Good Singer? Bad Singer? “Pop Up Chorus” Welcomes All

Tuesday night, the ArtsCenter in Carrboro plays host to a musical event called “Pop Up Chorus,” inviting one and all to join together in song.

On the first and third Tuesday of every month, singers of all ages and all abilities gather at the ArtsCenter to learn and perform a pair of classic pop songs. (This week, it’s “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes and “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Gos.) Everyone’s welcome to join, no experience necessary: Spencer Harrison and Amelia Shull teach the songs and conduct the chorus, and in the end the whole group – usually well over a hundred people – records a pair of music videos.

Check out some of Pop Up Chorus’ past videos.

Pop Up Chorus was the brainchild of Lauren Hodge, a longtime Carrboro resident who launched the project back in 2014. Originally at Motorco in Durham, it recently moved to the ArtsCenter.

Lauren Hodge, Spencer Harrison and Amelia Shull stopped by WCHL, along with Pop Up Chorus regulars Gerald Rubin, Andrea Griffith Cash and Earleen O’Bannon Burch, and performed Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” along with WCHL’s Aaron Keck and Taylor Reneau.


The next Pop Up Chorus will take place Tuesday, October 18; doors open at 6 pm and the singing begins at 7. (Admission is $10 per person, $5 for students.) Visit to check out past videos and get information about future dates.

Resolve To Experience Orange County In 2016!

With the new year now upon us, lots of folks are making big plans for big trips and exotic experiences in 2016. But this year, you might also resolve to stay in Orange County – and take advantage of the experiences available right in your back yard.

Laurie Paolicelli of the Orange County Community Relations Department came up with a list of 10 things you can do in our community this year. How many can you check off in 2016?

Listen to Laurie’s conversation with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


1. Take in a show at Memorial Hall. Carolina Performing Arts has a full calendar of shows, including Lil Buck @ Chapel Hill, A Jookin’ Jam Session in mid-April. Visit for a list of shows, showtimes and tickets.

2. Work out at Meadowmont. YMCA of the Triangle has a Meadowmont location and there’s a UNC Wellness Center there as well. (Try a day pass for starters.)

3. Spend a day at resale stores. The PTA Thrift Shop for starters, but also check out Club Nova, Goodwill, and the Habitat ReStore. Good inventory and good products.

4. Spend time on campus! Grab drinks at Carolina Inn and then walk campus and see the Old Well. Goodnight Carolina is a free guide and app that I use to show family highlights.

5. Check out Riverwalk in Hillsborough. Afterwards, head to Hillsborough Wine company, sit and window watch and have a glass of wine. Or enjoy hot tea at Weaver Street Market. (Inside tip: Bandido’s has the best guacamole around.)

6. Honeysuckle Tea House is a must-do for 2016, especially if you’ve never been. One of Orange County’s greatest hidden treasures.

7. Ice cream at Maple View. ‘Nuff said.

8. Take a class. We all get busy, but learning something new expands the brain and is a depression buster. The ArtsCenter in Carrboro offers courses in ceramics, dance, healing arts, jewelry making, photography, theater, improv, writing, and youth arts. Or take in a lecture at the Friday Center or on campus. (The GAA’s popular Civil War series is a good bet.)

9. Spend the evening at Timberlyne! Enjoy dinner at vegetarian restaurant SAGE and take in a movie at the Chelsea.

10. Take in a show! Head downtown and check out the DSI Comedy Theater on West Franklin Street, one of the best improv theaters in the entire country…or if it’s a movie you’re after, head to Silverspot in University Place.

“Sunday Assembly,” Chapel Hill’s Un-Church, Marks One Year

On the second Sunday of every month, dozens of folks gather in Carrboro’s ArtsCenter for a church service. There’s singing, there’s fellowship, there are teachings and life lessons and fun and community and togetherness and humanity.

Only one thing is missing: the religion.

It’s called Sunday Assembly Chapel Hill – “all of the fun and community of church, but without the religion” – and it’s part of a growing movement worldwide. The “Sunday Assembly” idea originated in London in January 2013, the brainchild of British comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones – and in less than two years it’s taken off on both sides of the Atlantic. Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s Sunday Assembly, first organized this past January, is one of several dozen Sunday Assemblies that meet regularly across the country.

It’s open to everyone, religious, agnostic and atheistic alike. There’s a band playing popular songs and a ‘sermon’ from a different guest speaker every time. The community works with non-profits like Book Harvest and the Food Bank of Durham – and they serve as a support network for each other too. (Their motto is “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”)

Kevin and Heather Klein are two of the co-organizers of Sunday Assembly Chapel Hill. They stopped by WCHL this week and spoke with Aaron Keck.


