Celebrating my Birthday by Celebrating Local Culture

Dateline: 7/17, aka MY BIRTHDAY!

Since it’s my birthday, I thought I’d write about some of the things art-related I adore about my home here in Fayetteville, NC. When we moved here in Jan 2019, I figured there would be a thriving arts scene, since the Arts Council here is so active. But as I’ve gotten to know the artists who call the “City of Misfits” home, the depth and breadth of art here takes my breath away. For a small Southern city filled with a young, fairly transient population, Fayetteville is an incredibly creative place to be. Supporting these artists and this community is truly a gift to myself.

Downtown Public Art: downtown Fay continues to steadily “glow-up,” as the kids say. Part of the transformation is the public art that is on display throughout the area. A few pieces are permanent installations (“Winged Glory” by Jack Howard-Potter at CFVH Medical Arts building, Venus Flytrap at edge of Person St), but many are temporary, which adds to the delight of visiting downtown on a regular basis to discover something new. And I can’t forget the incredible mural on the rear of the Capitol Encore building (which is actually the school’s entrance)! It’s easily one of the best places for sweet selfie action.

“Windowstone” at HQ library. It reminds me of pi.

Cumberland County Library Art Collection: Did you know the library houses an incredible art collection and regularly puts pieces on display? I want to do an entire post/series on this amazing asset. I mean, the library system here is an incredible asset all on its own, and to have the art on top of that? ::mimes mind-blowing::

Singer/Songwriter Lisette at the Open Mic, Oct 2019

Open Mic night at The Coffee Scene: this was my first inkling of how varied and talented the artists are here in Fayetteville. If you’re not checking out this Sunday/Monday night event, usually hosted by the Godfather of Poetry Neil Ray, you’re missing out. Check the Fb page for when they livestream if you can’t be there in person (once we’re post-Covid restrictions).

STS Season 19-20 kickoff party. A raucous gathering. Good times.

Sweet Tea Shakespeare: I have a feeling if the Bard were suddenly transported to modern-day Fayetteville (I cannot WAIT for the next Bill&Ted’s movie!), he would adore this inventive theater company and the all-encompassing productions they are known for. STS shows are on the edge of being immersive theater (their drunk Shakespeare show arguably are immersive theater) and you want to show up early and pay attention through intermission so you don’t miss any of the character interaction/musical numbers/actor banter going on. They’re trying very hard to offer additional expansive content right now during Pandemic 2020 and I can’t wait to see what brilliant artistic exploits will happen once theater goes live in-person again. Do yourself (and them) a favor: become a Patreon supporter and get access and insider perks!

Hanging out at LeClair’s, May 2019

LeClair’s General Store: I love soaking in the laid-back creative vibe of this coffeehouse/vintage goods/handmade art shop. Perfect for solopreneur working, small group meetings, or pre-theater drinks (it is right across from Cape Fear Regional Theater). Pat and his team do an exquisite job curating and displaying beautiful merch.

Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra: I have loved classical music since I got my first cd: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with my first boombox, Christmas of 1990 (such an arts nerd from a very early age). So of course I am thrilled to have the FSO here in town. Their season typically has 6-8 concerts performed at venues around town, including Methodist and Fayetteville State Universities. Maestro Stefan Sanders does an incredible job illuminating audiences about the BTS of classical music.

Sculpture show at Botanical Gardens, summer 2019

Cape Fear Botanical Gardens: Visiting the BoGardens is always visually inspiring, any time of year. The holiday lights tour was so much fun; the touring sculpture show was like a scavenger hunt for adults. It’s easy to spend a morning here, meandering the paths and enjoying the different gardens. There’s even a mini-amphitheater, which I’d love to see used for some theater performances (I know it’s happened in the past, but I haven’t personally taken one in yet)!

These are just off the top of my head, in no particular order, and reflect the tiniest portion of the breadth of art available here in Fayetteville. After the pandemic is over, I’ll celebrate my birthday in high style by visiting all of these, and more!

