Two Topics, One Post: Kings of Leon at Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, NC, April 28, 2009

Sometimes, a show isn’t just a show.

The Kings of Leon show at Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre satisfied the approximately 6000 fans in attendance, but events at the scenic lakeside venue are becoming significant beyond the normal trappings of a live music event. With each passing show, the venue is fighting a battle against some of the town’s more uptight residents. Each show that isn’t classical music or family oriented is a victory.

Rather than support Cary’s largest entertainment venue and help bring color to the town’s somewhat bland cultural landscape, residents within earshot of the venue have continually tried to shackle Koka Booth. I doubt their outcry would be as prevalent if another strip mall or golf course was being built, but the amphitheatre has started attracting artists outside the realm of symphonies or acoustic acts, and I suppose they feel it now warrants their all-important attention.

These performers make loud noises for a few nights a month, which must be too much for the homeowners to handle. Also, rock concerts make for sometimes raucous parties, and if you’ve ever been to Cary you know that the vibe of the town is anything but conducive to such shenanigans. In effect, the town is, perhaps unwittingly, choking the life from one of the only venues of its size and style in the state.

The amphitheatre’s 2009 music schedule is, to put it nicely, thin. Granted, the venue is mostly the realm of symphonies, family events, movies, trade festivals, and community events, but the biggest show of the year has already happened (Kings of Leon) and the rest of the season holds only a handful of big-name shows. The remaining schedule is solid but hardly stellar, with the likes of Larry the Cable Guy, Elvis Costello, and OAR slated to perform. (Editor’s note: Larry the Cable Guy’s performance was inexplicably canceled a few days after this article was published)

The impending mid-summer arrival of two new mid-size venues in Charlotte, North Carolina – the 2000-capacity Fillmore and the 5,000-capacity Uptown Amphitheatre – is a dangerous situation for Koka Booth, in my opinion. With many bands only making one tour stop in the state, competition for top-notch entertainment is about to get fierce between Charlotte and the Triangle.

Compounding the problem is the fact that monolithic concert machine Live Nation owns the new Charlotte venues along with Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, effectively enabling them to shut out Koka Booth when it comes to popular music. The delicate balance that will soon be struck can be tilted in favor of or against the competing venues by a number of factors. One such factor is the artists themselves, and Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill alluded to Koka Booth’s current issues not once, but twice during their show this week.

He referenced not only the town’s new noise ordinance, which is aimed specifically at the venue, but also the 10 PM cutoff for weeknight shows. “We don’t care what they say, this is a rock and roll show,” said Followill after noting that the band’s amplifiers were not as loud as normal. Near the end of the set, he again thumbed his nose at the killjoys, telling the crowd to “go around and knock on people’s doors and wake them up.” His tone was only half-joking.

Thankfully, the music didn’t suffer at all – though the opening band, The Walkmen, played a quizzically short and wholly unimpressive set that will be easily forgotten. Kings of Leon put on a focused, exciting, energetic, and overwhelmingly entertaining show that was filled to the brim with their best songs and drew equally from their four acclaimed albums.

Throughout the night, the band showed why they are one of the biggest crossover acts in the world right now. Music fans young, old, and in-between have taken notice of their dynamic sound and unforgettable songs, and each of their tunes tapped a rarified kind of emotion. Pounders like “Charmer” and “My Party” were chaotic and passionate, while sing-alongs such as “On Call” and the dramatic “Knocked Up” were graceful and melancholy.

By the time the band wrapped up their lengthy encore, I was simply amazed at how many enduring songs the young band already has in their repertoire. Kings of Leon are bona-fide headliners now, complete with anthemic lyrics, a vibrant light show, and fans that cover the whole spectrum of devotion. Fans and critics alike have been wondering just how much better they could possibly get, and it is becoming apparent that there is no limit for what they can achieve.

When faced with booking their next outdoor gig in North Carolina, will the band remember the bummers that accompanied their last Cary show? Koka Booth’s gorgeous setting, impeccable production, stellar sound, and accommodating facilities deserve the full support of all Triangle residents. Music fans in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and surrounding areas will be losing out if things continue in the current manner.

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3 thoughts on “Two Topics, One Post: Kings of Leon at Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, NC, April 28, 2009

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