For more info on their Oct. 18 show at The Blue Note, click here.
Despite the unbelievably wonderful, indescribably magical place that Bonnaroo is, I consider making it to the first set of the day a feat to be applauded. I’d been up until roughly 5 a.m. that morning from the night before, not to mention the sun really loves that 12:30 p.m. slot, wanting to hangout with everyone until they’re, quite literally, strips of bacon. (It knows not what it does.) I was fighting the fatigue of a 4 day-long marathon of travelling, singing, dancing and sweating and the majority of my fellow Bonnaroovians were still slathering on sunscreen and trying to figure out how to enjoy the shade of a tent while also finding comfort in feeling like a rotisserie chicken.
Only one thing could get me to Centeroo that early on Sunday and boy am I glad they did: The Carolina Chocolate Drops. This folk group plays the kind of fiddle music that makes you want to link arms with someone and skip in a circle – which I did, shamelessly, with some strangers. Hailing from North Carolina, the string band continues to draw their ‘20s/’30s jug-band-style inspiration from the folk music that takes root there. Not only do they accomplish that, throughout their shows they manage to highlight the roles African-Americans have played in shaping this nation’s music. For example, at one point, they stopped to give a brief history of the banjo beginning from the 1850s and how it got to where it is now.
Lead singer and banjo extraordinaire, Rhiannon Giddens, captivated the audience with anecdotes, awkward jokes and, of course, the crazy-incredible set of soulful pipes she’s got. Alongside her, Hubby Jenkins and Rowan Corbett provided an extremely entertaining and comedic bones battle mid-set. After explaining the history of the bones, castanet-like instruments made from real animal bone or wood, the two went into full-fledged “this means war” mode throwing solos at each other like it was nobody’s business. All the while this was happening, a tap dancer accompanied The Drops for almost every song, feeding that dance hall vibe in the best of ways.
The Drops’ set flowed from tracks off of their 2010 and 2012 albums Genuine Negro Jig and Leaving Eden to a Hank Williams cover to a song with a warning from Giddens that no, she wasn’t speaking gibberish, the lyrics were in Scotts Gaelic. The set ended with a twangy twisted Blu Cantrell cover of “Hit ‘Em Up Style” which, if they hadn’t gotten you going already, got you to where you needed to be. By the end of the show, most of those who had been lounging were up and shakin’ it.
The Drops actually won a Grammy for Genuine Negro Jig for Best Traditional Folk Album and are continuing to celebrate that success and promoting their new album by touring the country and spreading the folky love. Lucky for me, one of those stops was Bonnaroo and even luckier for us, another is our very own Blue Note, on Saturday, Oct.18. Yeah, yeah, it’s far away, but, hey, it can be your light at the end of the tunnel.
I left the set with a feeling of deep satisfaction, a little more music education and a whole lot of love for the banjo. The Drops are successfully putting a new spin on some old-time Carolina mountain music and gaining some serious recognition as they do it. Rolling Stone described their sound as “dirt-floor-dance electricity,” and thinking back to stomping my feet in that field on The Farm, I agree wholeheartedly.