Fayetteville’s Prince of Poetry: El’Ja Bowens

El’Ja Bowens is one of the most relentlessly positive people I know: he encourages everyone he meets, raises up other artists, and is consistently working on his own craft and helping grow the spoken word/poetry slam scene here in Fayetteville and across the state. “Purpose over Popularity” is his guiding mantra, yet his focus and kindness makes El’Ja one of the most popular artists around town. He celebrates his birthday at the end of July! Show him some love by attending one of his virtual events and purchasing his work. Don’t forget to follow him on the socials for the October release of his upcoming book 3:10: A Poetic Journey Through Life Hacks

El'Ja Bowens takes the mic
photo credit Jackson Hall

The professional bio: LeJuane (El’Ja) Bowens is an award-winning spoken word artist, poet, speaker, and author.  He is also the first poet to have his work in the Obama Art Museum located in Raleigh, NC (the first and only of its kind in North Carolina). In 2014, he was recognized as the first ever NC Poet to compete in three major Grand Slam Finals in three different cities in North Carolina the same year. He is the founder/director for the Southeast Regional NC Poetry Festival in Fayetteville, NC and he has featured on Poetry Slam Inc and All Def Poetry on YouTube. He also hosts Nerd Slam competitions at numerous comicons across the US. Cashapp: $eljapoetry

Favorite Local Third Place: It’s a three way tie actually. The Sweet Palette for its art gallery for local artists. Winterbloom Tea for its laid back vibe, and Stop_Button because of the gamer/Nerd in me.

3 Things you can’t live without: Family, creativity, and faith

Local artist (any genre) you admire: Hands down: Neil Ray. He is a mentor of mine and many others and he is one of the few that gave Fayetteville the poetry scene. He is considered the Godfather of Poetry and many writers in the area would agree that he earned that title.

El'Ja sits with a book in front of library stacks,
Photo credit Sean Wright

A practice you’ve started during quarantine that you plan to continue: Playing the guitar. Been at it for a month and a half now so I can only go up from here.

What is one of your current artistic experiments: Online events. I’ve been able to create two events: one being based off of nerd discussion while the other interviews artists from all artforms. I was blessed to have Tony Todd from “Final Destination” and “Candyman” to be our first guest and there are many more to come.

Who is someone who encouraged or championed your art work: My wife, Monica Haynes Bowens. She’s always motivating me, always challenging me. She knows how to pull out what I need to create at the moments when I don’t see it.

What advice would you give to new/younger/less experienced artists in your genre? Keep writing, keep creating. Greatness does not come overnight and the more you give yourself goals to accomplish, the better it is for you to not become stagnant.

Collaboration leads to Connection: Wilson and Ray new concept album

What are you looking for/
Love Hope Happiness/
Everything else they sell at the store

-from the song “Oh Dang”

It’s fitting — in a weird 2020 way — that the first new article of the year is about the same artist as the last new article, published a year ago. Shane Wilson, FTW. That experimental cd we wrote about? It’s out today, July 3! The Blue Ridge Connection, Volume 1 uses original songs and poetry to tell the story of a young man named Martin who goes into the western North Carolina mountains in search of answers to some of life’s most perplexing questions. (Hint: there may be shrooms involved in answering some of them.)

The Blue Ridge Connection is an evolving collective of artists brought together by the magic of the western North Carolina mountains. This iteration is a collaborative effort between Neil Ray (percussion and poetry), Shane Wilson (vocals, guitar, lyrics), Michelle Winfrey (vocals), and Drea Dreiling (violin).

Fans of Shane’s writing or Neil’s spoken word poetry will not be disappointed. Both are equally featured throughout the tracks. The Blue Ridge Connection, Volume 1 is available on all major streaming platforms or can be purchased directly from Shane’s website.

Shane Wilson, with Sequoia Rising partner Jerry Smith

Editor’s Note: July ’20

Or: Returning to Oz

You ever go back to a place you used to visit a lot — a school, or theater, or music club — but then didn’t for, like, a year?

Yeah, that’s kinda what I feel like right now.

Last July I contracted with a local arts org for a paid full-time temp job, which was great for paying off my undergrad student loan (yay!), not so great for focused editorial content.

Then, in January, this Jellybean joined our family, so the first half of 2020 has been busy with her. And staying healthy from the global pandemic. And sorting out how we can be anti-racist. And watching entirely too much Food Network.

So, here we are, July. Let’s pick up where we left off, huh?

There are still amazing local artists of all genres doing really interesting, indeed inventive artwork during quarantine.

Let’s go find them.

The World is his Muse: Author Shane Wilson

Shane Wilson is a story-teller. It doesn’t quite matter what format those stories come in. Short stories. Novels. Plays. Songs. Podcasts. Shane’s always looking for the story and figuring out how to share it. 

Shane moved to Fayetteville in 2014, “for love. But it didn’t work out.” he says. (Another story) By day, he teaches in the English Department at Fayetteville Technical Community College. By night, he works on his own creations. He’s released two novels to date: A Year Since the Rain and The Smoke in His Eyes. A third is with his editor while he’s writing the first draft of a fourth. There are numerous short stories, including “The Boy Who Kissed The Rain”, which he adapted into a stage play after it won the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize. 

