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January 24, 2019

An essay supplement to our North Carolina Music Issue.

After processing their set, I asked them to tell me about Venezuela and the places that have faded into the backdrop of spotty, childhood memories for me. A country I haven’t seen in more than eighteen years is the place that they’re indescribably homesick for, but know they can’t return to if they want to continue making their art. Through their music and conversation, they transport themselves across the Caribbean Sea, back home.

January 14, 2019

A lyric essay supplement to our 2018 North Carolina Music Issue—plus H. C. McEntire covers Led Zeppelin.

God is right there, in the brier. Turn the rows, change the tires, bow the heads, feed the mouths. Only the rhythm will yield the harvest. Go on, now. Shoot the hog between the eyes. It’s easiest that way.

Serve them all.

November 12, 2018

An essay supplement to our North Carolina Music Issue.

It’s easy to become bored with common things—a four-lane highway, or a daily schedule at the nursing home, or a type of bird or music. But maybe these days we make too much of what awes us or infuriates us, and too little of the regular life in the middle. What’s common only became common, after all, because it adapted and learned to fit in. A cliché was once original. Country music was once meaningful. Walking was once easy. A common robin once saved Jesus.

November 20, 2018

Notes on the songs from our 20th Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring North Carolina.

The profiles, eulogies, and essays herein boast of remarkable achievements of North Carolina’s musicians across eras and genres: from unassailable legends (High Point’s John Coltrane, Tryon’s Nina Simone, Chapel Hill’s James Taylor) to contemporary masters (Snow Hill’s Rapsody, Jacksonville’s Ryan Adams, Raleigh’s 9th Wonder) to the seen-afresh (Dunn’s Link Wray, Kannapolis’s George Clinton, Winston-Salem’s dB’s, Charlotte’s Jodeci)—and, of course, the often-overlooked and in-between (Winston-Salem’s Wesley Johnson, Morganton’s Etta Baker, Chapel Hill’s Liquid Pleasure, Kinston’s Nathaniel Jones, Black Mountain’s period of hosting John Cage). 

November 20, 2018

A feature story from the North Carolina Music Issue. 

The Wrays had an old-world, Keatsian melancholy. It bloomed in the kitchen of their 6th Street home in Portsmouth, Virginia, where, from about 1951 to ’55, they recorded songs on a one-track, mostly originals written by Vernon. This was back when the music was fun, before it became a business. It’s the sort of thing that’s dashed off and then mislaid and vanishes somewhere. Sherry found the masters in a box of her dad’s stuff that, horrifyingly, was bound for the dump. She rescued them, and named the disc 6th Street Kitchen. The vibe is Elvis doing Dylan’s Great White Wonder: gushy, drunken ballads, some barely a minute long, and rapturous in the way that the smallest beginnings can express enormous feeling.

October 02, 2018

The Oxford American magazine’s celebration of its twentieth annual Southern Music issue, this year featuring North Carolina, will be held Monday, November 26 – Saturday, December 1, 2018. This weeklong celebration, co-presented by Hillsborough, North Carolina-based Yep Roc Records, and designed in partnership with North Carolina-native singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, will be comprised of music events featuring a Statewide Singing Circle and literary readings highlighting stories from the issue. 

October 08, 2018

A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.

Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety belt. Or rather it has the shoulder belt, but the thing on the seat into which it is supposed to latch is missing. I noticed this awhile back, and it worried me for a few minutes. But then I thought, If you’re going to buy the farm it might as well be in a ’77 Coupe de Ville with John Prine.

August 14, 2018

In a 2017 interview with Bill Flanagan, Bob Dylan held forth on his views regarding Don McLean’s “American Pie,” a song that I have loathed with an almost inchoate malice since first encountering it as a young child. Dylan didn’t seem like a fan either, and in particular addressed the long-standing conjecture that he himself was the so-called “jester” referred to in McLean’s bloviating marathon.

August 02, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

The pilgrimage to The Store is a ritual exercise of re-centering that anchors me in something common and universal; strangers converge at a single nexus for that unavoidable suburban rite, the completion of errands, and I happily join the other shoppers wandering through rows of soda, dog food, and detergent like a sleepy school of fish.


June 14, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Violence as a concept is easy to oppose, but it is harder to condemn human beings tangled in the various machines of violence that permeate our world. I’m unable to clear the hurdle of invalidation it takes to dismiss a person completely; I find myself more dismayed than critical. My opinions about violence, war, and guns, however deeply rooted, are predicated upon second-hand knowledge of others’ experience.