by J.F. Keaton
Twenty years. Dang. Charlotte has changed a lot in the twenty years since Tangents first hit the streets. And yet, the struggle for arts and culture is often the same. Back then, one hoped that there would be enough interested people to attend your event. Now, one has to struggle to let me know that your event is taking place, and fight against the many other options that patrons now have in the Queen City. Many in Charlotte have been trying to do just that for 20 years or longer. As we look at the state of Charlotte, where arts and culture are now, we turned to some of these artists and asked them to tell us where Charlotte stands and what comes next.
Jay Garrigan is a veteran of numerous Charlotte bands and currently plays with Temperance League while leading his own band the Eyebrows. Ruth Ava Lyons co-owned Center of the Earth gallery for many years. John Love is a widely recognized writer, actor and artist. Mitchell Kearney is one of the best-known photographers in the Charlotte area. Derrick Hines is a veteran of Charlotte bands X-Periment and Baleen and is currently half of Bless These Sounds Under the City.
Tangents: How has Charlotte changed in 20 years?
Jay Garrigan: I think Charlotte has become a lot more daring, but growth has also made it disconnected. I think Charlotte had a lot more depth 20 years ago, but at the same time, it has some very creative pockets. These smaller scenes have made our city more interesting, and I hope this trend continues.
Derrick Hines: Charlotte has grown quite a bit in 20 years. There are more 20- to 35-year-olds here than ever before and they spend more money on drinks and entertainment. The wide variety of companies coming here have brought a bigger appetite for film, food, and night life. Unfortunately, most of that appetite is for the more corporate/mainstream variety. Hopefully that acts as a gateway into the ever evolving Charlotte underground.
John W. Love: Her promises then were like that of an earnest 14-year-old girl. Now they are more in line with that girl’s savvy but conflicted 27-year-old sister.
Tangents: How has the art scene changed in 20 years?
Derrick Hines: 20 years has marked a few improvements in Charlotte’s art scene. Although there seem to be a few less art galleries, the ones that are left appear to be more successful than before. While the more classical forms of dance are still appreciated, I’ve noticed a significant increase in roots dance performances and attendance. There was never a significant underground dance scene (outside of raves) in Charlotte. There is now and it’s growing fast. Bigger theatre (of the Broadway variety) is experiencing a boom, but community theatre is suffering. Having said that, the theatre community is growing slowly. The talent pool of actors, dancers, and musicians is larger than I ever remember and we’re all a bit more connected. There are more performing musicians here than I ever thought was possible in a mostly banking town. We still don’t make much money performing original music but we’re here in larger numbers and, somehow, that will help.
Jay Garrigan: I wasn’t really a part of the visual art scene, but like music, you have a lot more to chose from, both good art and art that has … more potential.
Mitchell Kearney: I would say Charlotte is bigger, stronger and just as nimble as it was 20 years ago!
John W. Love: It hasn’t. The names and faces have aged, weathered, changed, and emerged anew but the clamor to bloom in the waters of the bountiful rings with the same dissonant keen.
Tangents: How has theater changed in Charlotte?
Mitchell Kearney: Like the music and visual art scene, theater in Charlotte has experienced ebbs and flows given the venues offering quality productions. Given the state of the renewed economy, I feel the productions will continue to improve to a growing want for high quality theater.
Tangents: How have the venues/galleries for art and music in Charlotte changed?
Jay Garrigan: I’ve noticed recently that several venues have upped their sound systems. Hearing your own lyrics live in Charlotte is a new thing. I never understood why Charlotte had a collection of the worst-sounding clubs on the East Coast. Then again, it’s taken time for bands to learn the value of sounding good vs. being louder than balls. Intelligibility helps the experience in my opinion, although if you’ve seen the number of amps I like to play through live, you’d probably call me a hypocrite, and I’m OK with that too.
Derrick Hines: So many more places to play in town; places with actual sound systems. And people to run sound. This was not the case 20 years ago. Nope. The galleries seem to be leaning more towards being artist-owned. Also, the art itself has increased in quality and worth, I think.
Mitchell Kearney: Charlotte is a destination for many more bands, given the surge in our population with an appetite for live music!
Tangents: Is Charlotte more prepared, or more welcoming for art and music than they were 20 years ago?
Jay Garrigan: I think there is a greater number of music lovers with good taste now, and you can’t ask for better than that. I hope technology changes the revenue models for songwriters soon. It’s such a shame people much more talented than me in Charlotte can’t make a living writing their own music, and the more talented players are forced to do cover gigs and endless music lessons. So in a way, it’s more demeaning because Charlotte audiences for some reason enjoy cover bands. It perplexes me because it’s not like this in other cities.
