Since the early days of bluegrass and blues, North Carolina has been a hub for roots music. Charlotte in particular hosted “hillbilly music” from names like the Briarhoppers and Arthur Smith on WBT Radio. And today, from the Triangle’s college rock capital to Wilkesboro’s annual Merlefest, the region remains rich in homegrown tunes.
But these days, it seems the innovative industry is getting a big boost from another local trade. This month’s 3rd Annual North Carolina Brewers and Music Fest (www.ncbrewsmusic.com) at Huntersville’s Rural Hill farm makes it evident that as Charlotte’s craft brewing scene surges, its down home music is getting more chances than ever to take the stage. “Local food trucks, local music, it’s the continuation of supporting local,” says Brian Mister of NoDa Brewing Company. “It’s like us bringing in live music or supporting local farmers by giving our spent grain [to feed cattle].” And when it comes to the fast-growing relationship between music and beer, Mister should know. NoDa’s “Jam Session” pale ale is selling well at rock venues such as The Fillmore, and the brewery frequently hosts local bands for large crowds in their popular taproom.
And they’re not the only ones. Just up North Davidson Street, Heist Brewery features weekly live music. While in South End, live bands are a big part of the fundraisers and events that Triple C Brewing hosts in its adjacent warehouse. As the number of local craft breweries continues to grow, it’s likely this trend won’t slow.
While North Carolina has become the capital of craft with more than 75 N.C.-based breweries, Charlotte is still playing catch up to brew hubs like Raleigh and Asheville. “Charlotte is about 5 to 7 years behind the national curve,” says Jon Fulcher, co-owner of Four Friends Brewery, which is served in more than 100 area restaurants. “The craft explosion and demand for craft beers throughout the years happened years before it took hold in Charlotte.”Fulcher credits the recent explosion to the influx of folks who were accustomed to local beers in other cities. “Large companies are putting headquarters here and bringing in employees from other cities that already have that craft beer culture,” he says.
Lisa Barr, who carries Four Friends ale at Tremont Music Hall, also points to the outside, saying that it’s often the touring bands that are interested in trying local beers. But the region’s own music scene is benefitting from the ever-expanding industry as well—and there’s no doubt that Charlotte’s acts are getting attention these days. HRVRD was recently mentioned in “Entertainment Weekly.” And long-running roots outfit the New Familiars have secured a spot on Merlefest in April while Matrimony is readying its major label debut album for Columbia Records. Micah Davidson, who books the acts for NC Brewers and Music Fest, says the two crafts naturally go hand in hand. “When you start to understand the things you enjoy in life, you weed out the crap cover bands and the crap beer,” Davidson says. “Your attention to quality goes up.”
And for those behind the music and the breweries, it’s ultimately about appealing to the city’s maturing tastes. “People that want to see live music appreciate artistic value,” says Fulcher. “And that’s what [craft beer] is all about.”