Where would we be without music in Charlotte?
BEST NEW MUSIC EVENT: Queen City Jam Session
It’s been many years since Charlotte was home to a music festival we could be proud of, but this year’s partnership between Maxx Music and NoDa Brewing gave us hope that the wait is over. The three-day Queen City Jam Session, held in and behind NoDa’s Brewing’s North Tryon street location, featured a slew of wonderful local, regional and national acts, not to mention a vendor market filled with amazing local artists, food trucks galore and, oh yeah, beer.
But we were there for the music, and we were not sent home disappointed. Highlights on the local stage inside included longtime Queen City Nerve favorites like Natalie Carr, Yung Citizen, Sinners & Saints, Cyanca and more, while outside we found regional bands like Nude Party and War & Treaty playing alongside national acts like The Mountain Goats, Nikki Lane and Spafford. While attendance could have been better — estimates were between 1,000-1,500 — we’re confident from how this event was implemented that the inaugural year was just a teaser for what we’ll see in the future.
BEST MUSIC ORGANIZATION: We Rock Charlotte
Krystle Baller wears many hats, but none has been more important than that of music director for the organization formerly known as Girls Rock Charlotte, which has amplified the voices of girls, women, and gender-diverse youth and adults since 2014.
With its popular series of summer camps, GRC has moved the needle for inclusion and gender equity. In February, the organization announced a full rebranding, changing its name from Girls Rock Charlotte to We Rock Charlotte, and Baller made the jump to creative director for the organization. The decision makes the program more visibly inclusive to trans and gender nonconforming young people.
As We Rock Charlotte, the organization has also expanded its reach and programs, now offering year-round music classes, workshops, corporate team-building, leadership retreat experiences and more. “We were just … waiting for the right timing,” Baller says. “Because when we started in 2014, the gender language wasn’t where it is now.”
BEST BAND: Falling Through April
After releasing the well-received pop-influenced album Zodiac in 2017, Falling Through April turned to a harder rocking sound. Along with its redefined edge, the group also embraced burgeoning maturity with song-and-video combinations that tackle serious subjects, like the powerful anti-drug-abuse polemic “Recover/Relapse.”
While the song incorporates an infectious electro–dance sound in places, the video follows an attractive protagonist into a downward spiral of addiction that leads to an early grave. With a collaboration with Raleigh-based rapper Big Greg under its belt, the band continues to grow musically while simultaneously expanding its fanbase, having toured the Southeast and Midwest this year.
BEST NEW BAND: Dreamboat
Dreamboat’s rampaging riff-laden rock delivers a bracing endorphin rush. Their sharp and melodic debut single “Cover to Cover” kicks off with guitarist Nic Pugh’s clangorous intro before diving into Sydney Nieboer’s taunting, snarling vocals: “I read it cover to cover/ And I feel the same way…”
Razor sharp guitar darts in and out of the vocals while Nieboer’s lyrics and delivery suggest a bruised vulnerability lurking under the bravado.
“We set out to … make a Riot Grrrl band, but with … [the] actual substance of real issues, like family, friendships and lost love,” Nieboer told Queen City Nerve in August.
Dreamboat stirs up a welter of emotions, but amid their music’s anger, hope, defiance and confusion, the prevailing feeling is an open-hearted empathy as deep as the Marianas Trench.
BEST RAPPER: MAVI
MAVI has been paying his dues on the Charlotte hip-hop scene, first rising to popularity in 2014 as part of the collective KILLSWITCH, which included fellow Charlotte rappers SSCOPACK!, MESSIAH!, and Ahmir. He branched out in 2019 with his debut solo album, Let the Sun Talk, the same year he gained some national recognition through a feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s Feet of Clay EP.
It was with this year’s release of Laughing so Hard, It Hurts that MAVI truly stepped into his own. The intimate 16-track album bounces between lyrical styles like dishes at a potluck, but he brought every one of them himself. In the final track, “Last Laugh,” MAVI raps, “The routes I ran in Charlotte carved into the small of my back.” Those routes are leading toward more nationwide acclaim in the coming years, and we’re confident MAVI won’t forget the place he came up in — or the team he came up with.
