Artists are interspersed throughout our city’s service industry, often working day jobs (or night jobs) in bars and restaurants to help supplement their income. It’s mainly just a means to an end, but one local artist is using his job as a bartender to connect with the local arts and music scene, bringing culture to a new development in an old arts neighborhood with the Astro Pop Mural and Music Festival.
Illustrator and muralist Brett Toukatly, aka TWOKAT, is the brains behind Astro Pop, a free art and music festival to be hosted by Wooden Robot Brewery in NoDa on Sept. 25 featuring live mural painting and performances by some of Charlotte’s top musicians.
As a longtime artist in Charlotte and bartender at Wooden Robot for three years, TWOKAT has been looking for ways to bring his two gigs together. Over the summer, he floated the idea of partnering together for a creative-focused festival that celebrates NoDa. On Saturday, that vision comes to fruition.
The event runs from noon to 11 p.m. at The Chamber by Wooden Robot, the brewery’s wood-aging facility with a taproom and rooftop beer garden on East 36th Street. The bill includes visual artists like Hnin Nie, John Hairston Jr., Maryssa Pickett, Matt Moore and Noirs One; plus musical performances by Alan Charmer, Cuzco, Erick Lottary, Late Bloomer, Natalie Carr, Paint Fumes, Sweat Transfer and That Guy Smitty.
There will also be food trucks, vendors and a new beer release – a cold IPA developed as a Wooden Robot staff collaboration. TWOKAT said the team at Wooden Robot had been wanting to do something like Astro Pop for some time, but lacked the right connection to the arts community.
“Having me was kind of a perfect pairing,” he told Queen City Nerve.
Management gave TWOKAT full reign to curate the festival and build the lineup. He chose The Chamber because it’s located in an area of NoDa “people aren’t traditionally comfortable with.”
The Chamber opened at the end of June 2019 in a recently built-up area between NoDa’s light rail station and The Rat’s Nest. It shares its building with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Summit Coffee Co., Orto and a handful of other small businesses.
“It’s important that Wooden Robot keeps the culture of art and music alive in a neighborhood they’re new to,” TWOKAT said. “I wanted to put them on the map in NoDa’s eyes as someone who is supportive of the arts scene.”
During Astro Pop, artists will live-paint murals on 6-by-6-foot panels built by TWOKAT. Afterwards, they’ll either display them at The Chamber or take them home. TWOKAT won’t be one of the participating artists, but he designed merchandise for the event. He said he preferred to use his platform to celebrate the artists he respects rather than draw attention to himself.
All live music will take place in Wooden Robot’s rooftop beer garden with Cuzco slated to play the “sunset show.” TWOKAT said he curated an eclectic mix of artists with an emphasis on those who have a stake in the community.
“They’re local musicians and these are the neighborhoods they call home,” he said. “I wanted to make sure this is about what NoDa’s been for so long. There’s been a lot of changes and a lot of new construction, but I like to think the reason people are coming here is because it’s been the arts and music district.”
And that’s thanks to Charlotte artists and musicians, he continued, some of whom are on the Astro Pop lineup. Like Alan Charmer – the solo project from Junior Astronomers frontman Terrance Richard. Richard has only been performing as Charmer for a little over a month and said so far it has been “a growing experience.”
“Being on stage by yourself is wild but I’m getting used to it,” Richard said. “I’m just trying to get better with each show.”
When TWOKAT reached out to Richard about Astro Pop, it was a no-brainer, he told Queen City Nerve. He jumped at the chance to perform on a bill with names like Erick Lottary and Natalie Carr, a former Wooden Robot employee who will be opening the festival, and to take part in celebrating NoDa.
“I think that any live music in an ‘art district’ is good for that area,” Richard said. “I also enjoy spaces that don’t generally have music putting on shows because it’s against the grain and I generally remember those shows more. Besides Evening Muse, there aren’t really small venues in the NoDa area, so this will be a good way of grabbing eyes from a neighborhood that only usually gets bigger acts at Neighborhood Theatre.”
The goal behind Astro Pop is to celebrate what makes NoDa special. TWOKAT describes the festival as a carefully curated party of some of his favorite artists in Charlotte, not just “a ragtag group of people.”
They’re creatives whom he not only respects, but who inspire the entire neighborhood.
“The reason I make art is because of NoDa,” TWOKAT said, recalling a time when he saw a piece by Matt Moore at Jackbeagles in NoDa. When he worked at Revolution Ale House — now Room & Board — he would go into Jackbeagles regularly just to stare at it. Eventually, that helped inspire him to start drawing.
“I hope this event inspires someone or at least reminds them this is what NoDa was about and still is,” he said.
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