Musician and Teacher Tony Harrison Has Good Music Mojo

Tony wears a blue tie dye buttonup shirt and plays an orange and green bass guitar. He's standing in front of a fellow musician and a drum set, all under a large tent.
Tony at a concert. photo credit: Digital Wolf Photography

Tony began playing guitar, piano drums, trombone and guitar at an early age. After seeing Elvis Presley and later receiving his first electric bass for Christmas, his life path was made clear. Tony started playing professionally while in high school, later attending UNC-Pembroke and earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Business. Today, Tony is the sole proprietor of Rally Point, LLC aka Cape Fear Music Center, where he spends his days repairing instruments and teaching students of all ages guitar, electric bass, ukulele, beginning piano and music theory. His shop employs several of the area’s finest instructors and instrument repair technicians.

Tony is the bassist and a songwriter for Rivermist, a regionally recognized and award-winning variety band playing in the Carolinas and Virginia. His newest ballad, ‘Tangled’ is being released in late August, 2021 and is getting great responses at live shows. Hear and purchase Rivermist’s available releases on all of your favorite streaming services at https://rivermist.hearnow.com/

Rivermist playing the NC State Fair, 2019

3 Things making your life richer & why: Obviously music is my passion and I live to perform and teach. I love my wife, Suzanne, who is my motivator and cheerleader in all things. My love for animals inspired me to become a vegetarian last year. 

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change?
With the world in disarray last year I found I needed to develop productive habits. So I started to really focus my practice and write more music. Part of this process has led me to experiment with writing several pieces with similar subject matter. Lately I have been using roads, highways etc. If you pay attention to your surroundings, inspiration is everywhere.  

Rehearsal at Cape Fear Music Center

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I do most of my practice and writing in my teaching studio at 110 Old Street. It’s just a block from where I played my first gig in front of the Market House in 1980 and on land where the mill was in the late 1700’s that our whole community grew around. It has good mojo. 

Advice to newer artists in your genre. My advice to musicians who desire to make a living or just want to enjoy playing and writing music is to be true to yourself. Write and play what makes you happy.  I play a wide variety of music from classic rock, beach music, latin and jazz to musical theater. I love many styles, but love most to play whatever makes the audience happy on any particular night. 

Guiding Light: Brian Adam Kline

Brian Adam Kline is a director of film and theater, Artistic Director of Chameleon Children’s Theatre, and, perhaps most importantly, the theater teacher at The Capitol Encore Academy, where he brings his passion for enlightenment to his lucky students.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is how I feel as a person, where I am as a human being. Success is measured on how you help other people, how you encourage young people who are going through the same things that you did. I don’t think that success is necessarily measured in awards or in money or what other people think. I think that to a degree that has something to do with it, but I myself measure success as Am I where I should be at this moment?

When you feel there is a disconnect, “no, I don’t feel like I’m being particularly successful,” What then? How do you look ahead and go, “well, what do I need to do to change that?

Well, I’m all about the journey. I’m all about the process and not the product. I say that all the time to my students: it’s the process, not the product. If you look at the product, you get in a lot of danger; no one knows what’s going to happen. So I try to embrace the process more if I’m working on a children’s show, right. And things are not right. I don’t dare think about opening night right now. I’m thinking about where we are right now, how we improve ourselves, are the kids having fun? Am I having fun? Are we learning? Are they being artistically expressive? Am I being artistically expressive with them?

I think we’ve all seen that image of the iceberg: the bottom of the iceberg, it’s really deep and you see all of the things underwater that an artist goes through like rejection. Then you see the top of the iceberg: awards, money, applause. Those things everyone sees, but they don’t actually see what’s really below. Art is not instant. I like to give a Renaissance example: Michelangelo worked on the Sistine chapel for years. I’m just amazed by that, by the fact that somebody worked on and off for that many years to complete a project.

What changes do you seek to make with your art?

I want to educate everybody. It’s just that the level of that education is different. For instance, if I’m teaching a theater class to first graders, that’s going to be a lot different if I’m working in New York City with a group of actors trained at conservatory. Even if I’m on a set with adult actors, or experienced kids, I still want them to learn something.

I want people to be enlightened as much as I am. Enlightenment is key. Not just the people I work with, but the audience, too, I want to enlighten them. Even if I’m doing a piece that might not seem too much of an enlightenment piece, I think that there’s always something that we can find in there. In everything that I do, whether a children’s show or a film with adult actors, I want the people I’m working with to feel enlightened and to learn something and take something from the project.

Everything’s a stepping stone, it just keeps going up and up and up. I didn’t see it before, but I see it now that I’ve worked with some of these students for 10 years. I get to see how far they go. I have a student who I’ve known since she was maybe 11 or 12 years old and she just graduated with BFA in acting, which is the same degree I have. It’s so cool to see her take that journey. I didn’t see that as a young acting teacher in the beginning. I didn’t see the importance of that and the evolution of that.