Sunday Assembly Chapel Hill meets at the ArtsCenter West End at 10:30 a.m. on the second Sunday of every month. Everyone is welcome. The next meeting is this Sunday, December 13 – they’re celebrating Solstice, with secular Christmas carols and a potluck. On January 10, they’ll celebrate their one-year anniversary in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

Get more info at, or like them on Facebook.

Nobody Puts Shakespeare In A Corner: “Much Ado” At ArtsCenter

This weekend, a local youth-run theater group is staging Shakespeare’s classic “Much Ado About Nothing” at the ArtsCenter.

The group is One Song Productions – founded in 2002 by a pair of Chapel Hill High School students to give young people in the area another outlet for creative expression.

Directed by Grace Siplon, this version of “Much Ado About Nothing” has been moved to the American lakeside and updated to the present day – or almost the present day, at least. (Siplon chose 1987 as the setting, she says, because that’s the year “Dirty Dancing” came out in theaters.)

Siplon and actors Nicole Gabriel and Ben Goldstein joined Aaron Keck on WCHL last week.


“Much Ado About Nothing” runs from August 6-9, with shows at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 pm on Sunday.

For more info about One Song, visit

For “Much Ado” ticket info, visit

“Not So Normal” Race Draws 1100

About 1100 runners hit the streets of Carrboro on a beautiful Sunday morning for the Not So Normal 5K, the culmination of a weekend of events that benefited dozens of local nonprofits.

Listen to the story, with sound recorded live at the start/finish line.


The race began and ended at 300 East Main Street. In addition to the 5K, there was also a 10K and a half-marathon (the first half-marathon in Carrboro’s history, according to organizers).

Jay Radford heads up the “Not So Normal” festivities: formerly best known as the dad behind the “Mom in Chapel Hill” blog, he created the project last year as a way to stay active in the community and promote philanthropy. The first Not So Normal race was last fall, with a little more than 400 runners; this year’s race drew nearly three times that many and raised at least $31,000 (at last count) for dozens of charities. (Radford says he’s hoping for a total draw of $50,000 when all the funds are counted.)

Jay Radford addresses the runners before the Not So Normal 5K. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

Jay Radford addresses the runners before the Not So Normal 5K. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

Primary beneficiaries are the ArtsCenter, PTA Thrift Shop, and Super Cooper’s Little Red Wagon Foundation; organizers also solicited food and book donations for PORCH, TABLE, and Book Harvest.

Not So Normal 2015 1

In the 300 E. Main parking lot, more than a thousand runners warm up together before the Not So Normal 5K.

In the 300 E. Main parking lot, more than a thousand runners warm up together before the Not So Normal 5K.

A colorfully decked-out motorcycle awaited some runners at the end of the Not So Normal 5K. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

A colorfully decked-out motorcycle awaited some runners at the end of the Not So Normal 5K. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

This May, A Race That’s “Not So Normal”

Jay Radford with his son Sam.

It’s back: the Not So Normal 5K, a now-annual local tradition that features not just one 5K run but an entire weekend of events around town – and raises funds not just for one good cause, but dozens.

Organized last year by Jay Radford (hitherto best known as the dad behind the “Mom in Chapel Hill” blog), the inaugural Not So Normal 5K generated a lot of excitement in town; and Radford says he’s hoping for even more this year.

The race itself will be on Sunday, May 17, beginning at 8 am; there will be a 10K and a half-marathon course in addition to the 5K. But the Not So Normal 5K actually runs all weekend: there also will be a kickoff event on Thursday the 14th, a fashion show on Friday the 15th, pre-race dinners at various locations on Saturday the 16th, and more.

Proceeds from the race will primarily benefit three worthy local causes: the ArtsCenter in Carrboro; the PTA Thrift Shop; and Super Cooper’s Little Red Wagon Foundation. Racers are also asked to bring canned goods and books to donate for PORCH, Table, and Book Harvest – and some of the pre-race events will benefit a wide variety of other organizations too.

Jay Radford spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

The race will begin and end at 300 East Main Street, with a course that runs through Carrboro. To learn more, to register, and to donate or volunteer, visit

Cat’s Cradle Owner to Carrboro BoA: Growing Arts Scene Presents ‘Dilemma’

The owner of the Cat’s Cradle told the Carrboro Board of Aldermen at Tuesday night’s meeting that his business and the ArtsCenter are both in the same situation – too big for their current buildings.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second of two public hearings on the proposed Arts & Innovation Center and new hotel.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle said at the last month’s public hearing on the CAIC proposal that she wanted to hear from Hampton Inn executives, Main Street Properties and Cat’s Cradle owner Frank Heath at the Feb. 3 meeting.

