Newsroom director Alison Krug
In July of 2016, I started on an endless and impossible quest to compile every song that mentions North Carolina.
I was interning in Charlotte, where homemade Panthers- and Hornets-themed music videos seem endless. Feeling left out, I began searching for a song about my hometown of Concord, N.C. When my leads went dry, I decided the most practical next step was to amass as many songs about North Carolina as possible and search for Concord by process of elimination.
I started making lists on scrap paper. On the bus rides to my internship, these lists became playlists of geographically cohesive songs.
As the lists grew, I encountered more songs with a slightly more nuanced relationship to the state (The Mountain Goats’ “Moon Over Goldsboro,” for example, which references the N.C. town in the title but is set in Iowa), and I started collecting their context in an Excel spreadsheet.
Some of the songs I found seemed to just use North Carolina as a folksy backdrop with a convenient number of syllables and an association with the easily rhymable “pines.” But the most deeply personal songs I found, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ “Leaving Eden” and James Taylor’s “Copperline,” don’t paint a perfect picture of the state.
In 2010, Huffington Post published a blog declaring Petey Pablo’s “Raise Up” to be “the worst state rap anthem ever produced” and claiming North Carolina deserves better. First of all, I’m glad “state rap anthem” is getting the recognition it deserves as a verifiable genre. But “Raise Up” embodies all the traits I found in other moving songs about North Carolina: It’s catchy as hell. It doesn’t gloss over the state’s deep flaws (the locations Pablo mentions in the song are all locations of correctional facilities near Greenville). It’s entered the ever-extending list of unofficial UNC songs.
What kept me coming back to this never-ending compilation was my search for a Concord song. I found one where I should have looked first: with The Avett Brothers.
“In the Curve” is a bonus track off the band’s 2007 album “Emotionalism,” and the last lines of the song explicitly set it in Concord: “And now we’re just talking/ We’re hitch hiking walkin’/ We’ll see you in Concord tonight.”
And it feels like Concord. From the steady, rolling rhythm to the scratchy vocals, I finally heard my hometown.
By the time I found my Concord song, I reached more than 70 songs about North Carolina. My next challenge was finding a way to organize it. I settling on taking this mass of mildly organized music and building a tuneful tour of North Carolina.
With not much besides nostalgia and geography linking them together, it’s a weird journey from Sonic Youth’s “Chapel Hill” to Charles Kuralt and Loonis McGlohon’s “Tar Heel Places,” but it’s a nice one.
Online readers, I’ve attached this musical tour map below. Print readers, thank you for reading a newspaper.