BEST EMERGING RAPPER: Midas Black
Usually when an artist drops an album, especially a debut, they want to spend some time pushing it out to the public — performing the songs and building a following around what they hope to become a defining piece of art. For local singer, rapper and producer Midas Black, his debut album Free Midas, which dropped in December 2021, is already just a reminder of the past.
“A lot of people are telling me, ‘You should keep performing the songs, keep pushing the album,’” he told Queen City Nerve. “The only reason I don’t want to do that is, it’s really dark. I’m not in that place anymore, I’m really not.”
The Monroe native recorded Free Midas when he was struggling. Relationship trouble, financial issues and an over-reliance on self-medication had Midas Black, whose real name is Daniel Thomas, feeling trapped in a cycle of depression and negativity that he could only escape through self-expression and music. What came out was something worth being proud of and pushing to the people, but we can’t wait to see what comes next now that he’s in a better place.
BEST RAPPER OUTSIDE 485: TiaCorine
Hip-hop might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Winston-Salem, but TiaCorine is on her way to changing that notion. The young rapper first started gaining buzz with the release of “Lotto,” which teased her penchant for mixing earworm rhythms with solid lyrics — bouncing along beats in a way that will have the listener repeating their own thoughts in Tia’s tempo and pattern for hours.
Raised by her Japanese-African-American father and a Shoshone indigenous mother, Tia was exposed to a wide range of musical styles growing up, and it shows not only in her music today but in her style, which sees a mix of hip-hop and anime/gaming culture. The September release of I Can’t Wait, a follow-up to her 2021 debut 34Corine, cemented her as one of North Carolina’s most promising musicians.
BEST PRODUCER: FLLS
On May 1, longtime Charlotte producer FLLS dropped his debut rap album, Lavonte Is My Real Name, and it was clear from the first listen that he poured his heart into it. FLLS looked inward, sharing personal life stories while at the same time ratcheting up the gritty, hardcore style that local rappers and fellow Hovis House cohorts like Jah-Monte and Cuzo Key have done so well with.
His lyrical prowess deserves praise, and he now represents Charlotte’s most threatening hip-hop multi-hyphenate, but it’s impossible to ignore that Lavonte Is My Real Name, most of which was self-produced by FLLS as well, highlighted why he’s still the best behind the boards, full stop. Upon the new project’s release in May, FLLS told Queen City Nerve he wanted to begin experimenting more with house music, which only gives us more evolution to look forward to.
BEST DJ: DJ Fannie Mae
You’ve definitely heard of DJ Fannie Mae in conversation about Durag Fest or when she was crowned the official DJ of our new sports club, Charlotte FC. But one thing we’ve learned watching the evolution of Fannie from when we first saw her spinning at L4 Lounge is that it’s impossible to put boundaries on what she’s capable of. If you thought a football club was outside the box, try the Charlotte Ballet, for which she’s also served as resident DJ.
Her spot as innovator is cemented by her work launching Sainted: A Trap Choir Party, which, as the name suggests, are praise-and-worship events served with a side of trap music and seasoned with saints. These are immersive parties that highlight the church experience — complete with artistically designed church fans — through music like trap, old-school funk, soul and hip-hop, all with DJ Fannie Mae at the helm, where she naturally belongs.
BEST R&B/SOUL: The Ton3s
With male R&B groups all but extinct in this day and age, The Ton3s have had an interesting career path, first getting a foothold as Anthony Hamilton’s backup singers, then garnering national attention with viral, comedic gospel renditions of songs like Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and Birdman’s “Respeck.” This year, having rebranded from The Hamiltones to The Ton3s, the trio got serious.
The May release of We Are The Ton3s not only included features from Snoop Dogg, PJ Morton, Sir The Baptist and Tarriona “Tank” Ball, but unveiled a new versatile sound that proved The Ton3s can stand on their own six feet without the help of their one-time leader or viral gimmicks.
BEST POP: Quisol
With his second album Dreamworld, Quisol marks a change in his musical path — a turn from projects that amplify social movements to more personal songs. Advance single “In The Flesh” is an autobiographical narrative from Quisol, a Gates Millennium Scholar with a masters degree from Harvard University who is also queer.
