Who owns Vic Chesnutt’s story?

Coming up on seven years since his death on Christmas Day 2009, the late great James Victor “Vic” Chesnutt remains a sadly obscure figure to the mainstream at large. He has his fans, of course, many of them quite famous. But that hasn’t been enough to spread Chesnutt’s reputation much further than the cult following he had when he was alive, and that is too bad.

The music Chesnutt left behind speaks for itself, 18 albums of rough-cut brilliance (1996’s About to Choke, which is Chesnutt at his most accessible, is a good place to start). If you’re interested in his story, I can’t help but steer you toward the AMS/UTP book “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by Kristin Hersh, a beautiful, harrowing and deeply personal portrait of Chesnutt written by one of the artist’s closest friends and fellow travelers.

And for an accompanying macro view, there’s a rough cut of an amazing little documentary film making the Youtube rounds — “What Doesn’t Kill Me: The Life and Music of Vic Chesnutt.” Assembled by obsessive Chesnutt fan Scott Stuckey, “What Doesn’t Kill Me” deftly captures the artist’s twisted charisma and onstage brilliance, with testimonials from numerous friends and fellow fans (including Kristin).

But Chesnutt was a complicated artist and human, who left an equally complicated legacy in his wake. So it’s not at all surprising that this film has been a source of controversy, even though it’s never been conventionally released. Over the past year or so, there’s been a heated war of words between filmmaker Stuckey on one side and Chesnutt’s widow, Tina Whatley Chesnutt, on the other.

Who is right? And will things ever be resolved enough for some version of “What Doesn’t Kill Me” to someday show in theaters? I sure don’t know. Nevertheless, I still appreciated seeing it, and knowing this film is out there for however long that might be. If you’re interested, I’d advise watching it sooner rather than later.

 

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“Ballad of a Detroit Spider”

Toward the end of “Losering,” I wrote that if Ryan Adams ever did a comedy album I would buy it the day it came out. That was in response to a death-metal version of “16 Days” he’s been known to play onstage. And in a similar vein, here’s another DRA novelty album that would be fun to put together: A compilation of the impromptu onstage songs he makes up during shows, like this one from Detroit the other night. After rescuing a spider from guitarist Mike Viola’s microphone, Ryan launched into “Ballad of a Detroit Spider,” with the rest of the band gradually joining in. As onstage messing-around goes, it’s actually pretty good (even if it does go on a touch too long).

 

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The Velvet Cloak checks out?

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 1.09.24 PMOne of the most recognizable “Old Raleigh” spots along the mid-1990s Whiskeytown era’s Hillsborough Street strip is in a sad state of disrepair, and getting sadder. This is the scene right now in the front driveway of  the vacant  Velvet Cloak Inn — which is currently blocked by one of the most gigantic tree branches I’ve ever seen that’s not an actual entire tree. Seriously, these pictures don’t accurately convey just how huge it is.

We’ve had some pretty big storms here in Raleigh the past few days, and I guess one of them took this branch down (with a fearsome amount of noise, no doubt). The place was completely deserted when I was driving by and stopped to snap these pictures a little while ago. And since every door and gate appeared to be chained shut, nobody seems to be in too much of a hurry to take it away. So it’s probably going to stay there a while.

The Velvet Cloak and its distinctive New Orleans-style wrought-iron dates back to the 1930s, and it stands just a few blocks west of the soon-to-be-demolished IHOP. It used to be a pretty swank place to stay in West Raleigh; Whiskeytown’s old tour manager Thomas O’Keefe says Ryan Adams used to board there when he was “between couches” in the late ’90s. But the Velvet Cloak fell on hard times after becoming a residence hotel about a decade ago. Recently, a developer bought the property with plans to demolish the inn and turn it into student housing — the same fate that befell the Brewery.

Looks like another venerable Raleigh landmark will bite the dust before too long.

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Kristin Hersh’s lighter side

TobySnaxOf the 10 books that University of Texas Press has published on our American Music Series imprint, one stands out as the best by a mile: “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by the phenomenal musician/author Kristin Hersh, which will also be coming out on paperback this fall. It’s a beautiful and amazing book, and intermittently hilarious — but it’s also very, very dark, to the point that I found it shattering to read.

