Archives for category: Music Maniac

May 1 was another beautiful and quiet spring day. Downtown Raleigh welcomed summer skirts and polo shirts. Tir na nOg bustled with activity for its Local Band – Local Beer series. The iconic acorn sculpture provided more photo ops for outgoing university seniors. The sun began to set, creating a fiery collage of color against the darkening blue sky. Oh, and international touring sensation Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars snuck into downtown Raleigh to play The Pour House Music Hall.


Pour House barDespite a documentary, appearances at massive music festivals (such as Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and New York’s Central Park SummerStage), an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show and opening for Aerosmith in front of 12,000 screaming fans, this roving band of African musicians arrived with little fanfare to promote their most recent album, “Libation.” They were joined on the bill by Pittsboro-based Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba.

For those unfamiliar with The Pour House Music Hall, you’ve been missing out. The Pour House Music Hall boasts the greatest draft beer selection I’ve ever encountered in a concert venue. The club lives up to its name by offering 30 drafts, including Big Boss Brewing Company, White Street Brewing Company, Crank Arm Brewing and Lonerider Brewing Company. Its liquor selection’s not too shabby either.


Pour House tapsAs we’ve recently written about the perks of The Pour House Music Hall on the blog, I won’t go into detail here. Click here for more information regarding this amazing concert venue.

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba began the show shortly after 8pm. Hailing from Pittsboro, N.C., this two-year-old band is one of the few N.C.-based bands specializing in West African music. Diali Cissokho, a Senegalese griot , fronts the band. He’s backed by a fellow Senegalese percussionist and four talented North Carolinians.


Diali 1Cissokho plays the kora, a 21-string harp/lute hybrid well known in West Africa. His delightfully intricate jams were accentuated by the snarling yet jazzy riffs played by electric guitarist John Westmoreland. Their overlay, punctuated by a strong bass line and rollicking rhythm section, produced high-energy African dance music influenced by funk, soul and American rock ‘n’ roll. Their 40 minute set ended far too quickly for my taste, but the growing crowd fed on their vivacity. The aforementioned quiet evening faded out of memory, replaced by an African party full of joie de vivre.


Diali 2Readers, I implore you to take advantage of Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba’s N.C. roots and see them live. Without question, they are one of the most talented and powerful bands in the area, unique in our vast music scene. They next play locally during the Downtown Raleigh Fourth of July festival called The ‘Works!.

Born in the midst of a bloody war engulfing their home country of Sierra Leone, the members of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars fled for their safety and found each other in refugee camps in Guinea. United by an obsession with music and a strong desire to bring a sliver of happiness to their fellow refugees, the band moved from camp to camp. Their sincere traditional folk music and uplifting attitude gave life to their fellow displaced Africans.


SLRAS 2For 13 songs on this night in Raleigh, the band mixed the traditional Sierra Leone styles of highlife, maringa and palm wine with funk, gospel, reggae, soul and rap. Nine of the songs came from the 2014 release “Libation,” their fourth album which mostly sheds electric instruments and harkens back to their acoustic and experimental roots.


SLRAS 3One of their best tracks of the night, “Rich But Poor,” questions whether or not Sierra Leone learned anything from their most recent blood-letting. “We live in it / Yet we never know / What a rich rich country,” sings bandleader Ruben Koroma over a banjo-laden reggae beat. Other highlights included the salsa-tinged “Maria” and traditional “Gbaenyama.” Singer/percussionist Black Nature spent the night drinking Big Boss Brewing Company’s Bad Penny Brown Ale and professed to drink only local beers. He took lead on “Treat You Right,” one of the night’s odder songs which mimicked simple contemporary R&B.


SLRAS 1The crowd danced and swayed to the eclectic tunes. The band played on, pausing only to ask the audience simply to be happy and enjoy the moment. On this night in Raleigh, I lived in the moment with no distractions, and I couldn’t have been happier. A night of wonderful music ended with a full band harmony on “Gbara Case,” emphasizing the fact that we’re all stuck on this planet, and look at what happens when we join together.