The lilting indie-pop love song looks to his upbringing in a Filipino-Puerto Rican-American family with deep ties to its church. Containing elements of alt R&B, pop-soul, electro and jazz, Quisol’s songs also trace a throughline to praise music.
Quisol continues to support organizations that work for issues like housing justice and equity and inclusion for the arts, but for now he’s delving into the feelings associated with love. His current music is positive, uplifting — and always queer.
BEST COMEBACK: Davey Blackburn
After a three-year hiatus from Charlotte’s music scene, one of the city’s most inventive musicians (Chócala, Don Telling’s Island Mysteries) came back with his first solo album. Curiosidades de Bombrile offers 12 propulsive and hypnotic songs comprised of Blackburn’s multi-tracked shape-shifting rhythms that snake under his layered vocals.
Blackburn has worked on these tracks for more than 10 years, but he set them aside in October 2019 when his son, Cuauthy, was diagnosed with leukemia. After Blackburn and his wife concentrated on the care and treatment of their son, Cuauthy’s cancer went into remission. Blackburn’s joy at overcoming his family’s ordeal is palpable in Curiosidades de Bombrile’s celebratory lyrics that cut to the quick.
They’re a compendium of what matters most to Blackburn: people, places, plants, animals and, most of all, family.
BEST MULTI-TASKER: Martin Hacker-Mullen
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Martin Hacker-Mullen is also a multi-tasker, shepherding two critically praised musical projects, both undergoing growth and meaningful change.
Charlotte band Clearbody — comprised of bassist Hacker-Mullen and their two closest friends, vocalist/guitarist Eric Smeal and drummer Seth Wesner — garnered national attention and rave reviews with its 2020 debut album One More Day and its follow-up EP, taken from their live Audiotree recording.
At the same time, emo-punk-inspired Stress Fractures, which began in 2017 as Hacker-Mullen’s solo project, has stepped up its game with music that faces the rigors of being alive head on. “The lyrical themes play into the concept of a stress fracture — doing something over and over again until it breaks,” Hacker-Mullen told Queen City Nerve. “I’m using my own moniker as my … inspiration.”
BEST VOCALIST: Mikaela Salazar
In Falling Through April’s 2021 single “Paralyzed,” Mikaela Salazar’s impassioned vocals depict a tipping point in a toxic relationship and only she can change: “Tell me why should I believe in you/ When every kiss leaves an open wound…”
Shunning rock conventions, Salazar eschews delivering her kiss-off/declaration of agency with a piercing scream, rather she drives the point home with a soaring, heartfelt croon. The result is powerful and relatable rock, tuneful as a pop gem, harder than a diamond.
Salazar continues to apply her counter-intuitive approach to rock performance. Despite her melodic, soaring and supposedly pop-friendly vocals, a harder rocking approach proves to be the perfect choice for Salazar.
BEST PERFORMER: Mercury Carter
On June 11, Mercury Carter cemented his reputation as the Queen City’s most innovative and electrifying performer — and he did so not by singing his accomplished tunes, but by interpreting experimental, jazz-electronica-pop legend Bjork at Petra’s.
With visceral and celestial songs, Bjork’s music possesses an alien beauty akin to the rocky crags of her native Iceland. Carter’s ethereal 3.5 octave range has drawn comparisons to Queen’s Freddy Mercury, yet he proved he’s just as outré as Bjork, while never losing sight of his individualism.
Even Bjork’s taste in fashion and glam was mirrored in Carter’s taste in gossamer stage design and tasteful attire of a cropped graphic tee, Girbauds and sneakers. No by-the-numbers tribute, the show, and the rest of his tour covering Bjork at venues and institutions around the city, played out as a match made somewhere along the astral plane imbued with otherworldly grandeur.
BEST SINGER/SONGWRITER: Kadey Ballard
Accomplished actress Kadey Ballard proves just as accomplished at making music with her haunted hymns and Appalachian-infused incantations.
There’s a sense of serenity in songs like “The Changeling Well,” where Ballard’s acoustic guitar canters like a buckboard jostling on a carriage route. Gradually, her feathered vocals gain force like wind shaking the treetops, as ghostly harmonies and layered instruments join in. All the while, Ballard’s lyrics cast a spell where human needs and nature’s magic meet.