All parties answered that call on Tuesday night, starting with Manish Atma, president of Atma Hotel Group, which manages the Hampton Inn at 300 East Main.

The plan is for the Hampton Inn to add a second hotel there, where the ArtsCenter currently resides, as the ArtsCenter moves into the CAIC, along with Kidzu Children’s Museum.

Atma talked about the proposed 140-room, five-story Hilton Garden Inn.

“We opened the Hampton Inn in August of 2013,” said Atma. “We have housed over 80,000 adults and children in the last 14 months at our hotel that have visited local restaurants, bars, and shops.

“In total, we’re anticipating the same amount of people in our new hotel.”

Atma added that the Hampton Inn does not, however, run with an average 95 percent occupancy, as former Carrboro Mayor and retired state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird reported to the Board of Aldermen last month.

Laura Van Sant and Kevin Benedict were at Tuesday night’s meeting, representing Main Street Properties.

Van Sant talked about a subject that seems to be on the minds of many Carrboro residents, judging from comments at the last CAIC hearing: The Cat’s Cradle. Citizens say they want to know where that beloved 300 Main Street venue stands in all of this.

In a statement released to WCHL on Monday, Cradle owner Frank Heath offered no opinion on the merits of the CAIC proposal. Instead, he expressed frustration that the Cradle began to outgrow its current space for big-drawing musical acts years ago, yet the space remains the same.

Main Street Properties is The Cradle’s landlord, and Van Sant came into the Aldermen meeting Tuesday night with her version of discussions between the two parties over the past several years.

“The Cradle has always paid discounted rent at 300 East Main,” said Van Sant, “an amount that has not increased since 2005. From 2007 to 2010, we worked with the Cradle and paid to design a new building that actually could be built where we’re talking about putting the hotel now.

“And it could have been built at the same time as we’re building the new parking deck, and sold or leased to The Cradle at cost. But The Cradle chose not to pursue that opportunity.”

Van Sant said that a later offer to sell or lease VisArt’s old space next door to the Cradle was also rejected.

“Next, we contributed substantial funds to the Cradle in 2011, so it could expand its current capacity from 615 people to 849 people, and so it could open the back room,” said Van Sant. “Working with the town, we proposed a long-term lease with only inflationary rent increases, so The Cradle would face no risk of displacement from surrounding development.

“The Cradle rejected that lease offer.”

Heath was supposed to speak next, but he had stepped out. Speaking on his behalf, Diana Straughan said that Heath was likely “floored” by Van Sant’s comments, and unprepared to respond during the time allotted.

“I don’t think he felt like it represented some things that actually took place,” said Straughan, “but he really doesn’t want to hash it out here.”

Heath returned to speak toward the end of the meeting. He apologized for stepping out, and confirmed that he didn’t want to follow Van Sant’s comments, which, he said, didn’t match his recollection of events over the past seven years.

He said that competition from growing Triangle cities makes the expansion of arts venues in Carrboro an urgent priority.

Heath added that he realizes it’s difficult for a small town to make the necessary decisions when considering two successful arts organizations that have outgrown their current venues.

“We have a great dilemma at the moment because the ArtsCenter and the Cradle are well-established enough and successful enough that both organizations really do need to expand, in order to fully realize their potential.”

The next meeting of the Board of Aldermen regarding the CAIC proposal is on Feb. 17. That meeting will be a work session, at which Alderpersons will discuss it among themselves.

To hear more from Tuesday’s meeting of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, stay tuned to WCHL throughout the week.

‘Carrboro Arts And Innovation’ Plan Raises Hopes and Questions

Carrboro Alderwoman Bethany Chaney says the idea of co-locating Kidzu Children’s Museum and the ArtsCenter is intriguing: “It’s a great concept.”

But she’s got some concerns about the plan.

“We potentially could be looking at a $4.5 million dollar investment in this property and that’s a lot of money for a building that’s essentially custom-built for two organizations that haven’t yet proven long-term sustainability,” says Chaney. “It’s a big risk so we need to hear from the public as to whether they think the potential benefits are worth that risk.”

Here’s how the deal might work: the ArtsCenter owns its building in the middle of the 300 East Main development. The Center is proposing a land swap with East Main Partners that would allow the Hampton Inn to build a second hotel on the site of the current ArtsCenter.

In return, the gravel lot at the corner of Main and Roberson would be donated to the Town by East Main Partners. Carrboro would construct an $11 million dollar facility to be leased to Kidzu and the ArtsCenter, with the town and the nonprofits splitting the cost.

You can read the full proposal here.

Phil Szostak is an architect, ArtsCenter board member and a leading proponent of the plan.

