CAROLINA ON MY MIND: Confluence 23 panelists discuss why music matters in the Carolinas. From left, moderator Rick Thurmond; Jeff Bell, N.C. Arts Council; Chastan Swain, N.C. Hometown Strong; Crystal Taylor, N.C. African-American Music Trail; and Staci Meyer, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. (Rhythm & Exposure Photography)

Charlotte clubs part of regional music conference

Confluence 23, the Carolinas’ fledgling music industry conference, drew hundreds to Charlotte for panel discussions, to network with peers and attend live music at nine clubs across town.

The event took place Oct. 18-19 at the Avid Xchange Music Factory, an entertainment district anchored by multiple venues north of uptown Charlotte. Panel sessions were held at The Comedy Zone; The Underground, a Live Nation club; and the Karaoke Room and The Hamilton, special event spaces that are part of the complex.

The conference, produced by Charlotte Center City Partners, was funded through sponsorships, grants, ticket and merchandise sales and vendor booths. Registration cost $50, covering both days of programming, and $75, which provided access to two nights of live performances at the participating venues.

Charlotte Center City Partners is  a nonprofit formed to drive economic development in the biggest market across the Carolinas. Confluence 23 followed up on the initial conference, which took place in 2019 at the Whitewater Center, an outdoor recreational facility on the outskirts of Charlotte.

Following the pandemic and the global disconnect, organizers treated this year’s event as the first conference, according to Rick Thurmond, Charlotte Center City Partners’ chief marketing officer. Within the organization, Thurmond leads Music Everywhere Charlotte, a program tied to developing the local music scene and its economy.

Confluence fits within that initiative to bring exposure to performing artists and venues in North and South Carolina and tie everything together through an annual event, Thurmond said.

The list of 50 speakers sprinkled across the industry included Chris Cobb, president of Bonafide Live and president of NIVA Tennessee;  Christina Rentz, label manager for Merge Records; Gregg McCraw, president of Maxx Music, a Charlotte promoter; Jason Jet, an artist/songwriter/producer and studio owner; Jeff Bell, executive director of the North Carolina Arts Council; and Teddy Johnson, managing partner for Middle C Jazz, a Charlotte club.

Staci Meyer, chief deputy secretary for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, was among the speakers on the opening panel, titled “Why Music Matters to North Carolina.” The room was full, which was a good thing, considering the first morning’s session at a music conference can be a dicey proposition, considering the late night work hours many are accustomed to, Thurmond said.

GOOD NATURED: Charlotte band Of Good Nature was among the acts showcased during Confluence 23. (Courtesy Rick Thurmond)

Byron McClendon, a digital strategy consultant and founder of Eagle Nest Management, moderated the panel, “Mastering the Stage: How to Raise Your Performance Game,” which was among the most highly-attended sessions. McClendon always does a nice job of putting experiences together for his live events and knows how to share content on social media to create that “FOMO moment,” Thurmond said.

“One theme that emerged through the conference was the importance of fans over followers for artists and venues,” he said. “Fans are the ones that will consistently turn out and spend money with vs. someone that likes your post.”

Charlotte Center City Partners formed a committee to book the panels that included soliciting proposals from potential speakers. Those selected were all informed to provide the audience with “actionable tools and not just have a conversation about how they wish things were (better),” Thurmond said.

“We heard from people that they did get that value,” he said. “The other thing we heard, and the reason you have a conference, is the value of being together and the people you meet … which is why we focused on bringing speakers from outside the area, so those industry experts could experience what we have to offer here and our music community can interact with them.”

One music industry veteran told Thurmond that he gained a greater education from the panel on sync rights and licensing than he previously knew in his 25 years in the business.

The conference mostly revolves around independent companies, but Live Nation is involved as well. Avid Xchange, the financial services company which holds naming rights to the complex where Confluence was held, is Music Everywhere’s lead sponsor, resulting in a strong connection with Charlotte Center City Partners.

“Live Nation understands that every artist that plays their stages started as an independent on smaller stages,” Thurmond said. “Their support of what we’re doing also helps with their pipeline.”

On the live music side, Thursday’s calendar drew bigger crowds than Wednesday among the 47 artists and bands showcasing their talent, Thurmond said.

The venues playing host were the Neighborhood Theatre, Visulite, Snug Harbor, Starlight Lounge, Free Range Brewery, Petra’s, Middle C Jazz and Booth Playhouse.

On its own, Charlotte Center City Partners created a pop-up venue for singer-songwriters to perform called the Pianodrome, situated inside a local church.

Charlotte Center City Partners has committed to producing the event again in 2024. Officials were pleased with the large number of performers that drove three to four hours to Charlotte to be part of the overall event, and they learned a lot about how to make Confluence better and stronger in the future, Thurmond said.

“Our vision for this is to become the must-attend music industry event in the Carolinas to the point that if you’re connected (in any way) to music, you’ll come every year, because you’re going to see everybody,” he said.

Confluence 23 dovetailed into the second annual Queen City Jam Session, a festival-style weekend of live music at the Neighborhood Theatre.