Music Maniacs taking in concerts at PNC Arena will be stoked to find out about the great selection of N.C. craft brews on draft. Not only can music fans experience big-name artists live, such as Bruno Mars and Tom Petty and The HeartBreakers, this summer and on, but can also enjoy a N.C. brew while doing so!

Craft brew at PNC ArenaThere’s something about live music and craft beer that goes together so very well. I pin it on the fact that great-quality live music deserves to be enjoyed with great-quality brews, which Greater Raleigh breweries offer.

Natty Greene's Pub & Brewing PNC Arena offers Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing beers, on tap, including year-round beers Buckshot Amber Ale, Wildflower Witbier, Guilford Golden Ale and Southern Pale Ale. If you’re new to craft brews and want to try one out, the Guilford Golden Ale is a good beer to start with, with a low amount of bitterness, a full body, slight tartness and a delicious wheat flavor. (On another important note: Though its closed during concerts, the Natty Greene’s PUBDECK is a must-visit during Carolina Hurricanes NHL hockey games. The area features a 2,000-square-foot sports bar, pub-style food, waiter/waitress table service and more. The deck screams craft beer, with information and artwork all throughout the section from Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing.)

Carolina Brewing Company is one of Greater Raleigh’s oldest breweries, and you can bet that its Carolina Pale Ale can be enjoyed at concerts, on draft and served in four different sections and also in bottles on the 200 level. Taste of one Greater Raleigh’s staple beers, an American-style pale ale using three varieties of American-grown hops to create a “pleasing bitterness, aroma and lingering hop taste,” as the brewery describes it.

Carolina Brewing CompanyGreater Raleigh’s Aviator Brewing Company continues to rise in popularity and is constantly offering unique and innovate beers. On tap currently are Devil’s Tramping Ground Tripel, Hotrod Red, Saison de Aviator and HogWild IPA. I suggest the Saison de Aviator, available until Sept. 30, 2014, right through the summer. The brew is a Belgian-style made with pilsner malt, mid-kilned malts, coriander and sweet orange peel, offering up a refreshing and celebratory taste. Hops fans will absolutely love the HogWild IPA!

Aviator Brewing Company tapsAlso on tap are Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem) beers, also a N.C. favorite! Taps can be found throughout the arena, with a dedicated section for Foothills Brewing, complete with a bar and a great selection of brews.

So, if you’re a Music Maniac and a fan of delicious beer, you’re all set when you rock at shows at PNC Arena! When you see your favorite artist, give the Greater Raleigh beers a try, and if you’ve already tasted what our area breweries have to offer, you already know you’re in for some good offerings. Have one to go along with the mouthwatering food PNC Arena offers, including Carolina barbecue, grilled sausages, fresh charbroiled burgers and much more.

Concerts coming up this summer at PNC Arena include Bruno Mars (June 14), Katy Perry (June 22) and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (Sept. 18).

Cheers!

Written by Tyler Cox, Music Maniac.

Despite fifteen successful years of bands and booze, Slim’s Downtown maintains an unobtrusive profile. In search of the small bar late into the night, I nearly walked right by its white brick frame and double window off S. Wilmington St. A passionate outburst of rock ‘n’ roll had laid waste to the sign that previously signified the existence of Raleigh’s oldest music venue.

Once inside, I found myself at a long bar that stretched half the length of the ground floor. Slim’s offers an extensive liquor collection and two dozen bottled and canned beers, including local brews from Aviator Brewing Company and Big Boss Brewing Company, and they offer them at surprisingly affordable prices. As I gazed down the length of the bar toward the small stage and the quaint patio out back, I immediately felt at home in this place. I hadn’t even discovered the small lounge and pool table upstairs yet.

The Wed. night that I visited Slim’s was ladies’ night. A trio of bands took the stage, each of them fronted by a female singer/songwriter. The lineup was a welcome change to the stereotypical male-dominated rock scene. More points for Slim’s.

