Beats N Bars 2024, Through the Lens of Tommy Coyote

A hip-hop holdover from Durham's mid-2010's festival era stubbornly refuses to go away.

Beats N Bars 2024, Through the Lens of Tommy Coyote

For Durhamites of a certain tenure, ambitious downtown music festivals are understood as things that come and go.

Few who were there could forget the mid-2010's run of Art of Cool, the aptly named, impeccably curated hip-hop-adjacent soul/jazz festival that not only had the likes of Anderson .Paak, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Masego, Thundercat, The Internet and Goldlink lighting up venues across the city, but often popping up at each other's shows too — either as genuinely excited audience members or as surprise on-stage guests. Now, more than four years since its last iteration in 2019 (headliners: Jill Scott, Run-DMC) and five years removed from the epic 2018 outdoor stadium show that reunited Little Brother, the festival is effectively defunct, its website and social media accounts a disorienting jumble of promo materials from festivals that either happened a long time ago (2019) or never happened at all (2023). (Last year, AOC owner The Dome Group did tell Axios Raleigh that it planned on returning in 2024 — though it's currently mid-May and no such announcement has been made.)

Even more conspicuous has been the absence of Moogfest — responsible over the course of its short three-year stint in Durham for performances like GZA, KRS-One, Questlove, Blood Orange, Denzel Curry, Lunice, Flying Lotus, Peanut Butter Wolf, and more — which, armed with major music/tech media coverage and high-profile sponsors, consistently brought thousands of out-of-town attendees to the area. Mired in logistical and financial complications, it shuttered in 2019, the ensuing void filled somewhat unevenly in the years since by Bull City Summit (plagued by issues of its own) and Slingshot Festival (relocated from Athens, GA, now held in The Durham Fruit).

Amidst that post-apocalyptic backdrop, one holdout from Durham's Great Festival Era has stubbornly refused to go away: Crystal Taylor's homegrown hip-hop conference and music showcase, Beats N Bars. In its seventh installment this year, the two-day festival continued the legacy of its inaugural 2016 weekend, but not without clear signs of the same shift in energy and behavioral norms (pandemic-related or otherwise) that have hobbled its festival contemporaries — attendance was light, and a drizzle after sundown on Day 2, just before the headlining performance of Young Dro, didn't help. But against all odds, there was an undeniable sense of warmth and community among the emcees, producers, fashion designers, vendors, and even free-of-charge onlookers who were allowed to wander in late. Possibly out of appreciation for having a distinctly Black block party in the heart of a rapidly gentrifying city, and possibly out of recognition that, comparatively speaking, Beats N Bars has done the impossible by simply continuing to exist.

Having run all over the city as the 20-year-old lead shooter for Moogfest 2016-2018, the Raleigh/Durham-based photographer Tommy Coyote doesn't just intimately know Beats N Bars, but also the heady, festival-utopia period of time from which it came. On Saturday, he turned his camera towards one of the last remaining threads of an era that we once knew, and left us some thoughts on what he saw.

"More like a family reunion than a festival."

TC: Beats N Bars 2024 was such a good time for Durham. Though I only knew about two people at the event, it felt more like a family reunion than a festival. It’s nights like these that really make me think about the history of Durham and how we got here. The city has been going through drastic changes through the years, and it’s not often that we get something special like this to bring out people who don’t want to be in the electronic/dance party scene — Durham is saturated with that now.

"A parking lot full of joy, love and laughter."

TC: I’m so thankful for the producers of BnB for putting this event together for our Durham families and friends to come be together and share energy. It reminds me of what downtown Durham once was, before the insurgence of big tech companies and skyscrapers. We were in a parking lot full of joy, love and laughter.

"Leave it to BnB to make my inner child so happy."

TC: I am in no way an avid Young Dro listener, but let me tell you — "Shoulder Lean" had me in a full chokehold when I was like 8 or 9. I remember the music video like the back of my hand. I never thought there would be a day when I’d be standing right by the stage for Young Dro, but leave it to BnB to make my inner child so happy. The fact that all of us could be as close or as far away from the stage for this experience says everything about the love in the air at this event. Definitely one to remember.

Young Dro performs in his pullover sweater at Beats N Bars Day 2. Photo by Tommy Coyote.