Kristin’s literary followup to “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die,” however, will be a considerably lighter affair. Coming this fall, right around the same time as the “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” paperback, is “Toby Snax,” a children’s book that Kristin wrote and illustrated based on stories she used to tell her four sons. Kristin originally self-published “Toby Snax” herself in 2007 with a few hundred copies (which have since become very valuable collector’s items). UT Press is reissuing the book, which will get it back into wider circulation; look for that in September. Meantime, the catalog description is below.

Toby Snax is a little bunny who’s reluctant to experience things away from home. When Mama asks him to join her on a trip, he needs a bit of encouragement. So Mama tells Toby about the wondrous things that await him out in the wide world, helping him to look forward to new adventures.

This charming, gentle book will resonate with any child who’s nervous about trying new things. The acclaimed musician Kristin Hersh created Toby Snax to encourage her son, Bodhi, to embrace the experiences of touring the world together while she performed both solo and with her bands 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. The first edition of the book sold out immediately and has become highly collectible. This new edition makes Toby Snax available again for all fans of Hersh’s evocative storytelling, as well as children—or even adults—who need a little reassurance that the world is full of wonders.

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The Wheel’s next T-shirt?

Sam Seifert, son and right-hand man of “Comin’ Right at Ya” subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson, posted this picture recently with the caption, “New merch idea.” And while I’m sure he’s kidding, I’d nevertheless love to see it on a T-shirt or bumper sticker.

AATWahole

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Let It Telluride

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.15.45 AMMore than once in the years since Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams has declared that he hates country music and always has — a sentiment that I don’t really believe, even though he probably meant it at the time he said it (because he usually does). Be that as it may, apparently Ryan does not feel the same way about bluegrass. At last weekend’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, he was booked for what had initially been billed as a solo performance. Instead, he appeared with the Infamous Stringdusters and Nicki Bluhm backing him up. The set was well-received, and Ryan tweeted enthusiastically about it afterward  (“Bluegrass is alive and wandering the hills like a blue moon yeti”).

There was not an online live stream of the show, to the disappointment of fans elsewhere who wanted to watch and listen. But below are a few fan-shot videos from the performance, of Dio’s “Holy Diver” and his own longtime signature “Come Pick Me Up.” Check them out while you can because I fully expect them both to disappear soon.

Meanwhile, if Ryan is really in a bluegrass frame of mind and maybe wanted to play more of it while breaking his North Carolina boycott… well, sir, IBMA’s World of Bluegrass in his old hometown of Raleigh is a great time. And it just so happens the Stringdusters are IBMA regulars, too, having played the festival two of the three years since it moved to Raleigh from Nashville. Just sayin’.

ADDENDUM (7/10/2016): Here’s the show’s complete audio.

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“Greatest Southern Musician” Madness

Whether in sports or music, GREATEST-OF-ALL-TIME arguments are inherently pointless — but they sure are fun. And here’s another solid argument-starter: The Alabama Media Group  is conducting an online poll asking readers to “Vote for the Greatest Southern Musician” of all time. To that end, they’ve done up a seeded NCAA Basketball Tournament-style bracket of 64 acts in four different Southern regions, from Texas-Louisiana to Florida-Kentucky-North/South Carolina-Virginia.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 8.54.38 AMNorth Carolina native Ryan Adams shows up in the latter bracket as a No. 14 seed. That puts him in a tough first-round matchup against No. 3 Lynyrd Skynyrd in what Al.com calls “the Battle of the Jacksonvilles,” Florida versus North Carolina. In that case, I think Ryan should get extra credit for “Jacksonville Skyline” and “Jacksonville.” Looks like he could use a little help, too. When I voted this morning, the ’70s Southern-rock icons were winning in a blowout with more than 88 percent of 819 votes cast so far.

This “ACC” Southeast region’s No. 1 seed is soul godfather James Brown, which actually seems just about right; he should make short work of No. 16 Chris Stapleton. Of North Carolina interest further down the bracket is confessional singer-songwriter James Taylor, who was born in Massachusetts but spent enough of his formative years in Chapel Hill to write one of North Carolina’s definitive songs, at No. 9 and matched up with No. 8 Jimmy Buffett; Tryon-raised r&b icon Nina Simone at No. 6, pitted against Wilmington native Charlie Daniels at No. 11; and songbird Emmylou Harris, an Alabama native who did some time at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (and was also Ryan’s duet partner on “Oh My Sweet Carolina”), at No. 10 and up against No. 7 Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass.