Tracy Shedd opened the show, backed by her husband James Tritten. The husband/wife duo’s 30-minute set fit the atmosphere of Slim’s perfectly: stripped down and simple with an offbeat, yet earnest elegance. Touring in support of her new album Arizona, the couple performed beautifully soft acoustic melodies that channeled Kings of Convenience (“Broken Arrows”), Laura Veirs (“Sing to Me”) and Mark Kozelek (“Hardest Part of Good-Bye”).

Good Graces 4.23.14Atlanta-based duo The Good Graces followed, performing, as they put it, “minimalist, catchy folk pop tunes of heartbreak and hope.” A perfect act to follow Tracy Shedd, this charming band reminded me of Kathleen Edwards and The Mountain Goats. As I listened to the highlights of their set, guitarist John McNicholas’s “Warm in Wisconsin” and singer Kim Ware’s response entitled “Cold in California,” I was struck by how the venue’s layout could make a gathering of 30 or 40 people feel almost like a packed house. With Slim’s capacity set at a mere 100 people, you’re guaranteed a good view of the bands and a very personal concert experience.

The second most impressive part of my Slim’s experience, behind the perfect sound quality, was the five-minute set changeovers. I’m accustomed to milling around for 20-45 minutes, waiting for the next band to go on, but I barely had time to get a drink before the next act hit the stage. Raleigh-based See Gulls hit it hard.

See Gulls 4.23.14The ferocity of the grungy power pop rock act See Gulls nearly made me drop my drink in surprise. Following two acoustic duos, this four-piece garage band with their heavily distorted guitars and ‘50s style pop roots caught everyone’s attention and quickly transformed a quiet night at the bar into a bouncing, head-banging party. See Gulls ripped off anger-fueled songs about heartbreak and lies. They alternately screamed and crooned into microphones, backed by power chords and basic, but heavy, drum beats. On this night, the band bid farewell to rhythm guitarist Jacki Huntington. Despite this loss, guitarist/singer Sarah Fuller and the Gulls seems poised to make a lot of noise in the local scene, and you should start to pay attention.

I saw three sides of Slim’s in my visit. One was the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere at the bar. You’ll feel comfortable sipping your fine local brew or a cocktail, surrounded by an eclectic mix of locals. The second side was the coffee house feel where every vibrating guitar string could be heard across the room. The third was the wall-shaking, hard rock, high energy bar that any socialite or live music fan will appreciate. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better music bar in the Triangle. Don’t hesitate to drop by and see this gem in person.

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Written by Tyler Cox, Music Maniac. Photo credit: ccc fotographie

Acoustic indie pop band Morning Brigade recently completed their second full length album, “Grow Around the Bones,” released on Apr. 26 to wide acclaim. They kick off May with a Greater Raleigh album release show tonight at Kings Barcade, the first of four dates (and counting) in the area this month. Be sure to check out Morning Brigade tonight at Kings Barcade, May 3 at Gizmo Brew Works, May 24 at The Pour House Music Hall and on May 30 at Lonerider Brewing Company. I spoke with Nathan Spain, their drummer and manager, about their upcoming shows and live music in Greater Raleigh.

How did your band come together?
It was kind of a process, getting the entire band together. I’m not entirely sure about the details of the initial meeting. Peter Vance, the lead singer from Washington, D.C., was playing some open mic shows around the Franklin St. area [downtown Chapel Hill]. Our keyboardist Gabriel Reynolds was in the area. Through [Peter] playing the shows, they talked about putting a band together. Gabe and I had been in a band in high school. When they asked about getting a drummer, Gabe suggested me. Peter had the initial idea to have a string section. One of them asked Christian Adams [who plays cello] to be involved. They asked Eli Howells to play violin. Most of us met on the first day of practice. I’m pretty sure Gabriel was the only one who knew everybody. Mary Koenig we added after the first couple shows, recognizing we might need a female vocalist. She was hesitant to officially join until she played a few shows with us and she started to feel a little more comfortable with us. Then she officially joined us.

