Carolina Chocolate Drops | 8.29.10

This is not one of those transcriptionist “scratches and all” bands, in other words.


Loufest, St. Louis, Mo.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops, who will be playing Loufest this Sunday, are carrying on a long tradition about which few people are aware: black string bands. It’s a part of the grand tapestry of American roots music which somehow got left out of a lot of history books, but this band is doing their best to see that it remains alive.
They come by their style honestly: Band members Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson met at the Blank Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C., and all studied under the tutelage of Joe Thompson, at age 91 believed to be the last living representative of the Piedmont (North Carolina) fiddle and banjo tradition. Their name is adopted from a 1920s black string band called the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, which included fiddler Howard Armstrong, a contemporary of Thompson and the subject of Terry Zwigoff’s 1985 documentary Louie Bluie
The Carolina Chocolate Drops can play traditional styles with the best of them, but they don’t treat the music as a museum exhibit; this is not one of those transcriptionist “scratches and all” bands, in other words. Instead, they interpret the music in light of their experience and knowledge of other musical styles (including classical music, jazz and the blues, contradance music and Celtic music), and their repertoire includes not only string band tunes but also original material as well as songs by composers as varied as Tom Waits and Kansas Joe McCoy.
Everyone in the band sings and they also play a variety of instruments, including fiddle, four- and five-string banjos, guitar and bones. They released their fifth album, Genuine Negro Jig, this past February, and it went to #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart and #2 on the Billboard Heatseekers and Folk Chart. You can hear some clips here and learn more about the band from their website.
My final word is this: I can’t tell you what they’ll be playing on Sunday, but I can make two predictions: It will be a varied lineup, and it will all sound great. | Sarah Boslaugh
Loufest will be held this weekend (August 28-29) in the Central Field of Forest Park. The Carolina Chocolate Drops will be playing on Sunday at 2 p.m. You can find more information, including the schedule of bands and a festival map and buy tickets online.

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