In high school, a few friends and I would while away Friday evenings in Bynum, North Carolina, a small mill town, halfway between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill. Bynum, which sits on the northern edge of the Haw River, isn't a big place; its residents have resisted development for years.
Every weekend, the Bynum General Store hosted local musical talent. Singers and bands of all stripes would play on its front porch, for an audience that filled the front yard and the sleepy street in front of it. Families would bring picnic baskets, couples would share bottles of wine. The setting couldn't be beat. You could hear the river rush over the Haw River dam, there were lightning bugs, and the sky, high above the pine trees, was sprinkled with stars. Do I sound wistful?
Tift Merritt, whose music we'll hear today, started out at the Bynum General Store. Since then, she's gone on to record two well-reviewed albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Sadly, the Bynum General Store has closed its doors. (That development it tried to stave off got the best of it, finally.) I visited it a few years ago when I was home for vacation, and I got into a conversation with its owner. Tift Merritt put Bynum back on the map, he told me, drawing crowds to a town that most North Carolinians forgot when they built a bypass. He pointed to a few photographs of her. She hasn't forgotten us, he said. Whenever she went on tour, she always came back; and her shows there, informal as they were, would draw hundreds.
Tift Merritt has a new album out called Another Country, which she wrote while she was in Paris. She may have derived most of her inspiration for it from the City of Lights, but it isn't hard for me to close my eyes and remember where she came from. If you have a question for her, please, leave it here.