What’s your relationship with Raleigh?
It’s kind of multifaceted. Most of us stem from around Raleigh and Cary. Eli and Peter are not from Raleigh. The other four of us are from Apex, Cary and Raleigh and a lot of us went to school in the Raleigh area. Gabe and I were involved in Raleigh and played shows at The Brewery on Hillsborough St. before it got torn down. If it weren’t for Raleigh fostering friendships between us, if it weren’t for the music scene, we certainly would not have formed, at least in this incarnation of the band. I think Gabe and Mary met at a piano bar Gabe was playing at downtown when they were younger and I think Mary approached him. They started talking and became friends.

What’s your favorite venue in Raleigh to play?
Morning Brigade has played Deep South The Bar, Kings Barcade, Tir na nOg, Berkeley Café, Lonerider Brewing Company, The Pour House Music Hall and Slim’s Downtown. We’ve been together two-and-a-half years so I’m probably forgetting a few. We have a top three–it sort of cycles in and out according to the season. Deep South The Bar has a great administrative [team]. Dave Rose runs the place well. He’s responsive to bands’ needs, which is very helpful. Kings Barcade–we have a personal relationship with Michael there. They are easy to work with–great sound and space–100-percent geared to music. Tir na nOg has such a great thing going with Local Band – Local Beer. Craig Reed who books that show is great to work with. It’s so easy to work with all three of those venues.

You have three more shows planned in Raleigh this month. Tell me about them.
We’re playing Gizmo Brew Works on Sat., May 3. This type of gig is one we very much enjoy. We’ve played Lonerider Brewing Company a couple of times. We love going to craft breweries and mixing two different types of art in craft brewing and local music. I think the crowds we see at craft breweries are the type that are there to support local art. All around, always a good time when we play a local brewery. The lineup that was put together for this show is something special. We’re very excited to play with Birds & Arrows and Embers End.

We’re playing the The Pour House Music Hall with Matt Phillips & The Philharmonic and Rebekah Todd & The Odyssey [on May 24]. We’re playing Lonerider Brewing Company again on May 30.

What should we expect from a Morning Brigade live show?
I would say, after talking to fans after they see their first Morning Brigade show, you can expect to be surprised by what you’re gonna’ hear. When we sat down in the studio for this last record we wanted to capture what it’s like to be in concert. We’re loud, dynamic, orchestric at times and sometimes restrained and deliberate. However we set up a set list, the end result is a rollercoaster of dynamic music that gets people’s attention.

Finally, let’s talk about your favorite local bars.
In Raleigh, I point to places like Raleigh Times Bar, a great hangout spot. Foundation is a cool place–love going there. We like to have intimacy, places where we can sit outside and places that have local beers on tap. There are a lot of those in the area. Considering how many local breweries in the area [16 in Greater Raleigh, total!], it’s easy to find places like that in Raleigh. It’s such a great scene.

1a8a3857The Hibernian Restaurant and Pub has two locations in Wake County: one location in North Raleigh and another in Cary. Both locations have events and live music during the week. I took a trip to the Cary location to take in live music in the warm, cozy atmosphere that the venue offers. The venue is a comfortable place to sit down, enjoy great food and beverages and listen to fantastic local bands, and especially in the fall and in the winter to warm up.

1a8a3851Check out live music at the Cary location on the weekends, featuring music from talented local bands (playing covers and originals). The layout has an intimate feel with private booths, tables around corners and plenty of seats to enjoy the live music from. Wherever you sit, the music is always at a comfortable volume. Be sure to check out the “library” section with a fireplace while you’re there!

1a8a3845The Hibernian Restaurant and Pub has a large variety of draft brews to choose from and specials every day, along with a late night menu to attend to your late night cravings. Lonerider Brewing Company and Aviator Brewing Company brews have been spotted on draft at the pub! The dinner menu features Irish fare that includes corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and more. The late-night food menu features mouthwatering items such as “cattleman’s nachos,” a pub burger, black bean burger, bacon cheddar pub chips and more. See full menus here.

1a8a38251a8a3834Both locations have many events every month, which you can find here! For a full schedule of Greater Raleigh live music events, check out the music calendar at visitRaleigh.com! With so many events going on at so many music venues, Greater Raleigh has the most live music out of any destination in North Carolina.