“There’s something that I obviously need to express … in a certain way. I want to be a conduit for that,” said Ballard, who has harnessed her love of nature to conjure an emotional reaction in audiences — a live energy exchange that’s as powerful as any mountain witch’s spell.
BEST EMERGING SINGER/SONGWRITER: Royal Ranger
It may seem like Dan Anderson came out of nowhere when he dropped “Libra Libra,” the first single from his new solo project Royal Ranger, in September, but he’s been bopping around the NC music scene for his time, playing with blues band The Swamp Doctors before branching out on his own to experiment with different sounds.
From that emerged Royal Ranger, and since “Libra Libra” is all we have to go by now, we’re not sure if he plans to stick to the spaced-out Spaghetti western sound he so magnificently implements in the single, but it’s such a damn good song we have to recognize it for the potential it has to make Royal Ranger a fixture on the local scene.
BEST COUNTRY/FOLK/AMERICANA: Loose Lugnuts
Formed by brothers and Thirsty Beaver co-owners Mark and Brian Wilson, The Loose Lugnuts are authentic yet contemporary purveyors of folk storytelling and barstool laureate poetry. The foursome plays all-American rough-edged rowdy country, the font from which rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll emerged.
They’re so good at what they do, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the emotionally direct covers they love to play live and the powerful punchy originals they craft, which sound like they could have been cut by “the singing lineman” Jimmie Rodgers.
Mark Wilson’s writing is plain-spoken poetry, deft and emotional without calling attention to its cleverness. Amid lashings of pedal steel, the song “Fingerprints on the Bottle” drops one of the more evocative lines ever written about a neglected relationship when it references “dust on my wedding band.”
BEST METAL/HARDCORE: Duckbeak
Originally formed in Weddington in 2018, Duckbeak was inspired by modern beat-down hardcore and metalcore but still carries influences from old-school punk music. This year saw the release of “Quietkind,” the first single since their Snakes & Rats album dropped in 2021. The song references depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide in a way that allows for maximum release.
“The song is about bottling up your emotions and the struggle with not being able to open up about anything that’s going on inside,” vocalist Mike Smith told music site No Echo in September upon the single’s premiere.
At the very least, it’s enough to ramp you up to break that bottle.
BEST ROCK: The New Creatures
Forged in the crucible of a McAdenville house called the Creature Farm, The New Creatures are a rarity in mainstream rock’s menagerie of larger-than-life figures; they’re regular folks who write relatable, catchy rock songs.
The band’s fresh yet familiar-sounding tunes draw from surf, country, indie and classic rock, and can range from “Telephone Wire,” where chiming, frenetic rhythm guitars that suggest nerdy ’80s indie band The Feelies give way to an amiable Quicksilver Messenger Service canter, to the Big Star-styled rocker “Now We’re Dancin’,” which nods to Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones with percussive electric piano and spiraling country-rock guitar riffs.
“All I ever wanted was to write a song that anybody can relate to and listen to, and it will brighten up their day a little bit,” guitarist John Carstarphen told Queen City Nerve in February.
BEST EXPERIMENTAL: Coyote 87
In 2015, writer Devan T. Penegar made a shattering impact with his essay “I Dream of Goats,” weaving idyllic childhood memories with a harrowing account of Penegar’s own sexual assault at the tender age of 15, and his subsequent struggle with PTSD.
Seven years on, the writer has deftly turned the page to become an experimental electronic musician. Coyote 87 crafts layered synth-based songs with cut-and-paste vocals drawn from podcasts, as well as kinky and/or chilly recitatives from his friend Camryn Bell, who works as dominatrix under the moniker Princess Camryn.
Penegar also augments his musical armory with analog electronic sounds — the spooky churchyard ambience of 1970s Italian horror stalwarts Goblin and the metronomic canter of veteran Krautrockers Tangerine Dream — for a nostalgic and frisson-filled listening experience.
“I consider Coyote 87 a persona rooted in nostalgia while still trying to move forward,” Penegar explains. “I choose using the coyote in place of my face on album covers because they give me a sense of awe.”
BEST INSTRUMENTAL ACT: Sometime in February
Having played a variety of genres ranging from classic rock to heavy metal, guitarist Tristan Auman feels he’s found his voice by dropping the vocals.
