Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Not So Sweet Times at Sugar Hill

This morning I opened my Back Porch News e-letter and learned the next phase in another sad indie demise was underway: Sugar Hill Records, which for nearly 30 years has called Raleigh-Durham its home, will pack up and move to Nashville this year -- without most of its nine employees.

According to this story in the Triangle's News & Observer, the move is a decision by Welk Music Group, the company that owns Sugar Hill and its sister label, Vanguard Records. The California-based Welk acquired Sugar Hill in 1998.

With Sugar Hills track record of bluegrass artists, it may be hard for readers not to believe that the label isn't already in Nashville. For others, like me, it makes one wonder whether working outside of Nashville is viable for anyone with a stake in the bluegrass music industry.

There should always be options.

From an economic development perspective, the move is a bit unsettling. Raleigh-Durham boasts an economy that has grown at twice the national rate since 1990. Businesses of all kinds are attracted and recruited to the Triangle with enormously successful results. So it seems an added shame that this wonderful, much loved indie label started in Barry Poss's apartment in 1978 has to pick up and move.

Sugar Hill is not a Sony or a WB or any of those giant companies. There are NINE PEOPLE that keep the place running. Should it have grown, and would that kind of growth have attracted more acts and resulted in more releases that might have prevented this shift? Possibly. But it is what it is, and this bittersweet period in the label's history hopefully will be lost in the renewed success and artistic achievement believed to be the intention of this change.

Sugar Hill's first release was an album entitled One Way Track by a little-known group of performers known collectively as Boone Creek. Those fellas are Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Terry Baucom (Quicksilver's longtime banjer player), Wes Golding, and Steve Bryant. Of course it's featured on the Retrospective recording so often mentioned here.

I guess it was a mighty good investment afterall.

Here with the title track of that album is Boone Creek (click to head over to Rhapsody for the full track).

I'm sure all of you would join me in wishing everyone at Sugar Hill the best possible transition. We hope this decision, while pretty damn tough, ultimately places bluegrass in the position it deserves in that town, and that's right at the top.

One Way Track


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