Then there’s Sequoia Rising, Shane’s band with fellow musician Jerry Smith. “I decided to learn to play guitar when I wrote Smoke,” Shane explained, “and then the muse hit me with the song “Before We Fade Away”.” Again, they are most interested in telling their own stories through their music. That led Shane to a writer’s retreat over the summer at an isolated artists’ cabin in the NC mountains. “I came back with an entire album’s worth of songs,” Shane grinned. (yet more stories) 

When I asked whether he considers himself a “teaching artist” or a “teacher and artist”, he admitted he “tried to compartmentalize but it’s absurd to think parts don’t creep into the classroom.” He loves teaching and knew from an early age he wanted to be in the classroom, partially because he had formative educational experiences in school with his own English and Literature teachers. “They allowed me to think differently and acknowledged my capacity for weird or out of the box thinking.” He tries to do the same for his community college students. “These are the people who need me: they need an advocate in academia.” 

In addition to his own artistic work, Shane is interested in collaborating with other artists on interesting projects. Fayetteville has quite a few local authors and Shane helped pull many of them together in December 2018 to partake in a literary scavenger hunt, leaving copies of their books downtown and encouraging the finders to post pictures with the hashtag #freereadsfay. He can often be found at Java Expressions Live, the longest running open mic in Fayetteville (yet more stories), at The Coffee Scene on Sunday and Monday evenings, trying out new tunes or talking with founder/master of ceremonies Neil Ray about some new act or idea. 

When asked what he is most excited about about Fayetteville, Shane commented on how “there are different pockets, something to cohere to but everybody has their own identity.” He talked about downtown’s regrowth and how there is a growing sense of an artistic and cultural community here. Much like the general atmosphere at Java Expressions, Fayetteville itself has a “If I can dream it, I can do it” vibe going on right now. Artists, teachers, collaborators like Shane play a huge role in that.  

Dr. Daniel Montoya is a Modern Day Renaissance Artist-Scientist

Dr. Montoya at LeClair’s General Store

It doesn’t come as any surprise that a neuroscientist–someone who studies the way the brain works for a living–would be interested in the concept of Resonance. “It’s the goal of many people vibrating at the same frequency,” Dr. Montoya grins, “and I’ve experienced it with music.” He researches the idea of consciousness from a cognitive psychological standpoint, but philosophy and arts are never far from his scientific work.

Dr. Montoya hails from Argentina, where he started playing guitar at twelve. When he was seventeen, he volunteered to work a visit from the Pope. Eventually, the music and religion overlapped when he started writing and playing music for churches here in America. Religious music is designed to lead to resonance within the congregants.

His creative muse is Electronic music and his latest album is Space Songs for Earthy People. He creates the ethereal tunes on the computer, records vocals on his iPad in found spaces, and overlays more traditional instruments to make the sound full and rich. Getting caught in the bain of the artist’s life — when is the work done? when is it finished? — is not helped by the computer. “I’m endlessly tweaking,” he chuckles.

Another aspect of Dr. Montoya’s love of music is working as a deejay, spinning ambient, house, new age, trap, and other genres of electronic music. One of his favorite musicians is David Bowie, not only because of his constant learning and reinventing, but because of Bowie’s business acumen. “You have to learn to do it all as an artist today,” Dr. Montoya says, “No one else will look after your business like you will.”

photo from Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County Block Party.

A devoted community member, Dr. Montoya participated in a local board training program, and was selected to work with the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County on their Board of Directors. He is also a member of the Arts Council’s CMAC (Cumberland Makers and Creatives) team, which focuses on networking, training, and supporting independent artists of all forms in our neighborhood. “I’m excited about things that are happening [in Fayetteville], the people, the vision,” he remarked.

Editor’s Note: June

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

An editor’s note is typically where they talk about what the reader will see in the upcoming pages, what they are particularly excited about, or how the issue came together. It’s a sneak peek into the editor’s world and usually the last thing to be written before the issue goes to press, so it feels very of-the-moment.

And my future editor’s notes may have more of that feel, as I get into a consistent groove with content coming in a predictable pattern. But I thought this first one might be a look into why this publication is so necessary here-and-now.

I moved here in January (six months ago as of this writing), knowing all of a handful of people and a smattering about the “top shelf” arts organizations in town.

Professional arts administration and arts advocacy tends to be a small world/network. There are lots of reasons for that: not every organization has the financial coffers to have paid staff, not every artist wants to engage in visible advocacy, not all studios or theaters have administration but function as co-ops, etc. I mention this only to highlight that the number of people I knew here really was small: I knew a couple of folks at the Arts Council, I was familiar with Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s work, and had heard of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra.