After composing pensive and menacing tone poem “Better Late,” in which he played practically everything, Auman recruited drummer Scott Barber and bassist Morgan Johnson as permanent members of thinking man’s power trio Sometime in February.
The group charts a sound that hews to the modern progressive crunch of bands like Periphery and Between the Buried and Me, augmented with techniques Auman picked up by playing indie rock, such as guitar pedals and effects.
“Shredding a great solo is always fun,” Auman told Queen City Nerve, “but it’s the song as a whole that is the most important thing to me — and the most fun.”
BEST POP PUNK: Clearbody
In 2014, guitarist/vocalist Eric Smeal launched Dollhands as a solo effort. As Smeal’s interests shifted to other musical genres, Dollhands shed its old identity as a punk-inflected garage rock outfit and became Clearbody. In the process, a very good band became an inspired trio comprised of Smeal, bassist Martin Hacker-Mullen and drummer Seth Wesner.
With heavy-driving guitar tones, intricate guitar leads and atmospheric rhythms, Clearbody became the city’s best pop punk outfit. The band’s quantum leap in quality is crystal clear in “Ultraclarity,” where fuzzed subterranean bass anchors jagged distorted guitars that radiate outward in a shimmering emo/hardcore aurora.
Similarly, the anthemic “Quarterback” enfolds wheeling scythes of flashing guitars with sweet and soaring vocals. Ethereal wordless vocals also simmer atop chugging hardcore riffs on “Scratch the Color.” The release garnered national attention from Spin Magazine and others.
“We were confident in [2020 album One More Day], but had no idea it would have that range of appeal,” Hacker-Mullen told Queen City Nerve. “We thought that our friends would like it, and … peers would listen to it. But magazines that I bought at Books-A-Million when I was in high school writing about me now is not something I expected.”
We expect he and the rest of the guys in Clearbody will only see more of that in the years to come.
BEST SECOND WIND: Doubting Thomas
The popular ’90s Charlotte band officially disbanded in 2001, but Doubting Thomas, fronted by Gina Stewart and Brenda Gambill, never really went away, continuing to exert its hold on Charlotte’s musical imagination with a diverse definition-defying sound.
There are echoes of 1970s folk-inflected Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters and sympathetic rockers like The Eagles in Doubting Thomas’ indelible image-rich songs, but the band transcends genre, pulling from fiery protest tunes, experimental progressive rock and indie pop.
After the rapturous response to a Sept. 17 reunion show, the band has booked a Jan. 28 gig at Neighborhood Theatre and is open to more shows. There’s no doubt that the resilient indomitable band never died. After more than 20 years, Doubting Thomas refuses to fade away.
BEST ALBUM: Faye, ‘You’re Better’
After three years of frustrating delays to their debut album release thanks to COVID-19, supply-line issues and the dissolution of a whole record label, indie-rock trio Faye finally dropped You’re Better in August, and it was worth the wait.
Recorded with renowned producer Justin Pizzoferrato, You’re Better showcases a cleaned-up sound as compared to the 2019 self-titled EP that trades in distorted dreamscapes for crisp, in-your-face alt rock — more Veruca Salt than Rilo Kiley.
“The EP was honestly kind of tentative, like we weren’t sure who we were as a band or if we knew what we were doing or if we were allowed to do it,” explained Sarah Blumenthal, Faye’s bassist who shares songwriting and vocal duties with guitarist Susan Plante. “So there’s a lot more steadier footing on the LP — definitely more confidence, definitely more intention.”
BEST EP: Quentin Talley & the Soul Providers, ‘Fall Thru’
The group had been fine-tuning the piece over the past two years, waiting for that time when they felt comfortable to put it out there — comfortable with the music and comfortable with the climate.
“Last year, we thought it was time and then the Omicron came back and got us,” Talley told Queen City Nerve. “And we still had some more mixing to do anyway. But I’m hoping it will be somewhat of an anthem for people to call up their people that they ain’t seen in a minute, tell them to fall through and have a drink or get up at a certain spot and just kind of hang out and catch up with folks that you haven’t seen.”
