Notes on a Music Scene

By Leigh Wood

When you’re talking about the elements of a music scene—say in a no-longer-sleepy, mid-sized college town—it’s tempting to try to find a beginning: like the first time the booking entity that has become On the Map became a thought to Roger Barrett in the winter of 2015 as he and Samantha Sigmon were cooking up an idea to bring a festival of bands to town. It was an effort to reestablish Fayetteville as a stop in the tour routes of bands—from Memphis to Oklahoma City, St. Louis to Austin—and has since turned into a prolific force in bringing diverse and exciting shows to town.

While that is how Roger and On the Map got their start, the beginning of this evolution is nearly impossible to trace. Before 2015 there was 2005, when TV On The Radio and Man or Astro–man? were keeping the basement of JR’s Lightbulb Club loud and smoky. And before that, 1995, when regional favorites like Split Lip Rayfield and Big Smith kept folks hanging from the balcony at Chester’s. And then, 1985, when parties at The Icehouse were bringing punk rockers like Tav Falco, The Flaming Lips, and Black Flag into town. And then, 1975, when George’s Majestic began it’s long reign as live music capital of Dickson Street with local legends like The Cate Brothers. Fifteen years ago, a mid-week show with a touring act that pulled in a paying audience of 80 people or so would have been considered a fairly small show. Now a show any night of the week that attracts 80 individuals willing to pay at the door is considered pretty killer—a success for sure.

Fayetteville’s music scene moves like a tide, rolling along for decades with years of expansion followed by years of retraction. House parties and practice spaces are always there acting as supporting venues (DIY before there was a term for it) as shows moved from a well-lit stage, back into the garage. And now here we are, looking at a town with a vibrant DIY scene and an outside amphitheater that seats 7,000 twenty miles north of here, and not much in between. George’s is holding strong, but the loss of almost all mid-size venues in town over the last 10 years or so has led to a vacuum of shows. Of course, there are some venues trying hard to fill that void, but as the loss of places to play goes, so does the attention of tour managers, bands, and bookers. That brings us around again to Roger and On the Map.

This may be the first concerted effort to again place Fayetteville back on the map. Roger’s booking is at once an effort to shore up the town’s presence as a live music destination and a completely selfish endeavor. He reaches out to bands whose music he loves pretty plainly: Some he’s been trying to book for years, others he is able to grab just before they make it to the next level on the touring strata, opening for an act in stadiums or arenas and no longer in the bar scene. This is music he wants people in Fayetteville to see and hear. From the harpist Mary Lattimore and the jangly guitar-playing Nashville-native Tristan, to noise rockers Protomartyr, to Har-Mar Superstar, the great hope of funk and soul, Roger’s been bringing shows to town consistently for three years.

The line-up for last fall and winter was Roger’s best work yet. With Ought, Russian Circles, Guerilla Toss, Molly Birch, BRONCHO and more, he’s hitting all the aural erogenous zones for rockers, metal heads, fans of songwriters, etc. And, more importantly, he’s starting to accomplish that original goal of reminding bands and tour managers that Fayetteville is a place to play.

We have the audience, and we have the space. It just takes someone to do the work.

*This essay was originally published in print in Parlor Issue #1.

*Cover Image: Show poster featuring line-up booked by Roger Barrett