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Durham PLAYlist  series heats up with Valerie June

Durham PLAYlist  series heats up with Valerie June

By: Shumara Thomas

Durham, NC is popular for hosting great events that cater to the arts and cross the expanse of genres to speak to all of its residents.

VJ. Crowd Shot

This summer Durham Central Park has curated a series of free concerts called PLAYlist, bringing in local favorites like Kamara Thomas and Americana darling Valerie June, this past weekend. Of course Shutter16 was there to cover it!

Valerie June

I was introduced to Valerie June a few years ago when her album Pushin’ Against Stone was a featured and playing in Barnes and Noble stores across the country. I loved the lyrics, and her southern twang was irresistibly innocent when partnered with her banjo. I was left mouth agape when I saw the album cover and discovered it was a black woman with freeform locs like my own behind the sound. I was smitten I tell you, and made sure to buy that album and tell everyone I could about the new artist I had found. Since that album in 2013, Valerie has gone onto finally release a follow up album last year, The Order of Time. This one still celebrates her Tennessee roots, entwined with gospel, folk and rock but the sense of reflection is felt. I later learned that her father, who is featured on the album, sadly passed away in 2016.

Valerie June

While her first album gave me a pathway into the bluegrass field, her recent work is more bluesy, jazzy. A popular track and one of my favorites “Astral Plane”, originally written for Massive Attack, is a perfect example of the vibe. Seeing her live was a big bucket list item for me. I’ll admit I was more than a little bit giddy to attend the concert. The family eagerly accompanied me, ready to hear about the singer I kept raving about. At 6pm, the small park was already mostly packed. I had expected a decent turnout but word had gotten out about the show. We were all the way in the back and mind you, opening act Kamara Thomas was just hitting the stage.

Kamara Thomas

On the way down to the park, I met a friend of Kamara who was so excited that I was seeing her live for the first time. Since moving to NC, I had heard of Kamara from several of my friends as an artist that I needed to check out. Originally based out of Brooklyn, she moved to Durham a few years ago to focus on singing-songwriting and family. You would expected a rocker from her appearance until you saw those pink cowboy boots and heard the first strum on her guitar.

Kamara Thomas

She sounds exactly like her songs, a cleaner more current version of country and bluegrass but you’ve got to check out one of my favorites of hers “That’s No Way to Treat Your Sweet Guitar”. It’s classic southern vibe is soft and pretty, perfect for summer listening.

Valerie June

Headliner Valerie was everything I could hope for. Her drawl is so thick it’s like listening to the sound of cornbread and okra, it’s so southern. She sat down for most of the performance, and played for over an hour. Ms. June is a phenomenal banjo player, an instrument that doesn’t get the love it deserves compared to the guitar.  This was what I was waiting for, the chance to watch her bang away on the banjo. She literally just played for awhile with no singing, just enjoying the instrument with the crowd dancing around. The banjo just compliments her voice in a way no guitar ever could. The crowd cheered and she even came back for another song after her set, met with fans, took pics and every person I talked to after remarked on how sweet she was to them.

VJ. Crowd Shot

Overall, it was a great time. If this is what we can expect from the Durham Central Park series, count on me to be there every week! To see the full schedule of the great lineup of free shows they have, go here and check it out!

See full gallery!

Fandamonium!

VJ. Crowd Shot

VJ. Crowd Shot

VJ. Crowd Shot

Sonic Pie Productions

Sonic Pie Productions

Boricua Soul

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