The Carolina Theatre in Durham. Photo courtesy of Carolina Theatre

“I can’t hold the waters back, but I can organize a concert.”–Rob Sharer

By Peter Vankevich

Many talented musicians have stepped forward over the years to help those in need.  George Harrison and Ravi Shankar did in 1971 with their Madison Square Garden concerts for Bangladesh. One of the most famous and successful was Live Aid in 1985, a world-wide effort that raised money and conscientiousness to the famine in Ethiopia. The concert has been immortalized in the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Following this tradition, the musical trio Craicdown, in conjunction with the Carolina Theatre, 309 W Morgan St., Durham, has organized a benefit concert to support the Ocracoke community that was ravaged when Hurricane Dorian struck the remote island on Sept. 6.

The concert will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14, in the historic theatre’s Fletcher Hall. Tickets are $27.50 and will go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at the venue’s box office, on the venue website and at

Proceeds from ticket sales will be given to the  Outer Banks Community Foundation disaster relief campaign for Hatteras and Ocracoke Island.

“We’re just really thrilled that we have a time open, that it wasn’t too far off,” said Rebecca Newton, the theater’s executive director.

The performers are as follows:
Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba

Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys
Chatham Rabbits
Joseph Terrell and Libby Rodenbough of Mipso

Craicdown’s Rob Sharer came up with the idea for the concert after hearing from those on the island and seeing news reports on the damage the hurricane wrought.  For several days, the island was without power and the water had to be boiled before drinking. Most homes, businesses and vehicles were badly damaged or destroyed when a seven-foot storm surge suddenly overtook the village after dawn.

Craicdown at 2019 Ocrafolk Festival. Photo by Peter Vankevich

“Friends of mine were in their upper stories, watching their yards, and their houses completely fill up with water,” Sharer said in an interview. “It was physically painful to watch. Livelihoods and homes and possessions getting destroyed in real time. It was almost like I could feel the water coming in my own house.”

In particular, he was concerned about a beautiful 1908 Steinway piano that Marcy Brenner and Lou Castro had on the first floor of their house on Cabana Drive that he is love with and plays every time he visits.

“I waited a day or so because I didn’t dare ask, and when I did, Marcy said it got wet and the keys are swelling together, so that might be it for the piano,” he recounted. “She sent some pictures, and I just started freaking out.

“The piano just seemed so emblematic of what was going on down there. You know, things that I love, were getting destroyed. And I wrote to her and I said, ‘Is there anything I can do? Do you want me to come down and bring you a dehumidifier, or anything like that?’ And she said, ‘Oh, sweetheart, just play some music.’

“What could that mean? That could mean lots of different things. I mean, just sending vibes out there. No, let’s do something more. So really, that was the genesis of this benefit concert.”

Sharer and the trio’s other two members, David DiGiuseppe and Jim Roberts, have a spiritual connection to the island. Craicdown has performed at the highly acclaimed Ocrafolk Festival for the past 11 years. The festival, which began in 2000, takes place annually on the first full weekend in June. Craicdown has also given musical workshops at the school over the years.

“So, it really is like the spiritual home of the band,” Sharer said. “It’s our home away from home. We’ve written songs and made great friends out there. And it’s just a magical, enchanted place that I look forward to going to every year.

“The very thought that something terrible has happened to the place and to the people that we love so much, how could you not do something? So, this was thing that I thought I could do. You know, I can’t hold the waters back, but I can organize a concert.”

On the stage that night will be Jonathan Byrd, a seventh-generation Carolinian who has performed on Ocracoke over the years, including with islander Fiddler Dave Tweedie. He is a preacher’s son and sang “Amazing Grace” solo in church when he was a young boy. He has recorded many albums, with his most recent “Pickup Cowboy.” His songs are about strong characters, tough times and filled with powerful lyrical imagery.

The performers Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba, Chatham Rabbits and Joseph Terrell and Libby Rodenbough of Mipso have all performed at the Ocrafolk Festival in the last several years.

Will Ridenour is the percussionist for Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba, a high energy rhythmic dance band that can also do soothing story songs.

“Every time we go to Ocracoke, we’re just met with a really amazing community,” he said.  ”And so, yeah. When I found out that they were hit hard by Hurricane Dorian, you know, the first thing you as a musician to think is ‘I want to put on a benefit because I to share my music to help raise money.’  So when Rob asked us, it  was hands down, ‘Yes, right away.’”

Diali Cissokho (first name pronounced “jelly”), originally from Senegal, West Africa, is the band’s lead singer and master of the kora, a 21-string instrument. He has taught students about African music during arts week at Ocracoke school that takes place every spring for the past several years.

Chatham Rabbits are a husband/wife duo, Sarah Osborne McCombie and Austin McCombie. From Bynum in Chatham County, they took their name and music inspiration from the original Chatham Rabbits, a local mill string band of the early 20th century.

Joseph Terrell (guitar and vocals) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle and  vocals) are part of the music group Mipso. Defined as an indie Americana quartet, their music has been described as “full of wistful beauty, hopeful undercurrents, and panoramic soundscapes,” and combining classic folk-rock and modern alt-country sounds mingling easily with Appalachian tradition.

“Ocrafolk was the first festival outside Chapel Hill that really took us in and made us feel at home, ” said Terrell when asked why they will be performing.  “We all fell in love with the island. It’s got a lot of history, but it’s also just a fun and charming and idiosyncratic little community with a bunch of great folks. My band mate Jacob just turned 30 and Libby’s present to him was a hat from Eduardo’s Taco stand on Ocracoke. We just love that place.”

Also on stage will be Marcy Brenner, who with her husband Lou Castro, are the recording artists, Coyote. She is a former director of the Outer Banks Community Foundation.  In addition to the piano casualty, their Coyote Den, located on the dock at the Community Square also suffered substantial damage.

Not listed officially as performers, it wouldn’t be surprising if Craicdown, in some fashion makes it to the stage.

If you cannot  attend and still want to support the musicians’ efforts, you may donate directly to the Outer Banks Community Foundation. In the donor information line, add Music Folk for Ocracoke.

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba.Photo by George Wood
Jonathan Byrd. Photo by George Wood
Chatham Rabbits. Photo by George Wood
Joseph Terrell Libby Rodenbough of Mipso . Photo by George Wood
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  1. Lou and Marci, my thoughts and prayers are sent. I too was worried about you and your lovely special home. I remember your special piano.

  2. There is an amazing Steinway piano technician named Johnny O’brien who is trying to contact Marcy Brenner and Lou Castro regarding repairing their Steinway piano. He has a lot of history and friends on Ocracoke. Is there a way to get information to them? He attempted to contact them directly but did not receive a response. I have no doubt he can help them with her piano . Thanks!

  3. Nicely written story, Peter.
    It’s so refreshing to hear of the Good things coming to this island -to hear that so many people have found ways to help , to know that so many hearts are filled with the goodness of helping those in need. I wish we were able to get to the island to help. We will have to do what we can from here for the time being.

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