Rah-Rah-Raleigh

This playlist is packed with songs that name-check our favorite area to live, work and play!

By David Menconi

Photo courtesy Getty Images

From James Brown’s R&B classic “Night Train” to the sing-along folk of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” Raleigh has been known to come up in song lyrics. Locals do it, too: These tunes by North Carolina musicians give a shout-out to various spots around the greater Triangle. Consider this summertime mix that offers a sonic tour of the state.

Chatham County Line, “Living in Raleigh Now” (2014)

We begin with a song that Chatham County Line wrote during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s first World of Bluegrass festival in Raleigh. Eight years later, Raleigh’s more of a bluegrass center than ever.

Southern Culture on the Skids, “Haw River Stomp” (2000)

…in which the Chapel Hill roots-rock kings take their trailer-park twang to the river that flows through Orange and Chatham counties before connecting with the Cape Fear River south of Raleigh.

G. Yamazawa, “North Cack” (2017)

Durham native George Masao Yamazawa first gained notice at local poetry slams before segueing into hip-hop. Proudly waving the flag for the Bull City, “North Cack” is an ode to Carolina barbecue sauce, with the slaw.

James Taylor, “Copperline” (1991)

Before becoming “Sweet Baby James,” Taylor spent his formative teenage years in Chapel Hill’s Morgan Creek district. He pays tribute to his bucolic childhood memories with “Copperline,” co-written with the late novelist Reynolds Price. Consider it suitable for humming while crossing the James Taylor Bridge over Morgan Creek on Highway 15-501.

John Dee Holeman, “Chapel Hill Boogie” (1988)

A venerable blues elder who passed away last year at age 92, Holeman depicted Chapel Hill as a speakeasy party town where you can get a drink of alcohol and do the Chapel Hill boogie-woogie all night long. Same as it ever was.

Kooley High, “Dear Raleigh” (2011)

The Raleigh hip-hop troupe pays fond tribute to landmarks around its longtime hometown, focused on the Hillsborough Street strip by the North Carolina State University campus. It features a cameo verse from Rapsody (the stage name of Snow Hill native Marlanna Evans), the group’s Grammy-nominated alumna.

Robbie Fulks, “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Girls” (2016)

Across the Triangle at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, Americana singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks chronicles various romantic misadventures from his youth. You can almost feel the summertime humidity in the stories told: Chapel Hill hasn’t done me wrong, it was fine until it wasn’t.

Avett Brothers, “Pretty Girl From Raleigh” (2003)

Concord’s folk-punk group has a long list of songs in the “Pretty Girl From” series: “Michigan,” “San Diego,” even “The Airport.” Raleigh made the rotation with this song from their 2003 album A Carolina Jubilee.

Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Leaving Eden” (2012)

Northwest of Durham, Eden became a ghost town overnight in 2004 when its big textile plant closed. That inspired this song by Greensboro singer/songwriter Laurelyn Dossett, elegantly sung by the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens as title track of the group’s 2012 Grammy-nominated album.

Little Brother, “Welcome to Durham” (2005)

Similar to Kooley High’s Raleigh song, Little Brother pays tribute here to its Durham origins. The group formed around two decades ago at North Carolina Central University.

H.C. McEntire, “River’s Jaw” (2020)

“River’s Jaw” is the centerpiece to McEntire’s second solo album, the 2020 “Eno Axis.” Written while she lived in a century-old farmhouse in the woods near Durham, the somber, rolling song conjures a humid North Carolina night.

Eric Bachmann, “Carrboro Woman” (2006)

Formerly the leader of Archers of Loaf, one of Chapel Hill’s top bands in the 1990s, Bachmann came up playing loud, catchy music. This little song is also catchy, but also delicate and heartbreaking.

Listen to the Shout-Out to Raleigh Playlist below!

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This article originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of WALTER Magazine.