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November 20, 2008 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Carolina Chocolate Drops rock the piedmont.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a group of young African-American stringband musicians that have come to together to play the rich tradition of fiddle and banjo music in Carolinas’ piedmont. Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson both hail from the green hills of the North Carolina Piedmont while Dom Flemons is native to sunny Arizona. Jools Holland performance.
posted by chuckdarwin (23 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
just a note, the MeFi inline YouTube player icons make single-letter-links pretty much unreadable. It took me more than a couple of seconds to figure out it was ChocolateDrops rock
posted by blue_beetle at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2008


I saw that too late :-(
posted by chuckdarwin at 11:33 AM on November 20, 2008


I saw these guys in Seattle last year; they're phenomenal.
posted by gurple at 11:40 AM on November 20, 2008


They'll be playing in San Francisco at the Bluegrass and Old Time Festival this year.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:44 AM on November 20, 2008


So very hot! Thanks!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:45 AM on November 20, 2008


Three years ago, I heard a blues guitarist at the Philadelphia Folk Festival say that blues music didn't belong to white folks such as himself-- that he was just serving as a custodian of the tradition until a new generation of African Americans came up and reclaimed it. Two years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the following year's festival. Hopefully these are just the first of a new generation of young people playing blues, old time, and roots music. If it isn't then I'm SOL as far as my prospects for finding other like-minded musicians are concerned.
posted by The White Hat at 11:52 AM on November 20, 2008


They played a fantastic set at the Blues Festival here in Columbia, MO.
My cousin got to play a festival with them somewhere in Western NC before she quit her bluegrass band to join the seminary.
posted by schyler523 at 11:58 AM on November 20, 2008


truly wonderful. thanks for this!
posted by gnutron at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2008


I misparsed this... I thought that some chocalatier named "Carolina Chocolate" had stopped producing a flavor called "Rock the Piedmont".
posted by oonh at 1:06 PM on November 20, 2008


If they tour with the California Honeydrops (who are playing Amnesia in SF tonight), I'm in.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:07 PM on November 20, 2008


Only tangentially related, Pura Fe's "Familiar Joy."
posted by Restless Day at 1:25 PM on November 20, 2008


They rocked the Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville opening for Old Crow Medicine Show back in October. Rhiannon even covered Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" and nailed it.
posted by ChrisLee at 1:32 PM on November 20, 2008


I love these guys! Thanks, chuckdarwin not only for the great theory of evolution, but also for the post
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:46 PM on November 20, 2008


Sorry, Pecinpah, but that's last year's schedule. I know because my spouse is in one of the bands that performed. She did see them though, and is a big fan. Thanks, chuckdarwin.
posted by al_fresco at 2:51 PM on November 20, 2008


Caught them last year in Northampton, MA at the wonderful Iron Horse. They rocked us out. I'd travel to hear them again.
posted by Hobgoblin at 3:04 PM on November 20, 2008


Today is all about the music joy. Mmm, mmm, good!

I'm not as worried about that generation behind me as I used to be. In fact, I'm kinda super-appreciating them right now.
posted by batmonkey at 3:08 PM on November 20, 2008


They rocked the Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville opening for Old Crow Medicine Show back in October. Rhiannon even covered Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" and nailed it.

There are several videos said cover... even above.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:45 PM on November 20, 2008


I loved them when I saw them in Somerville recently, but although the venue was a fabulous theater, banks and banks of fixed seats didn't allow us much dancing. (But the white, white crowd did its best.)

Can't say enough about "Snowden's Jig." It suggested that there was an entire genre of African-American music that has vanished.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:11 PM on November 20, 2008


This is so weird that I had to pay five dollars to make a comment. I see the banjo player walking Franklin St in Chapel Hill all the time in front of my work (with banjo in tow). The weirder thing is that I am a chocolatier by trade who happens to live in North Carolina.

Chuckdarwin, are you by any chance a Tar Heel?
posted by king dingaling at 7:18 PM on November 20, 2008


Welcome to Metafilter king dingaling, I think I finally joined after a year of lurking to post on a thread about the Grateful Dead...
posted by schyler523 at 10:16 PM on November 20, 2008


This is so weird that I had to pay five dollars to make a comment. I see the banjo player walking Franklin St in Chapel Hill all the time in front of my work (with banjo in tow). The weirder thing is that I am a chocolatier by trade who happens to live in North Carolina.