All photos in this post contributed by Kristen Hill of Kristen Abigail Photography.

BBSignEvery second and fourth Mon. of each month, Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Raleigh hosts the PineCone Bluegrass Jam in its event space called The Hive.

hiveThe Hive is the bar above Busy Bee Cafe. It offers local craft beers from Carolina Brewing Company and Big Boss Brewing Company to enjoy while you listen to the various musicians that are featured there.

hive2The PineCone Bluegrass Jam is an event organized by the PineCone, Piedmont Council of Traditional Music. PineCone is a downtown Raleigh-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and promoting all forms of traditional music, dance and other folk performing arts. Since the organization’s founding in 1984, it has hosted concerts, jam sessions, a bluegrass radio show on the 94.7 QDR radio station, youth music camps, workshops, consultation services for emerging artists among other events to help make the community aware of traditional music. The organization is sponsored by the City of Raleigh Arts Commision and the North Carolina Arts Council.

hive3The Bluegrass Jam runs from 7-10pm and is open to musicians of all levels and ages. PineCone developed the event to offer a practice mechanism for musicians (of all skill levels) and to entertain the customers in local restaurants. The Bluegrass Jam was originally formed in 2006 and was held at Big Boss Tavern, but moved to Busy Bee Cafe a few years ago. The Bluegrass Jam is lead by Doug Pratt, who primarily plays dobro, and David Hedrick, who plays acoustic guitar. For more information and to learn how to sign up for the Bluegrass Jam group, you can visit PineCone’s website here. If you’re not a musician, be sure to hear great bluegrass music at these jams. You’ll hear some very impressive and talented musicians play!

hive4PineCone, Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, hosts many events, which you can find here! For a full schedule of Greater Raleigh live music events, check out the music calendar at visitRaleigh.com!

Written by Kristen Hill. All photos in this post contributed by Kristen Hill of Kristen Abigail Photography.

1a8a0587Schoolkids Records, was the first indie record store in Wake County and remains an active part of the music scene, even in this age of digital music.

1a8a0566Owner and manager Stephen Judge has seen the store become a historical business throughout its 40 years of operation. Stephen, a North Carolina State University grad, worked at Schoolkids Records while he was in college, and after spending some time managing bands he returned to the store due to his love of the area and to help support the local music scene.

1a8a0569Schoolkids Records keeps about 50 percent of the store stocked with vinyl records. More people are buying digitally, but a demand for vinyl records has recently been growing. On Record Store Day this year, the store had about a two-hour wait line full of customers waiting get into the store to shop for albums and to celebrate the day. Schoolkids Records stocks the largest selection of vinyl records in Wake County. They support music of many genres, including alternative rock, indie, bluegrass and metal, with as many albums as possible coming from local musicians. The staff is knowledgeable about new music arrivals, performances in the local area and what to recommend to fans of just about any genre. Their friendliness also makes you feel at home as you browse the large selection of music.

1a8a0576A large handful of local musicians, such as Once and Future Kings, Jack the Radio and Chatham County Line, stock Schoolkids Records with their albums, so the store is a great place to find great local music. Throughout the store, there are many places to sample new music and give bands that you may have never heard of a listen before you buy an album. 

1a8a0570“Well-known musicians such as Robert Plant, The Avett Brothers and Mutemath have made Schoolkids Records a stopping point if they are touring in N.C.,” says Stephen. Bands such as Delta Rae (Raleigh natives), Best Coast and Bad Veins have played on the stage in Schoolkid’s Records as the store hosts in-store performances.

1a8a0581Schookids Records has been around since 1973 and has seen cassette tapes, vinyl records and cd’s come through its store. Schoolkids Records is a contributor to the first successes for well-known bands such as Superchunk, Ryan Adams and Ben Folds. Schoolkids Records is also one of the founders of The Coalition of Independent Music Stores.

1a8a0575The store also buys used CD’s and vinyl records. When they receive popular albums, it is common for them to post online about the record being in stock. Stephen mentioned that he has seen some used albums sell as quickly as 10 minutes due to the power of their Facebook page.

