Local musicians sing songs of protest

dmenconi@newsobserver.comJuly 7, 2013 

B.J. Barham, of Raleigh,left, and Scott Phillips, of Raleigh, center, practice a rally song as David Binanay, of Durham, plays the fiddle as a part of the NC Music Love Army practice at the Pinhook in Durham on Saturday, July 6, 2013.

AL DRAGO — adrago@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— In a way, it was just another angry song about love gone bad. As a local all-star band played a country-rock raveup, American Aquarium lead singer BJ Barham read words from a lyric cheat sheet and belted them out in a key of righteous indignation that would have done Bob Dylan proud:

“It’s a drag when people hide behind religion

“Doin’ evil through and through

“But since you wanna go there, let us ask a question

“Is this here what Jesus would do?”

Subsequent verses speculated that Jesus “wouldn’t care for Art Pope” and would be “in that Raleigh jailhouse with the other righteous ones” arrested at the weekly “Moral Monday” protest rallies. Afterward, there was prolonged applause from the 100 or so people gathered at Durham nightspot the Pinhook.

Except it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday. This was an open rehearsal for the NC Music Love Army, a grassroots group at the forefront of a growing local protest-music movement. The Army consists of several dozen musicians banded together to protest what they consider the legislature’s “regressive” actions on abortion, unemployment and other issues.

GOP leaders have said they are simply reflecting the mandate they were given in 2012, when voters put them in charge of both houses of the legislature, as well as the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, a recording of the songs heard Saturday is in the works, and some of the project’s musicians will also be at Halifax Mall in Raleigh to take part in Monday’s protest.

One of them will probably be singer/songwriter Caitlin Cary, a veteran of area acts including Small Ponds and Whiskeytown, and a regular protester during the summer. After Django Haskins from The Old Ceremony wrote and recorded a Woody Guthrie-style protest song called “We Are Not For Sale” (which has picked up more than 3,000 YouTube views since late June), Cary formed the NC Music Love Army with Charlotte musician Jon Lindsay.

“I just wrote a song, that’s all I did,” Haskins said between renditions Saturday. “And then things started rolling. Caitlin and Jon are the ones who really picked it up and took it from there.”

“We Are Not For Sale” and “Is This Here What Jesus Would Do?” will both be on an upcoming mini-album, along with “My Body,” “Army of Love” and “North Carolina We’re Better Than This.” Saturday’s rehearsal felt like equal parts house party sing-along hootenanny and lefty political rally. “It always takes something like a funeral to draw a big crowd,” said Angie Santiago, one of the organizers. “Or somebody being in the hospital. Or this.”

One of the day’s more popular numbers was “My Body,” a song inspired by last week’s controversial abortion-bill vote. Serving as bandleader, Lindsay led the ensemble through the song, which started out as folksy strumming before turning into something more rhythmic featuring rapped verses by Shirlette Ammons.

“We’re takin’ it out of the country and puttin’ it in the city now,” Cary quipped.

The song that got the best crowd response was “North Carolina We’re Better Than This,” an up-tempo guitar-pop anthem featuring a star turn by former Ben Folds sideman Britt Harper “Snuzz” Uzzell and some sly rhymes (“Vote suppression is a sin/And the only way you’ll get elected again.”)

If there was a sense of underground opposition, it was also loyal opposition. Barham recalled playing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s inauguration back in January, which his band did out of a sense of loyalty to the state.

“I made a point of going up to McCrory to say that,” Barham said. “I told him, ‘I just want you to know that not a single one of us voted for you. But we’re here because it’s North Carolina, and you’re the governor.’ The look on his face was amazing.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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