BUT. Oh, the but. Or rather — sticking with my improv training — a gigantic YES AND. Yes, there are CFRT and FSO. AND. There is Gilbert Theater and Sweet Tea Shakespeare. There is the All American Jazz Collective and the Fayetteville Jazz Orchestra. There are the Open Mic nights at the Coffee Scene. There is a phenomenal spoken word/poetry scene. There are more bands than you can shake a stick at: seriously, you could see a different band every week for a year and still probably not see them all. There are hundreds of visual artists showcasing in galleries and studios and coffeeshops and tea houses. There are makers popping up as vendors at monthly events and weekly farmers’ markets: glass and paper and jewelry and usable and wearable and simply beautiful. There are writers! Oh the writers! The library has a whole display of local authors and can’t fit them all on the shelf! There are artists working with fabric, collage, leather, graphite, keyboard (both kinds), and beads. Comic book people. Dancers. Photographers. Every time I think I’ve finished this paragraph, I keep thinking of someone else I’ve met who does something completely different.

And more. So many more. People who are giants in their respective artistic medium. People who are making art and teaching it. People who are making art while doing other work completely unrelated. People who are just starting out. People who have moved here because the Army brought them to Fayetteville. People who were born here and decided to come back after the Army or marriage or college or life took them away.

I would say it’s impossible to talk about just how much art there is in Fayetteville. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do here.

I’d love to hear from you: who is an artist you know? Maybe it’s you or your cousin or your uncle or your friend from church or the guy you knew before you retired from service. Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at coloroffayetteville@gmail.com. There are so many stories to share. Color of Fayetteville celebrates all the creative artists and makers that call Cumberland County home.

“Minor Mood”, Major Chops: The All American Jazz Collective

Imagine eating lunch under the shade of an old oak tree, the mellow sounds of John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk wafting around you from a quintet sitting adjacent in the park. How melodious. How cosmopolitan. How All American.

Well, I have news for you: You can do just such a thing on the campus of Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) every other Friday this coming fall when the All American Jazz Collective starts playing again. This loose quintet–sometimes a quartet, sometimes a sextet or more–plays on campus as well as various community gathering places around Fayetteville.

Jazz has a long history in the state. Coltrane hailed from High Point, Monk from Rocky Mount. Nina Simone is from Tryon, Billy Strayhorn spent formative years in Hillsborough. The NC Arts Council maintains a trail through eastern North Carolina dedicated to these luminaries and their stories. Perhaps we can get Fayetteville on the map: trumpeter Waymon Reed is from here. So the All American Jazz Collective is carrying on a proud North Carolinian tradition.

All American Jazz Collective
One lineup of the AAJC, Pappas far left, Carey in middle. Photo courtesy Anthony Russell.

AAJC started performing together in the fall of 2017. Co-founder Daniel Pappas mused, “Fayetteville had lots of R&B or Smooth jazz, even some fusion, but we wanted to do traditional jazz music.” Pappas moved here five years ago to teach and now runs the music department at FTCC. Jazz wasn’t his main musical focus before teaching at FTCC. “I felt I could speak about it better if I played it,” he chuckled. And with the wide spectrum of jazz styles, musicians, and songs to choose from, there is always something to play or to improvise around.

Jenne Carey, also a recent transplant to Fayetteville, and vocal instructor with FTCC, sings with AAJC. Jazz isn’t her background either–she’s a classically trained opera singer–but she jumped at the chance to grow her skills and range. “Ellington, Gershwin: these composers fused jazz with classical,” she enthused. The other members of the Collective vary from performance to performance. The March 2019 lineup at Holy Trinity included Jay Locklear on piano, Landon Oliver on organ, Anthony Russell on drums, and Willie Lockett (who is a former 82nd Airborne Bandmaster) on bass.

In addition to private functions, the AAJC has played at the opening of the Hope Mills Lake and with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. “I wish there was a jazz club here,” Pappas said. Hence the Friday Jazz Lunches and other community performances. Perhaps the new Jazzio’s restaurant on Bragg Blvd might be interested in the group to perform…

AAJC is an exciting contribution to the Fayetteville music scene. Pappas mentioned he was particularly enthusiastic about the Cape Fear New Music Festival, held at Methodist University in the Spring. Both Methodist and Fayetteville State University have strong music programs, including jazz studies. All these musical connections between educational establishments, bands, and individuals will make our city sound that much more rhythmic.

Art Attack Rides Downtown for Fourth Friday

It’s An Onslaught of Arts! Artists Wield Everything from Drumsticks to Tattoo Guns to Palette Knives!

