He Is Legend have been a constant pillar in the North Carolina heavy music community, having forged their own path in the broader scene and toured across the globe with other prominent acts while always repping their Carolina roots. It helps that the Wilmington natives have made sure to never stray too far from home; all of their albums since their 2009 breakthrough It Hates You have been recorded in the Tar Heel State, specifically in the town of Carrboro.
So when it came time to decide where to put on the band’s first ever annual holiday show, Carrboro and its historic music venue the Cat’s Cradle were the only real choices. While the small town may be located right next to Chapel Hill and the esteemed University of North Carolina, the place itself is rather unassuming. In fact, if you take the interstate most of the way there, you’ll end up driving down miles and miles of almost nothing at all. No fast food, no gas stations, and not even many lights.
That was probably the experience for many that traveled out to see He Is Legend’s inaugural Holiday Hootenanny, some having driven several hours to make it to the show. It’s not hard to see why, as the night’s lineup was one for the rock n roll history books: thoughtcrimes, Johnny Booth, The Callous Daoboys, and ‘68 were in the building in addition to the NC headliners. A raucous night was guaranteed.
The venue quickly packed in for the sold-out concert as thoughtcrimes kicked things off with some literal high-flying kicks across the stage. Just because they were the first band up doesn’t mean they can’t be the heaviest, which the New York hardcore act immediately established with a crushing set that got heads banging and ears ringing. Formed by Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer, the group scorched the crowd with recent tracks “Natural Imprudence” and “Rose Bather” along with past heavy-hitters like “Artificer”. Vocalist Rick Pepa shrieked and flung himself around the stage like his life depended on it, and the audience returned the dedication with some early pit action.
Fellow New York band Johnny Booth kept the energy going and brought the passionate fans up to the front with their exciting modern metalcore sound. “If you know the words to this shit I want you right here in my face!” frontman Andrew Herman shouted out to the crowd. Harmonious guitars combined with back-breaking breakdowns and Herman’s impressive array of soaring vocals got Cat’s Cradle moving and singing along with gusto. And in the first onstage surprises of the night, Pepa returned along with Callous Daoboys vocalist Carson Pace to rock out for the last couple of songs, hyping the special show up even further.
Call them mathcore, nu-metal, emo, post-hardcore, whatever you want, there’s no denying that the cosmic gumbo of The Callous Daoboys is a musical force to be reckoned with. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, the Southern six-piece blasted the building with chaotically complex melodies and unmatched pizzazz. The violin wielded by Amber Christman isn’t just for show, and for the unfamiliar, it’s the first hint of the unpredictable madness to come. Pace leapt into the eager audience more than once as the band tore through favorites like “Star Baby” and “Blackberry DeLorean”, but it was newer tracks “Pushing the Pink Envelope” and “Waco Jesus” that really stirred the place into a frenzy.
The dynamic duo of Josh Scogin and Nikko Yamada always leave an impression wherever they go, forever proving that the old adage of ‘less is more’ can certainly be true. After the maximalist approach of the previous performers, it was refreshing to see a more stripped-down, two-person act take the stage. Of course, ‘68 made just as much noise as the rest of them, jamming out with a well-honed ferocity that never let up on the kind of intensity the night had been channeling. Scogin admitted to the crowd that they were improvising even more than usual due to equipment mishaps from a recent tour in Australia, but that only added to the evening’s punkish vibes in just the right way.
The Holiday Hootenanny hit its peak as He Is Legend finally arrived to the deafening cheers of their diehard fans. The air in the venue felt supercharged thanks to the band dedicating a large chunk of this special set to their old school hits - every time another older song would start up, you could hear the giddiness of the fans spread through the sold-out house. For the oldheads in attendance that night, the most exciting part was seeing original drummer Steve Bache reunite with the band for all three volumes of ‘China White’.
Frontman Schuylar Croom grooved and boogied around the stage to the variety of heavy Southern beats and riffs, keeping the audience engaged with his contagious energy. Jokes were made and stories were shared in a show that felt like it truly had the holiday spirit; the sweaty room was filled with friends and family, from toddlers to the elderly, all there for the same reason. The camaraderie of the bands was evident as well, with multiple performers joining He Is Legend during their set to scream into the mic and dive into the rowdy crowd.
“We put annual on the poster because…why wouldn’t we do this every year?” Croom told Cat’s Cradle as the night approached its end. For the hundreds of people that had come to party with one of the year’s most eclectic lineups, a new holiday tradition was just born. Whatever the next Hootenanny ends up looking like, it’s sure to be another momentous occasion - though they’ve got their work cut out for them if they plan on outdoing this first one.