Tell him I said he's the mack and that they should do a longer UK tour next time.

Chuckdarwin, are you by any chance a Tar Heel?

No, but I love the place. I spent a lot of time on the Outer Banks as a lad. I lived in West Virginia for a long time before I left the states for sunny England. I caught these folks on the BBC the other night and was moved to post.
posted by chuckdarwin at 12:58 AM on November 21, 2008


I loved them when I saw them in Somerville recently, but although the venue was a fabulous theater, banks and banks of fixed seats didn't allow us much dancing. (But the white, white crowd did its best.)

I could not help but notice Rhiannon's dancing in a couple of those videos. Wow. She's an amazing performer. I hope to catch her in Pembroke soon, if her myspace calendar is correct.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:00 AM on November 21, 2008


Whistle the tune "Dixie,'' and in some corners of the South, you're in for a scrap.

For some, it's a heritage thing. For others, it's a racist thing. For Justin Robinson, a Gastonia native, it's simply a good thing.

No argument there. But Robinson is black, and you wouldn't think he'd like the widely accepted anthem of the Confederate South.

Robinson is a fiddle player. And he plays with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a trio of young black musicians who play the old-time string band music popular with Southern African Americans way before MTV.

Plus, he knows the musical history of "Dixie.'' And you can expect he and his band mates, Dom Flemons and Greensboro's Rhiannon Giddens, will talk about it this weekend when they perform at Shakori Hills just east of us in Chatham County.

Yep, American music isn't all ... black and white.

"It raises the eyebrows a little bit,'' Robinson, 25, says about the history of "Dixie.'' "But there are all sort of things like that in American history. What seems to be the truth is often not.''

A quick history lesson.

Some say a white Yankee songwriter named Dan Emmett wrote "Dixie.'' He even owns the copyright. But in all likelihood, in the 1850s, Emmett learned the tune from a black string band family he knew in Ohio.

And the person who wrote the tune, or at least preserved it, was a black woman.

Ellen Snowden, a former slave from Maryland, was given as a gift at age 10 to a white family who moved to Ohio in the 1820s.

She was the only person of color for miles, and she missed her family and her home.

So, she wrote - or remembered - a song about the land of cotton.

When she got older, Ellen taught the tune to her sons, Ben and Lew. In turn, she - or her sons - taught it to Emmett.

So, look away, Dixie Land. Who knew?

Now, I had heard this story from a musicologist and a Confederate historian. But they were white. And quite honestly, it really didn't bounce in my brain until I heard three black musicians make the tune their own.

And that is some kind of powerful.

Robinson plays "Dixie'' as an instrumental. It's on the group's latest recording, "Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind,'' and the way Robinson plays it, he gives it a winsome feel reminiscent of the back-porch South.

But the Drops don't play it in concert anymore. The trio uses "Dixie'' as a touchstone on stage to help introduce a new tune they play. They call it "Snowden's Jig,'' a tune written by Emmett more than a century ago.

Emmett originally called it "Genuine Negro Jig.'' But Emmett got that tune from, you guessed it, the Snowdens. Here's the big coincidence: The Snowdens lived right beside Emmett's grandparents in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

And how did the Drops know that? From one night in Ohio.

Last April, music historians Howard and Judy Sacks took an antique six-string banjo and a copy of their 1993 book when they went to see the Drops perform at an Ohio church.

Afterward, they took the trio to dinner, talked about their research and gave them a copy of their book, "Way Up North In Dixie: A Black Family's Claim to the Confederate Anthem.''

The Sackses spent 12 years on a book sparked by a walk in a local graveyard. There, they saw a peculiar inscription on the tombstone of Ben and Lew Snowden that read: "They taught 'Dixie' to Dan Emmett.''

That's when they went door to door near the graveyard and met a family who took care of the Snowden family decades before. And there, in a living room, Howard and Judy Sacks struck gold.

They were shown what remained of the Snowden family and the legend of "Dixie'': a violin, two banjos, a scrapbook and a shoebox full of nearly 40 letters, written from 1836 to the 1920s.

The letters became the backbone of their book. As for the banjos, that's the other part of this story.

That night, at a small restaurant in Granville, Ohio, Robinson and his band mates held a homemade Snowden banjo that more than likely played "Genuine Negro Jig.''

And "Dixie,'' too.

That, they say, was magic.

posted by chuckdarwin at 2:38 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


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