There’s a whole section of rules about how they determined who rated a spot in the field and where. This round of voting closes Saturday (June 25), with the eventual winner scheduled to be unveiled on July 18. And if Ryan is to have better luck with this than the Grammy Awards, he’s got some ground to make up. Cast your vote here.

UPDATE (6/26/2016): Well, Ryan’s stay in this particular tournament was a short one. Lynyrd Skynyrd beat him with ease, pulling just under 80 percent of 1,235 votes cast to win by a final count of 987-248. James Taylor also bowed out in the first round, losing to Jimmy Buffett, as did Nina Simone to Charlie Daniels. But Emmylou Harris managed to advance past Bill Monroe; looks like she’ll be up against No. 2 seed Tom Petty in round two.

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Save the date: July 29 for “Losering 3”

Losering3Next month will bring the 19-year anniversary of Strangers Almanac, Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus and one of the great albums in Raleigh’s local-music history. To mark the occasion, there’s going to be another “Losering”-themed tribute show, put on once again by the fine folks at downtown Raleigh nightspot Deep South The Bar.

This will be the third such tribute show, following very successful “Losering” events in 2013 and 2015. And this year’s model features the band Antique Hearts playing Strangers start-to-finish — plus Ryan “Showtime” Kennemur from Dragmatic, Shane Smith and more.

We’ll have more details closer to the date. For now, please note that proceeds will again benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. So mark your calendar, and come on out.

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Caitlin Cary needle prints the Raleigh Skyline

CharGrillAs covered in “Losering” as well as (repeatedly!) on this blog, Ryan Adams has chosen to stay away from his former hometown of Raleigh for a very, very long time. As of this month, June 2016, it’s been more than 11 years since the last time he played a concert anywhere in North Carolina.

But Ryan’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Caitlin Cary remains a very visible part of the local music, arts and activist community here. You could even describe Caitlin’s recent artistic efforts as an ongoing love letter to Raleigh. Using a technique she’s dubbed “Needle Print,” Caitlin makes “Freehand Sewn Collage” depictions of famous as well as obscure structures in the city — from some of Raleigh’s most iconic buildings down to dwellings known only to the people who live there.

Caitlin has been doing these works for a couple of years, rendering local scenes in the highly unusual medium of discarded upholstery fabric. And by now, she’s built up enough of a body of work to rate a feature in the Sunday paper. So that’s what I did. You can see the story here — with fantastic pictures from the always-reliable Juli Leonard, an N&O co-worker of mine who also put in fine work on last year’s Connells video update — and check samples of Caitlin’s work here.

ADDENDUM (6/25/16): Another feature on Caitlin, this one in Nashville Interiors.

RaleighSkyline

 

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“This House Is Not For Sale”

DRAMandyHouseActually, however, this house is for sale: The marital home that Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams shared in Los Angeles before they split up in early 2015 just went on the market, with an asking price of $3.199 million. According to records from the county tax assessor’s office, the property has a tax value of $2,488,589 (of which $1,575,923 is the land value of the .29-acre lot).

Located in the “Oaks” neighborhood of LA’s trendy Los Feliz district in Hollywood, the house clocks in at five bedrooms and just under 4,800 square feet. And it certainly does look very, very nice — “truly an entertainer’s dream!,” as the seller’s description enthuses. The complete listing spiel is below.

But yeah, given that this is happening against a backdrop of ongoing separation unpleasantness between Ryan and Mandy — it’s sad.

In the coveted “Oaks” neighborhood of Los Feliz, this 5BR+4.25BA 1927 Mediterranean home is on a private street w/ a 12,000+ SF street-to-street lot. A perfect balance of original period details and luxury modern amenities: Original magnesite stairs, wrought iron railings, beautiful wood floors w/decorative inlay + direct entry 2 car garage,post alarm system, and 2-zone heat/air. Main floor includes a reading/sitting room with ornate “wedding cake” beading on the ceiling, a large living room with fireplace and access to an outdoor patio facing the quiet park across the street, formal dining room, large chef’s kitchen with a butcher block-topped center island and walk-in pantry. Upstairs is a beautiful master suite with a private balcony plus three additional bedrooms and two more full baths. Behind the house lies the terraced back yard with multiple sitting areas and gardens, dotted with mature citrus trees and rose bushes. This home is truly an entertainer’s dream!

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