Music News & Reviews

There’s great music at the NC State Fair – and it isn’t all at Dorton

Indie rock standard-bearers Superchunk will bring their brand of DIY heroics to the Fairgrounds on Wednesday, October 19th at 7:30pm.
Indie rock standard-bearers Superchunk will bring their brand of DIY heroics to the Fairgrounds on Wednesday, October 19th at 7:30pm.

In only its second year of emphasizing North Carolina-based musicians, the N.C. State Fair cast a wide net and booked a diverse array of talent.

Fair organizers went even further with their booking ideas for the nighttime shows at Dorton Arena, once mainly the providence of older classic rock and country bands, this year snagging renowned Triangle bands that locals never dreamed would grace the State Fair’s brochures.

Indie rock standard-bearers Superchunk bring their brand of DIY heroics to Dorton on Wednesday (Oct. 19); and Corrosion of Conformity, long Raleigh’s main representatives in the world stage of heavy metal, will bring their intensity next Friday (Oct. 21).

But perhaps more impressive than the Dorton lineup is the amount of talent you’ll find during the daytime hours.

With a total of 117 performances planned over the 11 days of the Fair, organizers have promised a unique mix of genres by state talent, with everything from beach to salsa music. Dubbed the Homegrown Music Fest, musically adventurous audiences can expand their list of favorite local acts without dropping a $10 cover charge at the door of a dive bar – and without paying five times that to see some of them opening for a pop star at an amphitheater.

Here’s just a sample of some of the musicians you should check out during the day. See for full schedules and venue details.

Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos. The only possible excuse to miss Melton and his band is if you still hold a grudge against the man for closing his Cajun restaurant in South Durham, Papa Mojo's Roadhouse, back in 2014 to focus on his music. While I completely understand – it was one of the few local establishments to truly appreciate the crawfish – two years is too long to let ill feelings get in the way of enjoying what is hands down the best zydeco blues outfit in the area. Closing in our their 30th anniversary of bringing Creole inspiration to dance floors around the state, the Mojos are a must-see in this intimate setting. Melton and the band will play the Waterfall Stage on opening day, Thursday, Oct. 13, at 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.

Lud. Americana by way of noise rock and soul, Lud (featuring frequent News & Observer correspondent Kirk Ross) have been haunting area small venues since forming in Chapel Hill in 1992. The band has put out a series of critically-hailed albums, and remains an influence on many Triangle indie rock bands. They are one of the most talented roots music-influenced acts performing at the Fair this year, but don’t be surprised to find their punk rock past bleed into a few songs. Performing at the Waterfall Stage on Friday, Oct. 14, at 1 and 2:30 p.m.

Larry Frick. This Louisburg native has been carving a name for himself among area country fans for years. Long a regular on the stage of the now-closed Longbranch Saloon in Raleigh, Frick now journeys back and forth from his hometown to Nashville, Tenn., and has probably played on every stage along the way. A voice steeped in the traditional sounds that many of us are awaiting to return to country radio airwaves, Frick will grace the Waterfall Stage on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 5:30 p.m.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmer. Shook has long been a presence on Triangle stages, capturing audiences’ attention with a sound that harkens back to the days when music was still allowed to have an ounce of danger to it. A punk-country fusion soaked in whiskey and recorded over a Patsy Cline melody, Shook and her band have quietly become one of the top tier bands in the region, with Rolling Stone dubbing them one of the “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.” The band will perform at the Waterfall Stage on Monday, Oct. 17, at 2 and 3:30 p.m.

Russ Varnell & His Too Country Band. Varnell is a true journeyman of the North Carolina traditional country scene. Hailing from the small eastern N.C. town of Black Creek, Varnell and his band have performed in just about every dance hall and VFW with a stage setup, with a set list of classic country tunes – or as Varnell puts it, “real country music” – that gets folks out of their seats and moving to songs they haven’t heard in years. They’ll play the Waterfall Stage on Monday, Oct. 17, at 5 p.m.

Jon Stickley Trio. These three may be playing on the bluegrass stage, but attempting to boil down their sound to fit one genre is a thankless job. The energetic Asheville ensemble crafts songs that contain bits of music from across the American landscape: jazz, hip-hop and old-time all come together to captivate audiences. One of the most exhilarating new North Carolina bands to come onto the roots scene in years, be prepared to enjoy innovative original music with a few surprising covers thrown in for good measure. The trio will perform on the Heritage Circle Bluegrass Stage on Thursday, Oct. 20, throughout the day, beginning at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 5:30 p.m.

N.C. State Fair

When: Oct. 13-23

Where: 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh

Cost: $8-$10 for adults; $6 for military; $3-$5 for kids 6-12; free kids 5 and under; free for seniors, 65 and over.