Shawn Adkins gets shit done. Not content to simply run his store, Back-A-Round Records, Adkins is rebooting the Art Attack, a multi-disciplinary art event and networking opportunity for artists. This next iteration will happen all over downtown Fayetteville on Friday, May 24th, as the Fourth Friday celebrations put on by Cool Springs Downtown District.

The Art Attack started at Adkins’ former venture, the well-attended music & event center, The Rock Shop, which closed in 2017. “We did the Art Attack every week for three years,” he remembers. “Now that I’m here [on Hay St], I want to be a part of downtown.”

Adkins’ has worked with Cool Springs for years on the Zombie Walk every October, so the collaboration is well-established. And he’s been here for 28 years so when he remarks, “I want to help make Fayetteville cooler than it already is”, he knows what’s he talking about. Fourth Friday makes downtown a cool evening destination. Art Attack will have a little something for everyone: bands on a stage in front of Back-A-Round, Lacey Crime’s selfie stations from the Dogwood Festival will be back out, live dancing up and down Hay Street, spoken word and poetry artists, gallery showings, and more.

For the artists, the Art Attack is also a networking event. Having lots of different artforms represented allows artists a chance to talk to each other, maybe plan a collaboration, or simply be inspired by each other’s artwork. Adkins mused, “Hopefully there will be new friendships afterwards… they’ll go do some work together.”

Being part of Fourth Friday also means the event is designed for all ages and family friendly. Budding (or established) young artists are encouraged to attend and apply to show their skills, be they on stage or in a visual medium. With Cape Fear Music Center, Gilbert Theater, Fascinate-U Kids Museum, and Cape Fear Studios–all of which teach kids classes–within walking distance of the main traffic circle in downtown, it should be no trouble finding talented young artists to participate.

To keep up with all things Art Attack, make sure to follow them on Facebook. And mark your calendar for all Fourth Fridays: every one will be slightly different through the year. Adkins is confident that Art Attack will have some kind of on-going monthly presence after May. “If people come out to hear the performers and if the artists make some money, we’ll do more of these.” Adkins says assuredly.

Kevin Ward: Tooting His Horn

From Low Brass to Army Brass to the Classroom, Ward is making a difference.

Art-form teachers tend to wear a lot of hats. Kevin Ward, Max Abbott Middle School Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020 school year, has a full rack: he teaches orchestra at the middle school, is an adjunct professor at Methodist University, and arranges sheet music for Lindsey Sterling. On top of that, he promised his Mom, who passed away in 2018, that he’d continue his education, which he’s doing by pursuing a doctorate in curriculum instruction. “I want to have a huge dash on my tombstone. I want to make sure I’m making a difference,” Ward bashfully shares.

We sat down in the MAMS cafeteria recently to talk about middle school orchestra and his path from the Army to the classroom. After playing around the world, he wound up in Fayetteville as his last duty post. A few months prior to retiring in 2017, the MAMS orchestra teacher position opened up. “I was very interested, but couldn’t commit because I wasn’t finished in the Army yet,” Ward explained. “Mrs. Crenshaw [MAMS Principal] called me again in November and said, “Well, the teacher we hired didn’t work out, so the position is open if you still want it.”” Now he was out of the Army and could tackle the challenge of a middle-school orchestra program. This school year, he took the orchestra to the NC Music Educator’s Association Music Performance Adjudication contest in Raleigh for the first time in seven years. He had eight students chosen by audition for the Junior Eastern Region Orchestra. Some of his students play with the Fayetteville Symphony Youth Orchestra.

photo provided by Kevin Ward

Arranging music began in the Army. “I had to think outside the box about these arrangements” because of the potentially random assortments of instruments a particular performance might have. He did over 350 arrangements and compositions for the Army; it was through this work he met Lindsey Sterling. “I wanted to arrange a piece of hers for our holiday concert, so asked her permission. She liked the work I did so much, she asked me to do more.” It helps that he enjoys listening to a wide variety of music, from more traditional orchestral pieces to the crossover electronica of Sterling to harder rock.


Ward’s favorite instrument is the tuba and he also plays trumpet, french horn, and euphonium. Photo provided by Kevin Ward.

At heart, his genuine care for his students shines through. He’s researching the cognitive benefits of musical education for middle school students. He is actively fundraising for new chairs for his classroom on DonorsChoose.org, the sort of equipment cost that will make a huge difference for the students but the school system is not able to budget for. He is still teaching privately at Music and Arts on Morganton Road. His work on the Methodist University campus alerts him to opportunities for his middle school students, like the summer youth camps.

There is no doubt Ward is making a difference, for both his students and his fellow musicians. He would love for his next career step to be County Arts Coordinator for the entire school system. No doubt he’ll be able to make an even bigger, even better difference in such a role.