1a8a0594Schoolkids Records is proud to sell tickets to some concerts that will be at local venues such as The Ritz, Lincoln Theatre and King’s Barcade. They also list new albums that will be coming to their store and local shows coming up.

Written by Kristen Hill. All photographs contributed in this post by Kristen Hill of Kristen Abigail Photography.

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Tir na nOg Irish Pub
in Moore Square hosts diverse crowds as it offers different events everyday. Sun. is the PineCone Irish Jam Session, Mon. is comedy night, Fri. and Sat. nights offer local Celtic and Irish music and/or local DJ’s. Local Band-Local Beer is every Thurs. night, starting at 9:30pm. WKNC 88.1 and Younger Brother Productions book North Carolina musicians to play on the Tir na nOg Irish Pub stage as music lovers enjoy N.C. craft beers. Big Boss Brewing Company and Aviator Brewing Company are among the large selection of draft and craft beers the venue has on tap. The bar is in the center of the pub with friendly and knowledgeable bartenders awaiting beer lovers.

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Tir na nOg Irish Pub’s layout was thoughtfully planned out as the stage area is separated from the restaurant seating so that you can also enjoy the delicious Irish- and European-style food on the pub’s menu.

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This past Thurs. Eddie Taylor from the band Cousins, Jews and Catholics and Octopus Jones all shared the Tir na nOg Irish Pub stage.

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Octopus Jones
is a four-piece band from Raleigh. They like to call themselves a psychedelic, boogie rock band. Their instruments, including synthesizers and electric guitars, create a sound that gets their audience dancing as much as the band.

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Octopus Jones has been together since 2010 and is made up of Danny Martin on lead vocals and guitar, Tyler Morris on guitar and vocals, Clay Carlisle on bass and Darrin Cripe on drums. Their first album was released in 2011 and is called “Treat Yourself.” They’re releasing their new album in the next few months! Danny’s outgoing personality encourages the audience to cheer with “spirit fingers” and excites them enough to want an encore. They perform about once a month in Raleigh, so if you’re looking for a different music experience, be sure to check them out! You can find their live schedule here.

Tir na nOg Irish Pub has different musicians and you can find their event schedule here. For a full schedule of Greater Raleigh live music events, check out Music Mania on visitRaleigh.com!

Written by Kristen Hill. All photos in this post contributed by Kristen Hill of Kristen Abigail Photography.

1A8A8011Southland Ballroom, in the Glenwood South downtown Raleigh district, welcomes Music Maniacs looking for live music. The venue is located right behind ComedyWorx off of N. West Str. and holds about 350 people.

When I walked into the venue I felt like I was walking into a warehouse. Once you pass through admission, you enter into a large room with a bar lining a long wall and a few booths for comfortable seating around a table to enjoy drinks from the bar. The bar features craft beers from Carolina Brewing Company, Lonerider Brewing Company and Big Boss Brewing Company and a large selection of mixed drinks. The venue also has some outdoor patio seating.

1A8A7996The venue has a rustic but casual feel with intimate lighting and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. And the stage is lit up with many colorful lights to spotlight the musicians perfectly.

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1A8A8002Southland Ballroom mainly hosts touring bands of the electronic, folk, bluegrass and punk genres. On Thurs. they welcomed Gaelic Storm to their stage, which stopped in Greater Raleigh on their current U.S. tour.

1A8A7960Gaelic Storm is a Celtic-rock band that consists of Patrick Murphy on lead vocals, Steve Twigger on lead guitar and vocals, Ryan Lacey on percussion, Pete Purvis on bagpipes and Kiana Weber on violin.

1A8A7983Gaelic Storm originated in Santa Monica, Cali., when Patrick and Steve collaborated starting in 1995. They started their music career by playing for friends, but then appeared in the movie Titanic (1997) as a Celtic party band, which increased their popularity, triggering them to start recording their music.