Derrick Hines: Charlotte has a long way to go to be considered to have a thriving arts scene but it is so much more ready for it than 20 years ago. There’s a palpable thirst: a hunger for something different. It’s stronger than before. Used to be that it was only a handful of artists that were pushing to push the boundaries and stretch out in Charlotte. It really feels like there are a lot more non-artists seeking out stuff on the outskirts of the mainstream. It’s still a slow process but it’s further along.
Tangents: How has the music scene in Charlotte changed?
Jay Garrigan: It used to be very competitive in the ‘90s as major labels were regularly courting Charlotte bands. Because technology has decimated the ability for songwriters and bands to make a sustainable living, bands are now more communal. It’s freaking stupid to see other musicians as competition these days. Often, we are each other’s biggest fans promoting each other’s events, even when we have shows in different clubs on the same night. I do credit Bruce Hazel and his annual Fool’s Brigade benefits for bringing a lot of my generation together and breaking down a lot of separation and dysfunction the ‘90s brought to our music scene.
Derrick Hines: So many more musicians. The quality of music here has always had pockets of stellar entities: it looks like those pockets are a little bigger now. It’s not hard to find something really good in any of the genres represented in Charlotte music now. This is happening faster and faster. More musicians: better musicians.
Mitchell Kearney: It is more diverse, and better attended by a wider range of ages and interested fans.
Tangents: What moves you to create now, as opposed to 20 years ago?
Ruth Ava Lyons: What moves me to create as opposed to 20 years ago? In the past, my work had always been self reflective and symbolic of my struggles as an individual. For the past 10 years my work has become more focused on the planet, with observations of environmental issues caused by global warming and man’s degradation of our environment. The challenge in the work is to balance the negatives with the hope of renewal for the future. Calling attention to our evolving relationship to the natural world allows me to explore who I am as well as have a dialogue in a larger context that I feel is educational and more meaningful.
Jay Garrigan: I don’t think much has changed for me. I just hear or feel something, and I feel compelled to create and express it. I don’t have as much time to explore and create anymore because I got tired of starving and decided to earn a living doing something semi-creative. I often feel conflicted and torn about that, but I refuse to put any friend or anyone I love through touring musician poverty. Growing up sucks. I’m lucky I have rock-n-roll bands and friends to bring me back to what I love.
Derrick Hines: As a kid, music (rhythm) was just another toy in the box, something fun to play with. I never thought to train in it. I never had a desire to be good at it. Maybe because it was more fun to discover things. By the time I was a teenager, it had become a habit: the playing and discovering. Ever since then, I’ve been a creative spirit but more so because of the immense pain caused by not doing it. I continue to create now because it hurts too much not to.
John W. Love: The same things move me. The irony is that the inevitable consequences don’t deter me.
Mitchell Kearney: We live in the present moment, it’s the only time we have to respond to the ever-expanding universe.
Tangents: What does the future hold for art, music and theater in Charlotte?
Mitchell Kearney: A bigger and more sophisticated artistic community than ever before creating works for a larger and more demanding audience!
Derrick Hines: I don’t know what the future holds for art here. I sincerely hope that Charlotte, as a city, realizes what a valuable natural reserve of artists it has. The most frustrating thing about this region is it is a place people who become famous for their crafts are from but only after they move away. There are ways to make this city a better springboard while promoting the area at the same time. Right now there aren’t enough people asking how, and the ones that are asking are asking the wrong people.
John W. Love: You know how Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons started tripping as they became adolescents? Eventually this growing, sprawling, muscular and restless cultural beast known as Charlotte will demand to be fed something of substance. After carelessly leaving its succulent seedlings to spoil and devouring the bloated yet anemic and less-than-rich fare as if it were a culinary masterpiece, it will either burn the city or abandon it in a search for something more. If the Queen City doesn’t develop an appetite and sense adventure for cultivating its own exquisite gardens, the only thing left to eat will be flown- and trucked-in prefab cultural nourishment made and packaged elsewhere.
Jay Garrigan: While I’ve lived here since 1988, my music goals were never really aligned to Charlotte sustaining my art. Some musicians work really hard to make a name for themselves in Charlotte, and that’s great. It enhances our community and friendships. When I was in my early 20s, I had the luxury of playing arenas and coliseums, opening for legends and recording with golden gods. Brushing with your dreams leaves a distinct taste in your mouth, and a dreamy longing for something bigger than what is in your back yard. But, I will say that I’m proud to be from Charlotte, and every time I come back home, the skyline gives me a sense of relief after a weekend warrior string of shows. I hope Charlotte holds that true for all artists.