The song is a plea for socialization, all in the upbeat and uplifting soulful jazz style fans have come to expect from Quentin Talley and the Soul Providers over the years.
BEST SONG: “Four Corners” by Erick Lottary feat. Deniro Farrar, KAS, Southside Gauxst
After getting in his bag with the R&B sound on Safe & Sound in 2021, Erick Lottary came back to show the hip-hop community he’s still got it in ’22. First he dropped separate singles with KAS and Southside Gauxst, then brought them both back and threw Deniro Farrar into the mix for this banger, “Four Corners,” all glued together by a beautiful bell of a beat by Smwhereat4am.
BEST VIDEO: “PB&J” by Cyanca
Charlotte’s Queen of Neo Soul released this soothing kick-back track in 2021, but the visuals dropped in May of this year and feature a slew of Charlotte music cameos. Produced by Paul Jahn, the video tracks Cyanca through a series of exchanges that ends with … a “To Be Continued” message. That’s usually a letdown but the vibes from the song won’t let us be disappointed. We’re just patiently waiting for Part 2.
BEST COLLABORATIVE PROJECT: Ultima Nota, ‘Soñando’
On “Mi Sueño,” a single off UltimaNota’s album Soñando, funky guitar and rippling timbales coalesce around an ebullient chorus, but the Spanish-language lyrics detail the travails of immigrants consigned to the shadows in their new homeland.
Recorded by guitarist Tony Arreaza, who has supported and fostered a flourishing Latin music community in Charlotte for nearly 30 years, the album features 12 original songs spotlighting local Latinx guest artists including Ana Lucia Divins and Carlos Crespo of acoustic duo Café Amaretto, songwriter Dalia Razo, Charlotte salsa band Orquesta Mayor and many more.
Funded in part by an Arts & Science Council Creative Renewal Fellowship award, Soñando means “dreaming.”
Arreaza hopes the project will convince non-Latinx listeners that Latin music is Charlotte’s music, and that the musicians who create it are part of — and not separate from — the city’s greater creative community.
BEST BREAKTHROUGH PROJECT: Alan Charmer, ‘Don’t You Worry’
Terrence Richard is anything but a “breakthrough artist” in Charlotte, considering the role he’s played as frontman of hugely popular indie rockers Junior Astronomers, but his solo project Alan Charmer is so far and away different from anything JA did that it deserves to be viewed through an entirely different lens.
After dropping his first single in February 2021 and teasing out a few more since then, Richard finally gave us his first EP, Don’t You Worry, in July, allowing us to take in seven tracks of the smooth R&B aesthetic he’s embraced as Alan Charmer. Richard has found his voice and gotten his footing as Charmer, and now the sky’s the limit.
BEST NEW SOUND: Coughing Dove
As was the case with so many others, the pandemic gave Charlotte musician Nicholas Holman a lot of time to think. Holman, who has played in bands such as Landless, Pullover and Dreamboat but performs solo as Coughing Dove, spent a lot of time in nature with his then-partner and a hound dog the two had recently adopted, which gave him time to ponder the complexities of life.
“That time away gave me mental space to think a lot about who I am, who I want to be, not just as an individual, but in relation to the life forms and rhythm of the planet,” Holman told Queen City Nerve. “I thought about ghosts from my past, friends and family who have passed, why I want to create. I spent a little time learning trees by name and just appreciating the quiet time in my mind.”
From those sessions came the foundation for Coughing Dove’s new album You & Me Lee, which he released in September. With 2019’s debut Nearly a Complete Ghost showcasing an exploration of jangly indie rock, dusty fingerpicked folk and rattly sound experiments, this year’s follow-up found Coughing Dove traversing further into the world of country than we’ve seen him in the past, and it fits him perfectly.
BEST NOSTALGIA TRIP: Family Video, ‘The Image’
On Valentine’s Day, Family Video dropped “The Image,” a grinding electro-pop track/retro glitchy video documenting the band’s love/hate relationship with nostalgia.
Shot in bandleader Josh Shabtai’s garage, the deliberately low-res video nods to David Cronenberg’s 1983 body horror classic Videodrome as band members record dating profiles on VHS before merging into one another. Then, as ski-masked dancers from Georgia — the country, not the state — and Malaysian teens bust out their own choreographed dances to the track, viewers are treated to 1980s clips of Brooke Shields, hair mousse and cans of Spam.