1A8A7989Gaelic Storm has produced nine records containing ballads and anthems that tell stories about their memories of their homes in Ireland. The group has diverse backgrounds in music which has lead them to incorporate different instruments in their shows such as mandolin, Irish whistle and accordion. The band highly encouraged their listeners to sing and clap along with their songs during their show. Southland Ballroom was an excellent venue to experience Gaelic Storm, with its laid back feel, top-notch sound and entertaining lighting.

Southland Ballroom has music almost every night of the week and hosts many great bands like Gaelic Storm. You can check out their schedule here. For a full schedule of Greater Raleigh live music events, check out Music Mania on visitRaleigh.com!

Written by Kristen Hill. All photos in this post contributed by Kristen Hill of Kristen Abigail Photography.

ImageThere’s no doubt that Taylor Swift is one of today’s most popular and talked-about pop, rock and country music stars. And there’s no doubt that PNC Arena has hosted many of the hottest musicians in history, and has also impressed thousands of Music Maniacs with its superior design and sound. Fri. night, six-time Grammy-award winner Taylor Swift’s “wow”-factor Red Tour, her fans and the 20,000-seat PNC Arena collided. The connection produced an unforgettable night of live music that will go down as an exceptional highlight in Greater Raleigh’s live music history.

Taylor Swift 6(See more of our Taylor Swift with special guest Ed Sheeran PNC Arena concert photos below)

I’ve seen stellar concerts at PNC Arena from Billy Joel to Katy Perry, and there’s no experience like seeing your favorite artists fill a 700,000-sq.-ft. venue with their stellar live shows. On top of the massive setting and big sound, even as Taylor Swift said herself Fri. night, crowds at shows in N.C. are some of the loudest, craziest and most wonderful. There’s no concert experience like a concert experience in N.C. and in Greater Raleigh.

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Photo courtesy of PNC Arena

Fri. evening, I made my way to PNC Arena as early as possible to soak in the scene. I saw that crowds of Taylor Swift’s fans had already arrived donning red clothes, in spirit of the Red Tour’s red theme. And since the arena permits tailgating, I heard fans blasting Taylor Swift’s tunes from their vehicles and I could smell grilled hot dogs and hamburgers in sections of the parking lot (see PNC Arena’s policies for more information on tailgating at the venue). But as the show’s 7pm starting time drew nearer, Taylor time drew nearer. The arena filled with fans.

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I love the arena’s design as even at sold-out shows, like Fri. night’s, the concourses never feel cramped. There’s plenty of space to shop for tour merchandise and to grab a bite to eat. A nice variety of food and beverage is offered with more than 50 outlets to choose from. Fine dining is offered at the Arena Club Restaurant, perfect for dates, celebrations and more and casual dining is offered at outlets including N.C. BBQ Company, Fire It Up! Grill Stands, Market Place and more. Fuel up with delicious food and drink for a night of dancing and singing!

Concessions 1Tour merchandise is always fun to shop, and sometimes tours even have special displays. Taylor Swift’s Red Tour had displays showing off many of her outfits worn on awards shows, previous tours and music videos (her dress from the 2012 ACM Awards, her dress from the 2012 AMA Awards and the outfit she wore in the “Mean” music video and also during the Speak Now World Tour).

When I made my way to my seat, friendly ushers and staff pointed me in the right direction. I’m always impressed by the Southern hospitality and helpful nature of the staff at PNC Arena. And the noticeable camaraderie between its staff creates an even more positive, family-like atmosphere where you can easily feel at home.

The concert kicked off right at 7pm with Casey James, known for his American Idol days and for his singles including “Crying on a Suitcase” and “Let’s Don’t Call It a Night.” Casey James’s voice and his deep, warm Fender Stratocaster sounds rang through the arena along with the sounds of his full band, which included a pedal steel player on a Mullen pedal steel, a drummer, a keyboardist and a bassist. Being the Music Maniac that I am, I was intrigued by Casey’s slide guitar playing when he rocked his electric resonator guitar for his song “Drive.”

