Surveying the musical changes taking place around the Triangle over the past few years, it is a little amazing that the annual Band Together Main Event concert still gets so much love from local concertgoers. With seemingly every weekend of the summer booked with music festivals generating lots of media coverage, the fact that this small charity event continues to pack venues points toward the generous spirit that can add up to ticket sales.
Matt Strickland, executive director of Band Together, realizes it’s important to offer something beyond a healthy conscience to ticket buyers. Continuing the tradition of pairing local nonprofits with their annual show, this year Band Together partners with the progressive bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles and Americana band The Devil Makes Three to reach their $1 million fundraising goal for Kidznotes, a group working with underserved K-12 students in Raleigh and Durham through music instruction.
Talking to Strickland the weekend before his big event, his excitement is palpable. “We are all about using live music to support community nonprofits, and this year the recipient is all about teaching kids how to play musical instruments. This year is different from years past in that way, as our missions match up perfectly, whereas we’ve never really dealt with a group that taught children music in the past,” he says.
This year’s charity recipient isn’t the only perfect fit for the Band Together brand. After years crisscrossing the Triangle, filling empty spots on the summer calendars of various musical venues, Band Together has finally found what they hope will be their long-term home.
Says Strickland, “We have partnered with the city of Raleigh to come in and work with the Red Hat Amphitheater downtown, since that is where the soul of Band Together is, for the foreseeable future. The city works with Live Nation to book talent for the amphitheater, and that is who we work with as well, so it works out.”
The task has been more lucrative some years than others. The group is largely given two options when it comes to booking talent that will get fans’ attention, with one having a much more positive effect on Band Together’s bottom line.
“Bands can play the show in one of two ways,” Strickland explains. “They either come in a one-off, which means they fly in specifically to work this show, and then fly out as soon as it’s over. The other way is to catch them during a routed tour, which means that the show just happens to work for them while they are on the road, and maybe they’ll stop in Raleigh on their way to the next gig in Richmond or wherever. We always try to find bands on a routed tour because it saves our organization so much more money than flying someone into our region just for this show. We hooked up with Trampled by Turtles for this show while they are traveling through toward another area, so it worked out pretty well for all parties.”
Not that Trampled by Turtles necessarily needs Band Together’s stamp on their concert to ensure success. The progressive bluegrass band, a longtime fixture on the nation’s amphitheater stages since first climbing into a tour van in their native Minnesota, has built a fervent fan following over the past decade while traveling through the South. According to Ryan Young, the band’s fiddle player, Trampled has been able to overcome the somewhat frosty reception they first received from the genre’s self-appointed guardians.
“We play music that sounds like bluegrass because of the instruments that we play: banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Really, the songs that we play are more inspired by folk and rock,” he explains during a break in the group’s touring. “When you have a band setup like we do, where it is basically your traditional bluegrass setup, there will be a vocal group of people who insist that we must sound like a certain thing. We are supposed to sound like Bill Monroe on each song. I realize it’s a very vocal minority, but they are very hung up on that. If we were to look and play more like a traditional rock band, we wouldn’t get as much grief from them.”
Still, Young and the rest of his band mates look at Band Together as an opportunity to sway a large audience who may not be as familiar with their music.
“I love playing for people that don’t know who we are, because it is a chance to sell music to potential new fans. Get some more downloads on Spotify or whatever,” Young says. “Typically, I’ve always felt that we are a better live band than we are on record, so there is the definite opportunity to pick up a few new fans. Some people aren’t going to like what they hear, but some people will, and I’m all for that.”
Strickland believes the band will provide the perfect musical atmosphere for this year’s event, guaranteed to have an audience that crosses all demographics.
“We’re always wanting to catch a band when their star is on the rise, and that is where Trampled by Turtles are. They’ve been around for a while, but they are a young band that plays music that people enjoy. They pull in a multi-generational crowd, and this is a show that all ages can attend.”
What: Band Together, featuring Trampled by Turtles and The Devil Makes Three
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
Info: redhatamphitheater.com or 919-831-6400