I feel like I’m making a change through education primarily because whenever a student wants to come back, or is excited, or they talk about your class, or they talk about a play that we’ve done. I’ve gotten messages on Instagram from students who moved because of the military and then I’ll get random message thanking me for “Peter Pan” that we did four years ago. That’s proof that I’m making some type of change. I want students to feel that no matter what race, what gender, what sexual preference, what nationality they have, I want them all to feel they are worthy and they can do anything. They really can do anything. And theater and film is such a great vehicle for that.

Kline (kneeling front left) and Houck (front right) with the cast and crew of “Love and Coffee”

How have you construct the bridges of your career?

As a kid, as a teenager, I used to think about “how am I going to become the next Steven Spielberg?” And the thing is, you cannot do that. You just can’t. You can’t be sitting around and waiting for it to happen either: you have to find a balance. And so I started discovering that balance. I’m finding that if I work really hard on each project, then more things come. People will hear about your work.

I’m from a very small town and film making was very expensive back then. I actually had an opportunity in high school. The librarian received a grant and she bought a camera that you had to use a cord that went to the back of the computer with it and you would have to press play and then press record on the computer. And she stopped me in the hallway one day and asked, “Aren’t you the kid that makes movies with your parents’ RCA camera?” So the librarian offered to let me use this equipment. And I just went crazy casting high school friends. We were making sci-fi films. We were making horror films. We were doing exactly what I wanted to do as an adult.

When I went to college, a similar thing happened: they had camera equipment which I would use. So I got to practice. I went to school for theater because at West Virginia University they had a theater program, but not a film program. So I sort of did my own independent studies through filmmaking. And then everything I learned in theater class–acting or lighting or makeup or sound–I took advantage of that and took those elements of theater and used them in my filmmaking.

I worked at The Cameo and Lynn Prior, the founder of the Gilbert Theatre, heard about me. He met me, he introduced me to Robyne Parrish, then the new Artistic Director. She puts me into education there at the theater. I start directing plays. And then I started directing bigger plays. And then, CFRT asked me to do work for them. I’m now working with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. So if you focus really hard on what you’re currently doing, others see it, and then things will– as they say– blow up.

Now, Michael [Houck] heard about me through the Gilbert and actually we ended up producing and I directed a film called “Love and Coffee”, which was based on one of his plays at Gilbert. So that is kind of how those things happen now. You should just work really hard where you are, and then things start coming to you. Sometimes you just start your own set. The Chameleon Children’s Theatre I started because I had a space at school, all these resources, I had kids that wanted to do theater. So you start your own thing.

Has there ever been an idea pitched or an opportunity that you were like this is too scary, I can’t do this right now. Or I’m scared out of my wits, but I’m going to try this.

I usually say yes unless I feel that it will not allow me to grow. I mean, it’s not the size of the project; I have said yes to really small projects. But if it’s something that I cannot grow in, then it’s not something that I should do now. There are some things that I could have grown in and then I made the decision not to do it. And it was a mistake that I didn’t say yes. One example is an opportunity to be in a film that was being shot in Atlanta. I was gonna have this really small role. I was much younger and said no to it, because I would have to drive to Atlanta, I’d have to take off of work and all this stuff. And that was something I regretted.

But I’ve also said yes to things like that. A few years ago, I got the opportunity to work on a movie called “She’s Out of My League” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s on Netflix now and it’s so cool to see something like that. It opened up a lot of doors for me. Sometimes you make mistakes by not thinking the right things. And then sometimes you take a chance. I don’t necessarily use the word regret often. I think that every mistake you make is actually sort of a step. It makes you stronger, you know?

Who do you consider your present artistic cohort?

Well, I want to first start out by saying that Gustavo is a writing partner and love of my life. Then, professionally, Robyne Parrish is my fairy godmother. She is wonderful. She basically was the head of the transition from me being a student, not making any money, doing everything free to actually feeling that I had professional potential. She still does that for me, makes me feel that way. My second one: Mikey is so amazing to work with. I love how we produce things together. He helps me with projects. I help him with projects. He’s a wonderful writer and he knows how to make a screenplay just perfect enough to where it can be handed to me. Our working relationship is just fantastic. And he’s a great friend too. Third, is Gerard Falls, the director of The Capitol Encore Academy. He’s just a huge pusher for me to keep me going. He’s a big supporter of the theater company. Fourthly, Nicki Hart, she’s an actress and we’ve worked on I think, six projects now, and we just have this really great director-actor chemistry. She’s sort of like Tom Hanks to my Steven Spielberg or Uma to Quentin. And then the other artistic directors in town, Jeremy Fiebig and Mary Kate Burke; they’ve just been so wonderful on keeping me involved. I really do appreciate what they’ve done for me. And then just the other artists in Fayetteville, there’s so many, from the six year olds to the 60 year olds. There’s so many people that I’ve worked with in town and then there’s so many people that I haven’t quite got the chance to that I really would like to.