It's no secret that the state of North Carolina is a cultural cache, boasting both the personal originality of its art-producing citizens and the able-bodiedness of their promotional agents. From varied music festivals to mouth-watering homestyle recipes pressed into slick magazine pages, there is absolutely no mistaking that good times will be had and inspired conversation will bubble forth in every season moving forward. From densely-wooded Appalachia to traffic-heavy Piedmont roads to rolling, colorful beach dunes, it's a place like no other, worthy of celebration and home to consistent innovation. Our people read, watch overhyped basketball games, lift their glasses in the name of craft beer and sip moonshine; they party hard and listen to public radio.
But it's also no secret that the sanity of North Carolinians everywhere has been effectively compromised in recent years by its Republican-led legislature, as evidenced by the widely-attended Moral Monday movement. In the reflection of backwards politics and rifts drawn amid the population, we aren't as respected on the national stage as we ought to be. Governor Pat McCrory sparked widespread public ire with the passage of House Bill 2 -- A.K.A. the "bathroom bill" -- on Mar. 23 of this year, outlining new rules banning the use of public restrooms which align with one's gender identity, but not in agreement with their birth certificate, widely understood to be response to a conflicting protective measure taken by the city of Charlotte less than one month earlier. The bill passed with unprecedented swift, and involved a complete democratic walkout in the state senate, passing 32-0. Time passed, and the public slowly realized what other forms of bullshit the measure enacted: it stripped transgender individuals and people of color from basic protections and standards of respect in the workplace, forbade cities from independently raising the minimum wage, and overturned local ordinances regarding family policy and child welfare protections. Basically, it made life just a little bit harder and dismissed the validity of thousands of North Carolinians not fortunate enough to live in the governor's mansion or regularly shape public policy with their money.
In the months that followed, public figures, civic organizations and creative forces alike made their denouncement of HB2 known, but McCrory and his cronies have stayed firm. In spite of the cancellation of internationally-respected musical acts on N.C. stages, the NCAA's withdrawal of their all-star competition and even the disapproving statement of President Barack Obama, state government officials have continued to invent new testimony as to why their actions were valid -- and to establish new plans for McCrory's reelection this November. Those urging the bill's repeal have pressed on; most recently, the governor's office issued a statement proposing its full appeal on the condition that Charlotte first cancels their ruling, frequently citing the original measure's passage as a solution to a problem which in their eyes never existed to begin with. It is not completely clear if that would truly remove the entire bill's damage, and not just the bathroom-based segment which has drawn the most public outcry.
Unfortunately, this is all old news, and there are many of us who figure that by now, something must taken a turn for the better. For the time being, the best we can hope for is a democratic reemergence this fall and the dethroning of one wholly boyish and willfully ignorant man in charge. That -- and the continued progressive voices of ordinary people raised in the name of dialogue and respect for one another.
On Oct. 7 and 8, the dialogue continues with a music-based benefit series in Raleigh. Come Out and Show Them, a cause founded by local visionaries Grayson and Tina Currin, has banded together artists, business owners and political activists in opposition to nonsensical political strategy and backwards movement in the reassurance of equal protection for all North Carolina residents. Just weeks after the excitement and success of Hopscotch Music Festival, the "Benefit to Take Back Our State" will pack several downtown music venues with top-ranked musical acts and audiences eager to combine their hearts and hopes for future improvement.
And that is saying something.
Headlining is Durham's indie pop darlings Sylvan Esso, whose debut studio album broke Billboard's top 40 and whose entrancing warm-honey vocals and sparse, melodic production are indisputably one-of-a-kind. From the folk music division come the Pittsboro-bred Mount Moriah, along with Tres Chicas, Tift Merritt, Phil and Bradley Cook, and Mipso. Mac McCaughan, the esteemed multi-genre innovator, cofounder of rock getups Superchunk and Portastatic and the Durham based and nationally-renowned record label Merge, will be in attendance, joined in like-minded solidarity by Patty Hurst Shifter and American Aquarium, the latter of whose 2012 release was described by "American Songwriter" as "a record for anyone who creates art, even if recognition or a stable living may never come of it." And, of course, you can't talk about success in N.C. music without honoring the hip hop tradition; attendees are also looking forward to appearances by Foolery (of Kooley High), King Mez, Well$, Professor Toon, Oak City Slums, and more.
Even in the face of the embarrassing antics of one legislative body, comprised of a largely masculine and old-fashioned populace refusing to face their own insecurities and fears in a changing, modern world, there is hope on account of the talented people dotting our cultural landscape. We may not be able to escape the rulings of thick and convoluted language providing an oppressive backdrop to our daily, hard-worked lives, but we can spread the word of our progress and spirit in other regards. The music and other artistic endeavors born of North Carolina deserve recognition and a special element of respect that comes from perseverance and a simple desire to continue calling this place home in spite of its passing ugliness.
We are not this, and this is our proof.