Several years ago, I attended the ‘Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance’ in the Shakori Hills of North Carolina with a buddy. No, this was not some ‘Brokeback Mountain’ type of getaway. We didn’t have much prior knowledge of any of the more traditional bands and performers present but we were banking on the fact that the area has had a profound influence on traditional and old time music of all types and, just as we predicted, we had our minds blown on about a dozen occasions. On one such occasion that weekend we sought shelter from the rain under the tent at the ‘Dance Stage’ with a bottle of Crown Royal (as you do) and ended up witnesses to one of the greatest performances I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. I am speaking about the Carolina Chocolate Drops. It was like stepping back in time for the evening.
Now they didn’t have any official recordings back then and it was just three Negroes (I can say that comfortably knowing that this is how they actually prefer to identify themselves and their unique style of traditional old timey music) on bar stools playing jugs, bones, kazoos, fiddles, banjos and just about any other type of traditional instrument they could get their hands on. And here I am, nearly ten years later, finally getting reacquainted with that same sound while shoveling snow. Go figure. Today’s musical selection du jour is their ‘Leaving Eden’ album (2012).
They may be no tent, bar stools, or Crown Royal present this time around, but that warm feeling of familiarity is still very prevalent which is good considering how damn cold it is at the moment. On this particular album, starting with material culled from the Piedmont region of the Carolina’s, they’ve sought to freshly interpret this work (in fact, they have researched and studied it thoroughly), not merely recreate it, highlighting the central role African-Americans played in shaping a nation’s popular music from its beginnings more than a century ago. It’s like a modern day musical time capsule. I could just have easily been, say, picking cotton, playing dominoes on a porch somewhere or walking down a country road past farmer’s fields on my way to market around the turn of the century but, no, I’m here…in Ridgeway…2014…shoveling about 2 ft. of the white shit instead. Yay.