If nothing else, the March 10 “Big Night In for the Arts” fundraising telethon on WRAL-TV will serve as a local-music primer – and a reminder of just how many internationally notable musicians have ties to the Triangle. Presented by a consortium of four area arts groups, “Big Night In” will raise money for and awareness of the local arts scene. And the program features an array of big-time record sellers and Grammy nominees in a wide array of styles.
“I’ve come to realize just how many people don’t realize all our headliners’ ties to the Triangle,” says Katie Murray, director of the co-presenting Orange County Arts Commission. “Like somebody asked me, ‘How’d you get Ben Folds?!’ Well, he used to live in Chapel Hill and it’s where he grew as an artist. I’m surprised how many don’t realize that.”
Last year’s inaugural “Big Night In” featured performances by actress Ariana DeBose (who has since been nominated for a best-supporting-actress Academy Award for her star turn in “West Side Story”), Chapel Hill Americana stars Mandolin Orange, 2011 “American Idol” champion Scotty McCreery, Grammy-winning Durham saxophonist Branford Marsalis and actor/playwright Mike Wiley. Some 35,000 viewers tuned in, and the telecast raised nearly $350,000 from sponsorships and viewer donations. The money went to artist-relief grants, arts-education programs and organizational support.
Along with Orange County Arts Commission, this year’s partner organizations are Durham Arts Council, Chatham Arts Council and United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. Organizers are hoping to at least match last year’s fund-raising total (and as a note: contributions are tax-deductible).
This year’s hour-long lineup will blend live performances with pre-recorded segments. The lineup includes:
*Ben Folds – Singer/pianist frontman of one of Chapel Hill’s most commercially successful acts of the 1990s, Ben Folds Five, whose unexpected hit single “Brick” triggered platinum-plus sales of their 1997 album “Whatever and Ever Amen.” Folds was on tour in Australia when the initial 2020 pandemic shutdown stranded him there. He chose to stay put while doing an acclaimed series of live-stream events for global audiences.
*Hiss Golden Messenger – This Americana supergroup from Durham serves as mothership to a constellation of area acts, connected to a broad range of good things on the local scene. Hiss Golden Messenger’s mainstream highlight so far has been a Grammy nomination for the 2019 album “Terms of Surrender.” Last year’s “Quietly Blowing It” continued HGM’s hot streak, and their most recent local show was opening for Jason Isbell at Durham Performing Arts Center in November – when they loudly blew the roof off the joint.
*Jaki Shelton Green – North Carolina’s Poet Laureate since 2018, Mebane native Green keeps a tireless schedule of presentations, performances and workshops across the state. She also somehow found the time to release her first album in 2020, “The River Speaks of Thirst,” blending music and spoken-word. She is an icon and inspiration to generations of area poets, artists and musicians.
*Nnenna Freelon – Doyenne of the Durham jazz scene, Freelon is also matriarch of a powerful arts family. She and her son Pierce Freelon are both up for Grammy Awards this year – her for best jazz album, him for best children’s music album. The Grammys will be presented April 3 in Los Vegas.
*Jabu Graybeal – There is no limit to the talent of Pittsboro resident Graybeal, a rapper, singer and tap dancer who can do pretty much anything. Among Graybeal’s bona fides is the fact that MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow Michelle Dorrance nominated him as one of “Tap’s Next Generation of Stars,” as bequeathed by Dance Spirit magazine in its December 2017 issue.
*Mark Hewitt – He’s not a musician, but the English-born studio potter Hewitt’s work occupies the permanent collections for numerous institutions. The “Big Night In” program will open with a behind-the-scenes look at Hewitt making a piece of pottery in his Pittsboro workshop. The finished piece will be auctioned off after the broadcast.
“To be able to put what we do and our programs and priorities onto a larger platform like this helps our visibility a ton,” says Murray. “Last year, almost all of the ‘Big Night In” money that came to Orange County, we put back out as relief grants to artists and organizations. The performers do get a small honorarium to do this, but it’s really out of the kindness of everybody’s heart that they give their time and efforts. These are people who care deeply about the community and the arts in particular.”
“Big Night in for the Arts” will air from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, 2022, on WRAL-TV. For details, see bignightin.org.