks, the 29-year-old vocalist has moved from her hometown of Pembroke to Chapel Hill, where she wanted to be closer to the music scene. “There’s not much of a music scene at all in Pembroke,” Lowry says via phone from Pembroke.
And don’t even think about tracking her down on the weekends. That’s when she and her band, Dark Water Rising, are usually on the road doing shows, playing their soul-infused brand of rock and folk music (Lowry calls it “rocky soul”) to everyone from kids to senior citizens. Lowry and her band will be performing at Local 506 in Chapel Hill on Saturday night.
Lowry is tight with her bandmates because they all come from the same town – and the same people. With the exception of bassist and new band member Tony Murnahan, Lowry and the other Dark Water Rising members – guitarist/keyboardist Aaron Locklear, lead guitarist Corey Locklear (no relation) and drummer Shay Jones -- are all Native Americans, specifically, from the Lumbee tribe. “The Lumbee people are referred to as the people of the dark water because of the Lumber River,” she says. “And we wanted to incorporate that into the band name.”
For Lowry, a former Junior Miss Lumbee who got her start singing in church, she didn’t consider being Lumbee a special thing when she was growing up in Lumbee-heavy Pembroke. “For me, just growing up here in the swamp, I never really questioned who I was,” she says. “I honestly never celebrated ‘Indianness,’ if that makes any sense, or never drawn attention to it. I just was. We just are. I went to elementary school. It was predominantly Lumbee. Middle school was predominantly Lumbee. And it wasn’t until I left here that I realized, hey, there’s a bigger world out there.”
She first got a sense of how different she was when she started going to college at UNC-Chapel Hill. “That was really the first place where I had people saying, ‘What are you?’ ” she remembers. While she was there, she joined a Motown cover band called Mr. Coffee and the Creamers. “That was my first experience with a live band,” she says. “Before that, I was going around singing to pre-recorded tracks.”
Also during her time at college, Lowry got her first whiff of notoriety when she auditioned to be on the third season of “American Idol,” where she eventually competed as a semifinalist. She remembers how it was less about the music and more about creating an image. “It just seemed like there was a lot of -- with the cameras and everything, they like you to act a certain way or to dramatize things just for show,” she says.
When the producers found out about her Lumbee heritage, they tried to incorporate it more into her “character.” “They never said, ‘Why don’t you wear a headdress or regalia?’ ” she says. “They never asked me to do that. It was just that once they found out that I was Native, they wanted to capitalize on it. I think I might’ve been the first Native on the program at the time. And, so, it’s something different. It’s not something you see in the mainstream every day.”
Even though Lowry and her bandmates are proud of who they are and where they come from, Dark Water Rising doesn’t want to be known as that rock band full of Indians. Already two full-length albums in, they’re working on another one – the follow-up to this year’s “Grace & Grit: Chapter I” -- for next year. “I never walked around and was like, ‘I’m Indian. I’m a singer. This is who we are. This is what I do. I’m gonna use this as a tool to get our people out here,’” says Lowry. “Corey put it in an interview a couple of years ago: ‘We just happen to be Indian, playing music.’”