“We’re trying to put a project together for downtown Carrboro that will not require any additional taxes or use of any new city funds to fund the project,” says Szostak. “The project now is proposed to be 50-50 public-private partnership where our partnership would require The ArtsCenter and Kidzu and other partners to raise half the money before the project is started.”

Szostak is also the developer of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He says the Arts and Innovation Center can do for Carrboro what the DPAC has done for downtown Durham.

But Chaney notes Carrboro is a long way from the Bull City.

“I think it’s an entirely different scenario and Durham’s a much larger municipality, so that building can support a lot of different kinds of programming and at a higher price-point that what this building could support.”

Both Kidzu and the ArtsCenter are popular nonprofits looking to expand.

Kidzu has operated at a series of locations in Chapel Hill since opening in 2006. It is temporarily located at University Mall, where the museum expects to serve more than 100,000 visitors in the next year.

Last year more than 93,000 people participated in programs at The ArtsCenter but Szostak says the aging facility can’t support the growth of the organization.

“It’s very hard for us to expand. That building was originally done in 1987. We were meeting a demand then and we didn’t really have a lot of space to meet future demand. Now, 25 to 30 years later, we have a huge demand that we cannot meet. To go up in place would be almost impossible for us without shutting the ArtsCenter down for a year.”

And both groups say the Arts and Innovation Center would be a great fit for Carrboro.

“What we would really like the citizens of Carrboro to understand is there won’t be one penny that comes out of their personal pocket to make this center happen,” says Kidzu Executive Director Pam Wall. “It will generate a good deal of economic development and money coming into the Town of Carrboro because the folks that visit this center will go out to eat, they will be shopping and purchasing gifts and things like that. There’s a good amount of economic development that this center will create.”

But Alderwoman Chaney worries the plan wraps up too many complicated issues into one package.

“The proposal itself that we’ve been asked to consider bundles two really big decisions that need to be separated. Those are whether there should be a second hotel in downtown Carrboro and whether the town should invest in a building that would accommodate the ArtsCenter and Kidzu and potentially other nonprofit arts organizations.”

That second hotel is a key part of the co-location plan, as it’s envisioned to be the source of new revenues for the town.

“It’s really hard to separate the two, if in fact we are looking at the taxes generated by the hotel to be one of the funding sources,” says Szostac. “We don’t have to do that, but we can certainly make the case that if the ArtsCenter does not move, that hotel does not get built.”

Szostak estimates it could bring in as much as $550,000 in taxes to Orange County each year, enough to cover the debt service the town would need to pay to finance construction.

The question of whether Carrboro needs a second hotel is just one aspect Chaney would like to see fully explored when the concept comes up for a public hearing later this month.

“What I do worry about is whether the business model that’s being proposed is really the most appropriate one,” says Chaney. “Is it the most appropriate way to leverage public funding? I think that’s the big question.”

Read Chaney’s full statement on the plan here.

All parties agree that the upcoming public hearing is merely the starting point for discussion.

“Every project should be scrutinized. This is public money and the town fathers really need to take a look at this and get the input from the public,” says Szostac. “Certainly I wouldn’t even suggest doing it without that.”

Kidzu and the ArtsCenter will host a series of public information sessions this week. Carrboro business owners are invited to a session on Tuesday, January 13, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter. A session for the general public will be held on Wednesday, January 14, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter.

A public hearing on the plan is schedueled for 7:30 on January 20 before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. You can also submit comments to town leaders online here.

Americana Legends Robin And Linda Williams Play ArtsCenter Friday

They’ve been together for more than 40 years, they’ve been regular guests on “A Prairie Home Companion,” they’ve been covered by Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris and more – and on Friday at 8:00 pm, the singer/songwriters Robin and Linda Williams will take the stage at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Robin and Linda on “Aaron in the Afternoon” Wednesday – and played the song “On and On” from their latest album, “Back 40.”


Ticket information for Friday’s show is available at For more on Robin and Linda Williams, click here.

Nonprofits Want Carrboro To Collaborate On Arts Center

A trio of nonprofits wants to partner with Carrboro to build a four-story “Arts & Innovation Center” downtown.

The ArtsCenter and Kidzu are asking the Town of Carrboro to build a 55,000 square foot building across the street from Armadillo Grill to be known as the Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center.

The proposal calls for the lot at the corner of Robeson and Main Streets to be donated to the town, which currently leases the property for parking.

Carrboro would contribute $4.5 million of the $12.1 million construction cost for the building. Some of that money would be generated by a new hotel proposed for the site of the current ArtsCenter. The nonprofits would raise the rest through donations, foundations and grants.

Under the current plan the town would own the building and lease it to the three groups in partnership.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the plan when meetings resume in January. The hearing is scheduled for January 20, 2015.You can find out more here.