Shabtai admits that, like us, he’s a sucker for a manufactured rosy view of the Reagan era.
“We feed on the same nostalgic stuff that gets fanboys up in arms and washed-up ’80s celebrities elected to office,” he said.
BEST LOCAL SHOW: Lost in Space
In 2021, composer and visionary Elizabeth Kowalski’s Your Neighborhood Orchestra invited Charlotte music fans to stare into space at the Stargazer Music fest. A year later, on Oct. 2, Kowalski and company invited them to get lost in it.
An Afrofuturist sci-fi bio-mystery with a genre-bending chamber orchestra and spoken-word artistry, Lost In Space was a collaboration between co-directors and producers Master Kie and RoyalCity LiF, composer Scott McLaughlin, Kowalski’s YNO. At the center of the show was aerialist Stryx defying gravity on a lyra hoop as the cosmonaut Ludmilla, who ascends beyond the struggles of humanity, adrift among the stars.
The purpose of the show was to invite the audience to channel the astronaut’s perspective, but the sheer amount of local talent in one room was enough to leave us spaced out.
BEST NATIONAL SHOW: Alicia Keys at CMCU Amphitheatre
On Aug. 2, Alicia Keys performed at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre, the first stop on her Alicia + Keys World Tour and only one in the Carolinas. Keys performed a varying amount of her discography, with newer hits like “Show Me Love” and “So Done,” and classics like “Fallin’” and “If I Ain’t Got You.”
“Alicia Keys can easily swing the pendulum between heartfelt and playful, as her vocals easily convey whatever emotion she’s going for,” Queen City Nerve’s live music reviewer Jeff Hahne wrote at the time.
Alicia Keys showed off her versatility that night, mixing up her act by moving around from the piano onstage to the lawn of the venue, giving fans a closer glimpse of the singer, who reportedly hasn’t been to Charlotte since 2004. Singer Pink Sweat$ opened for Alicia Keys and by the end of the event, fans were so enamored by her performance that they demanded an encore.
BEST VENUE: Middle C Jazz
It appears that 2022 was the year that Middle C Jazz accomplished what the owners originally set out to do upon opening in 2019, just a mere months before the pandemic: Resuscitate the jazz scene in Charlotte. This year saw a string of big-name acts pass through Middle C: Kat Edmonson (April), Nicole Henry (April), Joey DeFrancesco (May), Jonathan Butler (June), Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra (June), Kirk Whalum (July), Jeff Kashiwa (July), Jeff Lorber (September), and Euge Groove (November).
We’ve seen some of these players before, like Kirk Whalum and Delfeayo Marsalis, at special events dating back to JazzCharlotte in the late ’80s and, more recently, at the Blumenthal Performing Arts’s annual Charlotte Jazz Festival, but until now jazz fans had to satisfy themselves with hoping that these special events would return the big acts to us annually. Now it’s a weekly thing.
“I think the pandemic became a catalyst,” said owner Larry Farber. “Because people then had to wait months and years to get back out, so I think now all this pent-up demand, in addition to what we already knew was going to be a demand in the market, gave us a double boost, and it’s really propelled us in a big way.”
BEST COLLABORATIVE VENUE: Petra’s
It seems as though Petra’s is constantly evolving as a venue, and always in the right direction. One of the coolest ways the venue is constantly cultivating collaboration is through its themed art shows. Just as one example out of many, The Last Night, held in October, asked local creatives for their perspective on the end times. It featured music from Makeda Iroquois, Terra Grata, Day Brown and FLLS to supply the vibes for art on display from more than a dozen local visual artists including Arko, Marcus Kiser, whatisrelax and more.
BEST WEEKLY EVENT: Bill Hanna Legacy Jazz Session at Petra’s
Known as the Godfather of Jazz in Charlotte, Bill Hanna left behind a legacy that is appreciated by many. That is never more apparent than when Petra’s invites anyone and everyone with an interest in jazz to their spot almost every Monday night to jam out. You didn’t have to know Bill to know what he meant to this city once you catch the passion that comes out of these jam sessions, whether two people show up or 20.