Piedmont Laureate David Menconi brings decades of music knowledge to State Fair

David Menconi

David Menconi, 2019 Piedmont Laureate, knows a little about what makes a good show.

As a reporter and music critic with the Raleigh News and Observer for 28 years, Menconi chronicled North Carolina music from the local to the national, highlighting everything from the biggest acts to visit the state to the up-and-coming talent grown at home.

This year, guests at the N.C. State Fair will get to share in a bit of Menconi’s love for music, as he and Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green will curate and emcee the Laureate Stage in coordination with Deep South Entertainment. Green is the state’s first ever Piedmont Laureate, having earned the title in 2009.

Sponsored by the Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission, and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, the Piedmont Laurate program appoints a laureate each year. In that role, Menconi has a host of responsibilities centered around promoting the arts in North Carolina.

“Along with presentations, you do a blog, and occasionally I get called upon to write a few words – I wrote a proclamation about a musician who had recently died for the town of Carrboro earlier this summer. Just sort of advocating for the arts in various ways,” Menconi said. “This summer I’ll be going to some governmental meetings with the Durham County Commissioners to make a statement about the importance of the arts. Just standing up for the arts, and trying to get people to read and write more.”

While Menconi’s resume includes early entries of time spent as a clerk in an auto body shop and as a self-described “oil field roustabout,” the vast majority of his career was spent at the News and Observer; he left the paper in February. Menconi acted primarily as the paper’s music critic, later becoming the general arts reporter after newsroom layoffs. Menconi said that music remained “central” to his work at the N&O despite his branching out, and that work helped him to later attain the Piedmont Laureate title he now holds.

“It was kind of bestowed on me. They have a process, they pick out one per year and I’m number 11 in the line. There’s an application process, you get letters of recommendation, send in some clips and tell them why you want the gig,” Menconi said.

On October 21, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Waterfall Stage will feature local artists selected by Menconi and Green.

“We gave Deep South a list of acts we’d like to see there, and they got who they could. There’s three acts that day: Tonk, a real good honky-tonk kind of country band with members from Tift Merritt’s band and Chatham County Line and others; Rachel Kiel, and Kamara Thomas, she’s also sort of Americana. I’m quite happy with who they got,” he said. “I believe we’ll also be on stage at Dorton that evening, Branford Marsalis will be playing.”

Looking past the fair, Menconi has plenty of projects to keep him busy. In addition to his duties as Piedmont Laureate, Menconi also hosts That Old North State Radio Hour every Wednesday at 7 p.m. on 95.7, as well as freelancing. After leaving the News and Observer, he said he will continue freelancing for as long as it is feasible.

“At some point I’ll probably have to break down and get a real job with insurance,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll see what that looks like. But for now I have the radio show, I have lots of writing stuff, and it’s been great fun. I’m involved with this North Carolina Music Magazine, a new startup, and I believe I’m also going to continue with the Come Here North Carolina campaign that the state arts council has done.”

What comes next for Menconi in the long term is yet to be determined, but he has plenty of projects to keep his attention in the meantime. For one night in October, fairgoers will get the chance to be part of that ongoing journey. Visit the Waterfall Stage Monday, Oct. 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to hear Menconi and Green’s handpicked artists, and visit www.davidmenconi.com to find links to his body of work.

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