What’s That Sound Coming Down? It’s Music in Our Towns

by | Apr 27, 2021 | Municipalities

The word “service” is what most of us think about when we talk about the towns that surround us in Rowan County  — police, fire, water, etc. — all the essentials. Cities and towns are in place to provide service to the citizens who live there.

There’s a change in the wind, and it involves the word “music.” It’s a good change, or rather a good addition. More and more, our cities and towns are beginning to provide musical entertainment for their citizens, much of it in the form of live music. It’s everywhere, especially this time of year. You’ll find:

  • “Summer Break” on Saturday nights on a grassy hill in the Town of Cleveland in the far western part of the county.
  • The E.H. Montgomery General Store Bluegrass Jam, a 17-year Friday night tradition in the Village of Gold Hill on the far eastern side to the county.
  • Opening in downtown Salisbury: The long-awaited Bell Tower Green Park at Stanback Square with summer musical events planned by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for July and August.
  • And coming in late fall: The restoration of the historic Swanee Theater in downtown Kannapolis. (see photos online)

Live music is not new, of course. Think of the weeklong Fourth of July events in the Town of Faith, which kick off with a street dance. But with all the regional bands playing in bars and restaurants, at private events, at Rowan Public Library’s Friends of the Library events, and at city/town venues, I think we are safe to think of all this as “a musical revival.” We’re tired of staying home and babysitting the pandemic. We want to get out and hear and see live music in our lives.

‘A SHARED EXPERIENCE’

John Brincefield, who has been singing/entertaining in this community for more than 45 years and is now part of the popular singing group The Moonglows, has a theory on the attraction of live musical events. 

“Live music enters the brain and the body differently than recorded music,” he says. “The energy and excitement of the crowd is a shared experience. Plus, live music is unpredictable! Performers can improvise as the mood in the room changes. And when it’s over, the emotion it evokes can’t be recaptured. Each performance I’ve been a part of has been a little different every night of the run.

“Part of the reason we do live music is the instant feedback we get from the audience. As a performer, when the audience is really involved and reactive, the performers are energized and do a better job. Live music is a shared experience, and it bonds people. Being in a room with lots of people who have shared experiences and connections to the artists is what live music is all about. And, most people at a live show are truly living in the moment. They are not thinking about work, the kids, or politics! They are there for an escape.” 

MAKING US HAPPY

Cleveland Mayor Pat Phifer, who started “Summer Break” along with the former mayor, Danny Gabriel, says their idea was to bring the people of the West Rowan area something to enjoy, from Top 40, to country, to Motown to rhythm and blues. There’s a lot of music in Cleveland. Gerald Knox, the lead singer of the popular “Divided by Four” band, is from Cleveland. Pat, who previously played drums and the keyboard in bands, is in charge of booking bands, a Board of Alderman member, Richard Taylor, shows up with bottled water to distribute on hot summer nights, and one of the 10 churches in the community may come with food for a fund-raiser. The informal bring-your-own-chair event is held on the grassy slope on South Depot Street on the fourth Saturday of each month, May-September, at 6:30 p.m.

Scheduled this year:

  • May 22, Seven Roads Band
  • June 26, Darrell Harwood
  • July 24, The Chocolate Chip and Company
  • 28, TBD
  • 25, TBD

The historic Swanee Theatre in downtown Kannapolis. 

BRINGING LIFE TO THE SWANEE

Over in Kannapolis, 15 miles away as “the crow flies,” as Mayor Pat likes to say, West Avenue Entertainment, LLC, of 115 West Ave., is restoring the historic Swanee Theater. Owners Kent Gregory of, Highlands, NC, and Ken Lingafelt of Kannapolis, see the project as a great way to promote downtown Kannapolis.

This live entertainment venue, planned for a late fall opening, is expected to be a big draw, similar to the new baseball stadium. They plan to start with musical events on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and grow from that, with the venue possibly offering live game shows early in the week, church activities on Sunday mornings, and also rented for other performances when available.

The group already owns the older buildings downtown that are being refurbished, or already have been, including the Old Armor Beer Co. brewery and 286 new VIDA apartments on West Avenue that are currently being rented. The Swanee was a natural extension, especially since Ken Lingafelt had been involved with a theater restoration project in Florida. The Swanee opened in the 1930s and closed in the early ’70s as a theater.

“We’ll have all types of music that will bring people downtown,” Kent Gregory says. “The revival of the Swanee will enhance the downtown activity and provide support to all of our new businesses.” Gregory and LMG Development focus on public/private partnerships with cities to deliver positive community impact and good returns for their investors. LMG mostly develops new projects on a national scale, he says, but was intrigued by the restoration of the former mill town. “It was a unique situation provided by an aggressive redevelopment plan by the City Council and Manager,” he said. LMG is the developer of VIDA, the public/private mixed-use district in Kannapolis, along with Peter Flotz. VIDA is one of the first federal Opportunity Zone projects in the U.S. An Opportunity Zone plan is being developed by the City of Salisbury and other Rowan County municipalities, through the Rowan County Economic Development Commission.

MAKING MUSIC AT BELL TOWER GREEN AT STANBACK SQUARE

Bell Tower Green at Stanback Square, three acres of green space in the heart of downtown Salisbury and a $12 million project spearheaded by the Robertson Foundation and a local fund-raising group, is being turned over to the City of Salisbury for administration.

Vivian Koontz, Events Coordinator for the City of Salisbury, is handling bookings, and she has the same message as other town officials who understand the value of providing entertainment. “Most importantly,” she says, “have a good time at the park.”

The July/August Summer Concert Series planned at the park by the city will be a series of preliminary events, with the official opening. coming in September and featuring the popular Pops at The Post concert.

The main green in front of the amphitheater holds 4,000 people, she said, but the entire park has a larger capacity. City events will be free, with attendees bringing their own outdoor chairs, but outside organizations who rent the park will set their own admission fees, she said.

Promotors and acts looking to use the park should contact Salisbury Parks and Recreation Department. (SPRD) for availability and fees. Concert goers should follow the general rules of the park and check the SPRD and Downtown Salisbury Inc. (DSI) websites and social media for any SPRD and DSI events.

The park will be available for bookings every day of the week but will be held to the park hours and the City noise ordinance. Time and day of booking will determine rental fees.

Contact Koontz 704.638.5294 or vkoon@salisburync.gov or Scott Ludwick at 704.638.2110 or scott.ludwick@salisburync.gov. 

GOLD HILL BLUEGRASS     

The E.H. Montgomery General Store Bluegrass Jam, every Friday night from 7-9, has been a stable in Gold Hill for more than 17 years. Regional musicians come from an hour or two way to gather with like-minded musical souls in the 1840 general store to swap tunes, compare instruments, and entertain those who love traditional bluegrass and old-time music.

During good weather, the music often spreads out on to the wooden sidewalks and into the historic village, creating a festive like atmosphere. In the winter, musicians gather around the pot-bellied wood stove inside the store.

Contact Vivian Pennington-Hopkins, Proprietor and President of the NC Bluegrass Association, at 704.267.9439. http://facebook.com/MontgomeryStoreGoldHillNC/

In Rowan County, no matter which way you turn, you’ll find these live music venues sprouting up like wildflowers in the spring. It’s all about cities, towns, communities, restaurants, bars, and others stepping up in the entertainment world … to connect us to each other and to make our lives the richer for it.

My friend John Brincefield is right: “Live music bonds people.” To each other … to the performers on stage … and to the place where they live.

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About The Author

Linda Bailey

Linda knows about challenges. There are always mountains to climb. It is the caring, considerate people who live in Rowan County and form support networks for others that make Rowan County special.