While DrumStrong's true focus — raising money in the fight against cancer — has never wavered, the music selection of the three-day event has continued to improve each year. This time around, the acts are regionally focused with some of North Carolina's and Charlotte's finest performers representing a wide range of genres from alt-country and folk to heavy and indie rock. While we could surely suggest more than these, here are our recommendations for the seven must-see acts of the weekend.FRIDAY
Grown Up Avenger Stuff — 5:15 p.m.
What may have started as a three-fourths family band that played a fun and flighty brand of rock soaked in '90s influence has developed into one of Charlotte's most sincere and focused hard rock acts over the years. Gone are the formulaic songs that hovered around the caterwauls of singer Deirdre Kroener, as GUAS now writes solid, mature songs that are driven as much by the bass grooves of brothers Hunter Thomsen and shredded riffs of John Thomsen as it is the thunderous drumming of one of Charlotte's best, Tyler Thomsen. Kroener has also developed more control and emotion in her vocals, which now range from sweet to scourging. (Hahne)
Hrvrd — 8:25 p.m.
In other hands, Hrvrd's music would be relegated to a pile of indie-rock artists who sound alike and are destined to be quickly forgotten. The combined musicianship of this quartet, however, provides swarms of textures behind the hypnotizing presence and voice of singer Jesse Clasen. The music can provide emotional roller coasters that go from soaring to sullen in a flick of a guitar pick or pause of a vocal. Hrvrd is a sonic force worth paying attention to. (Hahne)
Dirty Drummer — 10:20 p.m.
In a decade-plus of beat-making, Charlottean Dirty Dave Haire has proven he knows his way in, out, through and around a chewy groove. Influenced by the finger-snappin' hard bop of classic Blue Note-era LPs, Bootsy bass-funk and slinky dashiki hip-hop, Dirty Drummer distills those elements into classic grooves notable for their timeless quality. That's the case whether he's coloring them in swirls of psychedelia (see 2012's BLRRRY and FFOCUSS EPs) or tapping his inner Abraxas and Carnival-goer into Samba, as on 2010's primo Chase the Barber EP. The only critique that makes any sense has to do with supply and demand. (Schacht)SATURDAY
Sinners & Saints — 11 A.m.
Perry Fowler has always been a fixture on the Charlotte folk scene, but the formation of Sinners & Saints in 2011 solidified his standing as talented singer, songwriter and performer. Only now, he doesn't have to go it alone. Paired with the harmonies and bass of Mark Baran, the duo has fashioned some fine Americana with country, bluegrass and folk influences that conjure up front-porch, whiskey-drinkin' energy that's found a spot opening for Flogging Molly and Shovels & Rope, among others. (Hahne)
The Love Language — 2:15 p.m.
Song craft is largely neglected in today's music, where moods, textures and beats trump clever lyrics or memorable hooks. The best acts operate comfortably in worlds old and new, which is where Stuart McLamb's outfit started with their compelling 2009 eponymous debut. Mixing Wall of Sound layers with grandiose hooks and cad-confessional exploits, McLamb was snapped up in short order by hometown label Merge. The band's subsequent releases, 2010's Libraries and last year's Ruby Red, feature cleaner sonics, whether McLamb's in crooner-and-strings mode or delivering darker, thrumming Interpol-like fare. Live, the songs favor rough-and-tumble crescendos over sheen but make the transition effortlessly. (Schacht)
Ancient Cities — 12:10 A.m.
Charlotte's Stephen Warwick dazzled critics with his 2010 debut, Talking Machine, a collection of super-solid folk-inflected pop numbers channeling The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Elliott Smith, and glazed with just enough electronic and orchestral elements to keep the LP from being lumped in with run-of-the-mill Americana. Still, Warwick didn't want to be confined within the strictures of that genre (or any other), thus: Ancient Cities. The band's Juice EP, released this January, may be three-quarters demos, but they're fleshed-out enough to confirm that Warwick's still crafting air-tight, indigo pop ditties of the highest order. (John Schacht)SUNDAY
Dom Flemons — 8 p.m.
Fans disappointed that the multi-instrumentalist left the Carolina Chocolate Drops last year to pursue a solo career will be thrilled with the results when Flemons drops his debut, Prospect Hill, July 22, through Music Maker Relief Foundation. Building on the Drops' acoustic Piedmont blues, Flemons infuses his old-timey rags, "jass" and country blues with additional New Orleans and Delta elements without straying too far from the modern take on source material that made that band sound so timeless in the first place. And you'd expect the band's Saturday night juke-joint stage vibe to remain intact on Flemons' watch, too. (Schacht)
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