James Bass
                                Contributing columnist

James Bass

Contributing columnist

If you were anywhere near Lumberton on April 20, you could feel the energy of a community excited about putting downtown front and center to showcase its art and culture. And if you hung around into the evening, you may have caught a shining star of an event aimed at giving back to the community, the second annual Robstock concert.

The morning began with Arts on Elm, the Robeson County Arts Council’s annual event, returning after being rained out last year. Under an overcast sky, attendees enjoyed music by Tyrek Hearon and Will Maxwell. Vendors and non-profits engaged people, and food trucks kept them fed.

One of downtown’s newest businesses, 219 Elm, an antique, book, and coffee shop called “Legal Grounds,” served up coffee and pastries. It’s also worth mentioning that the new establishment hosts game nights on Tuesdays and a growing open mic night event every Thursday evening. The business is becoming a necessary anchor for a downtown that wants more people visit the area.

Arts on Elm is produced by The Robeson County Arts Council, which now has an office at the corner of Chestnut Street and Fourth, across from the Carolina Civic Center, and just down the street from Purple Door Productions and Inner Peace Gallery for the Arts. These organizations, and others like Friends of Main Street, are using the power of the arts to make downtown Lumberton vibrant again with activities and visual displays.

The weather cooperated this year and by 2 p.m. when Arts on Elm officially ended, downtown was still dry, at least until later in the afternoon when an unexpected hailstorm came down on the city. Luckily, the post event celebration at 219 Elm, which included more music, was indoors and sheltered. It was a successful day by all accounts.

Back to my original point about Robstock, the little event that could.

The downtown celebration wasn’t finished when Arts on Elm ended. At 6 p.m., doors opened for the second annual Robstock concert, held at Adelio’s Italian Restaurant. In 2023, an organization called The Robeson County Band of Brothers came together to produce a new event aimed at giving back to the community. The concert event, attended by about 200 people, raised funds for several needs including academic scholarship.

Once upon a time, Lumberton boasted a promising rock music scene, and out of it came quite a few great musicians. Some are still making music, and some have passed on.

Brad Davis, a Lumberton native and graduate of Lumberton High School, started the Robeson County Band of Brothers last year to honor Lumberton’s musical legacy and to raise money for the family of Keith Ross, a well-known guitar player in Lumberton who passed unexpectedly in 2022. The event was a success, and so Davis planned for another concert. Proceeds were used to establish the Keith Ross Memorial Scholarship, which awards $1,000 to a Lumberton High School senior pursuing a degree in arts education. About $550 was also awarded to Lumberton High School for senior trips.

The concert event has also been supported by donations from popular music artists, including Clint and Corey Lowery (sons of the late Willie French Lowery), members of national acts Sevendust and Seether, respectively, and Michael Alago, the former music executive who signed Metallica and produced Nina Simone.

This year’s concert helped raise money for Kent Prevatte’s family. Prevatte was a long-time Lumberton resident and musician who played for decades in Lumberton bands. He passed away in 2023. Through sponsorships and donations from local businesses, Robstock has become a viable annual event with plans to return in 2025.

Seeing Lumberton’s downtown coming to life is a great thing. Seeing activity down there is a joy. Seeing people making a difference in their downtown and community is priceless.

James Bass is the director of the Givens Performing Arts Center. Reach him at [email protected].