By Brian Tucker
Jeff Clark, organizer for this weekend’s Sonorous Music Festival, has gathered a well-rounded selection of bands. The seed for the two-day event across numerous downtown venues was planted over a year ago by the CEO of Award Show Nation, Omar McCallup. He says it was also a desire to do one on a local level.
“There is so much young undiscovered talent out there that just needs a boost or a chance to play a festival,” Clark said. “What better place than the Port City that has such a rich culture in music and the Arts?”
Planning began summer 2013, mostly using music website portal ReverbNation to check out possible acts. Sonorous received 2000-plus submissions and they selected around forty to create a weekend of music. Local act Chasing Eden is playing but the bulk of the acts at Sonorous are from neighboring North Carolina cities to as far away as Maryland.
Many have never visited the area and the festival offers something for everyone, whether sassy country music from Amanda Daughtry from Smyrna, Tennessee to positive Hip Hop and R&B from Baltimore’s Wordsmith or fifteen year old pop R&B artist JoceLien from Greenville, N.C. who recently signed with 5050 Music.
There’s indie rock too, Charlotte’s dark-with-a-smile Grown Up Avenger Stuff and Raleigh’s (by way of Boston) Nikol, whose singer describes her music as “edgy pop and punk rock similar to Paramore or Avril Lavigne.” Like a shiny younger sister to Brody Dalle (The Distillers), Nikol’s vocal presence can kick but be both embracing and soaring.
“(We have) always gone for the rock sound,” Nikol said of music that’s like The Sounds meets Jimmy Eat World. “We will still be playing originals, (but won’t) be a full band for this event.”
Performing at Longstreet’s on Saturday night, Nikol’s stripped down set will serve to highlight her singing. Their Bittersweet album is a car alarm of strong melodies, New Wave aesthetics and fun, raging guitar rock, and sure to be a highlight among so many genres.
“It has been a fun and complicated process pulling all genres of music together…I think we have quite a list of bands,” Clark said. “I would employ anyone to look at the list of bands and research them to see what they like. What we hope most is that people visit downtown venues they have never been to and see there are great places to go (there).”
Sonorous is an extension of Clark’s work, both present and past. Between 1991 and 2004 he was involved with the North Carolina Azalea Festival, serving as Chairman of the Street Fair from 1996 – 2004 and also had “a huge hand in booking entertainment.” Living in Elizabeth City he says the festival bug bit him again and was soon handling concessions and entertainment for North Carolina Potato Festival.
“Having a child that is a musician (singer-songwriter James Ethan Clark), I would say that I am quite invested in the music scene.”
James helped expand his father’s appreciation of music; introducing him to artists he likely would have never heard or even looked at. James became instrumental in selection, Clark said, and that his knowledge of music and fan appreciation was incredibly helpful.
“Music is good for the soul. What these artists need is support. Wilmington is doing such a good job bringing national and regional acts to town, and what we are doing with this installment of Sonorous is to let people know that there are great acts out there that you have never heard.”
The acts you’ve chosen, did you discover them through showcases or festivals you’ve been involved with?
Clark: Primarily, we used Reverbnation. Most bands have access to this web based portal that serves as a repository for Over 3,000,000 bands, venues, agents, record labels and anything that is music. Some were chosen outside of ReverbNation, but the lion’s share we sourced from there. With over 2000 submissions, we had a lot to critique and really listen to so we could make the best decisions on the flow of the festival
Is there a driving force for you to bring lesser known acts more attention?
Clark: Doing this is an extension of some things that I already do. Having partnered with Omar McCallup and his extensive reach in the entertainment and artist world has made this a great combination. When looking at lesser known acts, every major act has been a lesser known act at one point in their career. Omar and I both recognize that. Personally I thrive on booking artists that in some instances in 6 months after I have had them play, they are household names in music. Kind of like, “I saw them just a few months ago in a bar that only held 100 people.” Those kind of finds really make me smile.
How heavily involved in music are you?
During my time in Wilmington from 1991 to 2004, I was involved with the NC Azalea Festival. I served as Chairman of the Street Fair from 1996 through 2004. I had a fine group of volunteers working with me and a board that saw the vision to make the Street Fair a focal point of the festival. We grew exponentially during my tenure, but it was the great group of folks I worked with that made that a realization.
Once I moved to Elizabeth City, it didn’t take long for the festival bug to bite me again. I now handle all of the concessions and entertainment for the NC Potato Festival in Elizabeth City. The first year I was involved in 2008 we had roughly 5000 people on a Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm. I am proud to say that we are now three days and upwards of 30,000 visitors to the “Harbor of Hospitality” that only has a population of approximately 20,000.
What has been most difficult about Sonorous?
The venues were quite welcoming to the opportunity to be a part of this. Any time we can “bring it downtown”, I think is a good thing. All of the venues have been extremely kind and understanding to work with. The most difficult thing for me has been the intricacies of the different bands and their schedules allowing them to meld into our scheduling and needs.
What do you believe audiences will take away from your festival?
Clark: Music is good for the soul. What these artists need is support. Wilmington is doing such a good job bringing great national and regional acts to town, and with what we are doing with this installment of Sonorous and the support of SweetWater Brewing Company is to let people know that there are some great acts out there that you have never heard. Come downtown, enjoy our beautiful waterfront, listen to some great music, and visit our versatile culinary establishments as well.