Voices from D.C. and the Deep South
The Small Batch Songwriter Series continues on Sunday at Gibb’s Hundred Brewing with Emily Stewart and DC Carter.
They will be performing from 6-8 pm as a part of this series focused on bringing the cutting edge of central North Carolina original music to a Triad audience.
From Monroeville, Alabama, Emily Stewart grew up in the writing business, running around the same newspaper office that Harper Lee once worked in. Stewart’s grandfather had bought the paper from Lee’s father, and her parents were journalists.
“I would sit on the counter selling her newspaper, but it took me a while to realize that [Lee] was really well known.” She counts herself lucky to have had the upbringing she did. “Learning to write well was one of the criteria for growing up in my family,” and she has carried on that tradition in her songwriting, which pulls largely from the country tradition of such powerhouse singers as Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, and Hoyt Axton.
Besides growing up in a family of writers and storytellers, her uncle ran the local country radio station, and she remembers being fascinated with the images and lyrical twists of classic country music. Even with this background, she didn’t start writing music until she had been in Greensboro for a few years.
“I got hit by a tractor in my car on Friendly Avenue, was out of work for 5 months, and had a guitar sitting in the corner collecting dust.” She learned guitar on her own, developing her own take on Carter-style finger-picking, and played with friends for a couple months before one of those friends, Josh Watson, called her up and said, “You better start writing some tunes, because we have a gig in two weeks.” That first gig, which also saw her debut on the banjo, was successful, and since then she’s played with Matty Sheets and the Blockheads, her own band the Baby Teeth, and toured across the southeast with Magpie Thief.
Stewart pulls her stories from events and encounters in life that form an emotional connection for her. “I like putting myself into other’s shoes and doing those deep character studies.” Besides Dylan and Prine, she also lists Patsy Cline and Hank Williams as influences, as well as local artists Jack Carter and Josh Watson.
Originally from the nation’s capital, DC Carter grew up playing piano and drums in the AME church his father pastored. In 2004, he moved to Greensboro to study industrial engineering at A&T. “After I graduated, I was supposed to go to California, then Colorado to be a roughneck— to drill for oil.” Though he had written and played music throughout his childhood, he never put them together until he started looping beats on ProTools and writing hooks and lyrics in college. Eventually, he began spending afternoons writing songs at pianos in empty churches or at the Marriott—“I got some funny looks.”
When he walked into the Green Bean’s open mic, “I was homeless at the time and beatboxed for a cigarette.” Matty Sheets invited him to the Flatiron’s open mic, but DC shrugged him off. A couple weeks later, he met a waitress who invited him to an open mic with her: “So I went with her, and we walked into the Flatiron.” He mostly collaborated by beatboxing until Mike O’Malley heard him singing outside and pulled him up on stage for a rendition of “The Parting Glass.” DC later bought his first guitar at a High Point Road pawnshop. “I had $28 in my pocket, saw a Silvertone guitar in a pawn shop with a case, some strings, and picks for $26. And I still had $2 to get home on the bus.”
It’s hard to (and probably best not to) pin Carter to a genre, though many have tried—“they give me some names. They’ve called me R&B, hip-hop, reggae, country, folk, neo-soul—what IS neosoul?” He has collaborated with Taylor Bays, Laila Nur, the rap groups Upright Lions and Black Lotus Society, done “hip-hopera” with Whiskey Christy of the Half-Pint Orchestra, and fronted the rock band American Thieves. “But in all those groups, I was still DC. It’s not something I do for a show—when I write a song, the emotion is overwhelming until I write it. When I sing, it all comes back.”
DC said he has seen music scenes up and down the east coast and points to Greensboro as a special place—“In D.C., it was all go-go, and I was trying to be different, and no one wanted to be different.”
He points to the diversity of the Greensboro music scene—where late-night open mics and full shows can have cross-genre bills, with artists opening for a rock band with a hip-hop closer—as evidence of this. “Artists here are willing to stick together. There’s real respect.” !