ArtsCenter digs up roots

By Jordan Lawrence
Staff Writer

The roots of American music have once again tapped into the Carrboro music scene.

The ArtsCenter’s Fourth Annual American Roots Series kicked off Jan. 5 with a performance by Chris Hellman, a former member of The Byrds, with his longtime collaborator Herb Peterson.
The series features 24 performances and runs through June 30.

Featured groups all perform Americana music, a genre that includes all styles distinctive to America, such as Motown and bluegrass.

Tess Mangum Ocaña, concerts and facility director for the ArtsCenter, said Carrboro was an excellent place to hold such an event.

“The Triangle area is a hotbed for all kinds of music,” she said, adding that both Chapel Hill and Carrboro are especially friendly to roots and bluegrass music.

“The audiences support live music,” Ocaña said. “They come out. They buy the tickets. They listen intently to what the musicians are saying and doing.”

Musical events such as the American Roots Series are a key source of exposure for the ArtsCenter, the center’s executive director, Jon Wilner, said.

He said they get people who aren’t familiar with the ArtsCenter interested in it’s art classes and summer programs.

Wilner also said such musical events are integral to the quality of programming.

“Even in the very beginning, there was music going on at the ArtsCenter when it was just an art school,” he said.

He also said music adds to the depth of programs offered by the center.

“That depth is what defines the ArtsCenter,” he said. “It’s what gives us our character.”

Ocaña came up with idea for the series as a way to celebrate the center’s thirtieth anniversary.

She said she chose to focus on Americana music for several reasons.

“I wanted to highlight the fact that all those genres of music come from this one country.”

She also said that her family ties to Americana music, especially country, helped foster the idea.

“It’s what I know, and it’s the background I come from,” she said. “My grandmother taught Randy Travis how to play guitar.”

Charles Pettee, mandolin player in the Chapel Hill-based bluegrass group The Shady Grove Band, said that his group is pleased to take part.

“It’s good to do it in town and not have to drive all the way in New York,” he said, referring to a performance the group had given as part of a roots music event at Lincoln Center.

“It’s just an awesome lineup, and it’s great to be a part of that,” Pettee said.

The Shady Grove Band is scheduled to perform at the center on March 3.

Bluegrass artist and Triangle resident Alice Gerrard gives the next performance in the series on Feb. 3.

For more information, visit the ArtsCenter at

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