Casey JamesAfter Casey James’s set, the stage was set for singer and songwriter Ed Sheeran, known popularly for his hit “The A Team” and virtuoso songwriting skills. No band or accompaniment was present for the set—just Mr. Sheeran, his guitar and a loop pedal.

Ed Sheeran 1With the acoustics in the arena and the fullness of his playing and sound, Ed Sheeran filled the entire venue with his full voice and guitar, playing on his Martin LX1E electric acoustic.

Ed Sheeran 3Ed Sheeran laid out percussion parts and beats on his guitar and used his Boss loop pedal to loop the beats, which made it sound like there was a full band on stage. With the arena’s enormous sub-woofers and sound system, when he hit his guitar in the right place, it sounded like he hit a bass drum. At one point, he explained to the audience how his loop pedal worked. He connected greatly with the audience so when he urged the audience to sing along, the fans followed and the audience became a chorus, which sounded beautiful throughout the arena.

Ed Sheeran 2He also mentioned the great time he was having in Raleigh! Ed Sheeran played songs including “Give Me Love,” “Lego House” and “The A Team.”

Ed Sheeran 4Soon after Ed Sheeran’s satisfying and entertaining set, the moment came that the Taylor Swift fans had been waiting for. The massive stage was completely set for Taylor Swift’s production and energy was buzzing with everyone’s eyes fixated on the stage. Lenny Kravitz’s rendition of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” began to blast through the venue’s sound system (appropriate as Tom Petty’s “American Girl” was the song played right before the 2011 Speak Now World Tour shows) and upon ending, in capital, red letters, the word “RED” appeared on the screens on the stage. The crowd erupted in screams and cheers. The screens lifted into the air and Taylor’s silhouette could be seen on a massive red drape hiding the majority of the stage. The drape fell and the cheers grew louder as Taylor appeared. The first song started and she made her way down the stage and to the catwalk that extended into the middle of the arena floor.

Taylor Swift 1Taylor Swift kicked off the night with her song “State of Grace” and went into hit after hit, the crowd screaming and singing along to each song.

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Taylor Swift 5Her production filled the entire arena, with a main stage with the catwalk, a stage she performed several songs near the back of the arena (including a duet with Ed Sheeran on their hit single “Everything Has Changed”), a “floating” stage that “flew” through the arena and more. PNC Arena was the perfect fit for a production like this, with its four-level seating making every one of Taylor’s stages easy to see.

Throughout the night, Taylor went from full band, to solo, to parts where she explained the meaning of the songs she was about to play. Throughout it all, she created an intimate setting where she could connect with her fans. She would reach into the audience to shake her fans’ hands and give Red Tour guitar picks to them. And before one of her songs, she sat at her red piano and explained to the audience her passion for writing lyrics that she genuinely feels, and that she’ll sometimes writes songs between the hours of 2am and 5am about deep emotions and thoughts.

Each song featured a theatrical, visual theme, with one song having almost a “Nutcracker” theme with the dancers dressed as life-size, wind-up toys that entered the stage from a giant, old-fashioned toy box. Another song featured a masquerade ball theme.

The concert ended with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” as Taylor Swift, her band and her dancers rocked circus-themed costumes with Taylor appropriately dressed as the ring master. Confetti flew threw the air, dancers walked about on stilts, Taylor wailed with beautiful vocal runs and high notes and the song was even extended as the closing number came to an end. The arena, the concert, the artists, the fans, the atmosphere and the sound all created an unforgettable night of live music.

PNC Arena is a place where you can experience artists bringing their theatrical visions and dreams to life all while filling the arena with their music. And you’ll always feel the Greater Raleigh vibe at concerts at the arena with the staff’s Southern hospitality, N.C. barbecue to dine on, fun Southern energy and North Carolina State University and Carolina Hurricanes NHL hockey team visuals throughout the venue.

Check out the upcoming shows and events coming to PNC Arena here, including Michael Bublé, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake and more.

Music-mania-web-header-2With the tremendous amount of live music events going on, Greater Raleigh has the most live music out of any destination in N.C. Check out the live music calendar at visitRaleigh.com to start planning your music-filled getaway.

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