Five Questions With Bull City Music Maker + Unscripted Sounds of the Studio curator William Dawson 

Right now, Durham is experiencing a musical renaissance of sorts. Thanks to an influx of new talent, not to mention venerable local institutions like indie label Merge Records, jazz radio station WNCU, and freeform radio station WXDU, there’s never been a better time to vibe out to the sounds of the city. 

Throughout the winter and spring, Unscripted will be curating its very own concert series, The Sounds of The Studio, as a way to showcase Durham’s most flavorful talent. To get some insider info on the series and its performers, we recently caught up with its curator, musician/Durham scenester William Dawson. 

Here’s his take on why Unscripted, and Durham, are the places to be right now if you are a music lover. 

For info on all the Sounds of the Studio performances and live events, check out our event calendar here!

Tell us about how your partnership with Unscripted’s Sounds of the Studio series came about. 

Naturally, it started with live music! My band The Wiley Fostersfirst began gigging on the pool patio of Unscripted in May 2019. Because it was such a cool venue and scene, I took the opportunity to expand the band to a 12-piece group that included three MCs, two vocalists, a DJ, saxophone, vibraphone, guitar, bass, keys, and even a tabla player.  

We put on quite a show.  

Christopher Mallon (Vice President, Operations) was visiting Unscripted, and I think it was either when one of my MCs jumped off the stage and moonwalked across the length of the pool deck without breaking his flow, or when I climbed on top of a speaker cabinet to take a guitar solo, that we really caught Christopher’s attention.  

After the gig, we talked about the potential for Unscripted to become a music hub for Durham.  

Together with Jeff Lee (Vice President, Food & Beverages) and Christopher, I outlined my recommendations concerning sound equipment, and booking and promoting acts, and that’s when we all got seriously excited about Sounds of the Studio.

Who are some of the artists performing at Sounds of the Studio series who you are most excited to see? What made you want to book them and give them more exposure?

I’m very excited about all of the performers coming up in the Sounds of the Studio series, but I’m particularly looking forward to Dexter Romweber and Dhaval Parikh. 

To call Dexter Romweber a legend is not an understatement.  His 2-piece band, The Flat Duo Jets,  were such an influence on a young Jack White that once he had his success, Jack brought Dexter to Third Man Records to cut a single with him. Having him want to perform at Unscripted is a great honor.

Dhaval Parikh plays the bansuri, which is a type of Indian flute. There’s a wonderful community of Indian people in the Triangle, and they’re very supportive of their music scene.  I think it’s going to be pretty surprising (and hopefully delightful) to patrons of Unscripted when they come into the lobby and are met with a trio of people performing mind-blowing Indian music. 

Tell us about your relationship to Durham and its music scene.

I moved to North Carolina around 13 years ago. I was touring around America, and that’s when I discovered what an amazing area this is. I’ve composed music for local Durham theatre & dance companies, and of course performed countless gigs with many different bands all over the city.

The biggest part of my relationship to the music scene in Durham is through my work as the first full-time Musician in Residence at Duke University Hospital through their Arts & Health program.  

This is a very unique job that has me doing a bit of everything; playing piano in the lobby, performing classical guitar in the nursery for premature infants, teaching ukulele in the Children’s Hospital, to even performing music for patients and their families in a hospice setting. 

Through this program, I have met and hired many of the best musicians in the area to perform for special events for the hospital’s concert series.

This allowed me to get first-hand experience with booking them for Unscripted. I got to know who is reliable and good with communication, and who is not.

Since we are nearing the holidays, I wanted to ask you about the best musical gift you have ever received, and what your favorite holiday song is! 

I have so many instruments, so the only thing I would like is more time to practice my accordion.  These things are so cool, but they are also so dang difficult and confusing to play.  If someone could make my day 25 hours long so I could really put in an hour of practice a day on my squeezebox, I’d really appreciate it!

As for the holiday song, for the past 5 years I’ve directed a 40-piece Christmas Orchestra called The Berlin Brothers. We are named after Irving Berlin, the songwriter of “White Christmas.” I have a bunch of amazing singers perform throughout the concert, but I always save “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” for myself to sing at the end of the show. I like how you can sing almost the entire song very restrained and meek, and then belt your heart out at the end of it.

What would you most want the rest of the world to know about Durham?

I’ve spent so much of my life living and moving all over the world, in places like England, Australia, the Netherlands, and even the Mississippi Delta.

When it was time for me to stop being a rolling stone, I chose Durham because it seemed to have all the best qualities of every place I’ve lived. 

There’s an audience for anything cool here, and so many people who want to support creativity. 

Also, one of my absolute favourite things about Durham is that it’s a very walkable city.  You can walk from one side of the city to the other easily, which is not often the case in a lot of American cities. 

Being able to walk 4 blocks to my apartment from Unscripted after a gig sure is nice after 20 years of lugging around to gigs in cars, vans, and buses!

For info on all the Sounds of the Studio performances and live events, check out our event calendar here!

And for more info on our man William Dawson, check out his website