Carolina Chocolate Drops

Photographer Milo Farineau and his journalist wife, Diane, caught The Carolina Chocolate Drops on 2/25 in Charlottesville, VA. Here are Milo’s photos, and Diane’s interview with the group.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops may have just won a Grammy for being great musicians, but it turns out they are even better mathematicians.

Here’s how I figure it… A loyal fan base, plus a whole lot of post award buzz equals a sold out show.

Original members Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens, plus new members Hubby Jenkins and Adam Matta, equals spiraling out from the great music they’ve been playing into breathtaking and completely unexpected new territory.

Their incredible love for the music and desire to share not only their performance of it but also their incredible wealth of information about its history and meaning plus their humor and humility equals a performance the likes of which I have never experienced.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops played to an enthusiastic, appreciative, and packed crowd at The Jefferson Theatre in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday, February 25th, where it was the first chance most fans had to hear them in their new four member configuration. While it was obvious from the outset what Hubby Jenkins had to offer, surrounded by and switching easily from guitar to banjo to mandolin, the presence of beat boxer Adam Matta remained a little more mysterious, that is until he unleashed his incredible percussive talent three songs into their set as he accompanied Rhiannon on an a capella reel.

The crowd, literally, went crazy.

I caught up with Flemons before the show and he offered the following insights into the current CCD equation:

Original member Justin Robinson has officially left the band. How has the transition been going with brand new members Hubby Jenkins and Adam Matta?

“It’s been going great. Hubby and Adam are both bringing a new life and energy that has really revitalized the group in many ways.

Their knowledge also will expand the sound of the group in ways we have yet to explore.”

How has the addition of not only their breadth of experience but also the addition of another physical body changed the dynamic?

“It has really lightened things up. Justin really wanted to get back to school and he also really was not keen about traveling on the road, so it has been good to bring in folks who are excited about being on the road and playing music.”

Thoughts on winning the Grammy?

“It’s another wonderful feather to put in our hats. It is also a very big feather that will be with us the rest of our lives so that is also exciting.

Besides that, the event was a trip and we’re just hoping for the best as we continue on.”

….and to win it in the “traditional folk category”….do you think it is indicative that maybe old-time music come full circle, historically and musically?

“The renewed interest in old-time music and whatnot has been in the works for the last several years with more old-time reissues coming out every year.

I can only hope that our Grammy win will open up the doors for other string bands and also create more awareness of the Black/African roots of the Banjo.”

This genre of music is a re-emergence that’s picking up where it left off and heading out in uncharted directions. Why do you think it has it taken this long to reclaim those roots?

“It’s hard to say. It has many elements similar to the ’60s folk revival where the younger musicians are just searching out for different ways to express themselves and are just reaching for this music that represents what Harry Smith (creator of the very popular Anthology of American Folk Music) called ‘The Old Weird America.’ While it has elements of this trend, people are interpreting the situation as modern at the dawn of the digital age.

When times get hard economically, or the morale of the people get low, they reach out to things that are ‘truly American’ in the broadest sense. It’s exciting to see what will happen. It’s wide open.”

Can you comment on how your efforts to bring young black people to embrace this important aspect of their musical heritage are going?

“Just being out there in the world is our biggest effort. When westarted up about 6 years back the idea of a black string band was so rare. Now there are more people interested in the music and slowly yet steadily more black people are hearing about the music and gaining more knowledge about this important part of our country’s heritage.

Hubby Jenkins, for example, was going to be a new artist on Music Maker. I had met him in New York a little after we had started the group and his interest in the music has led him to become a great player. So when Justin decided to leave, I gave Hubby a call and he jumped right on board.

Again, the things to remember are that we want to show the black participation in the music without being overbearing, and also we just want black people to just know about the music in general.”

Are you all an anomaly or the leading edge of an overdue wave?

“Both. I think we are still an anomaly in terms of string bands. It’s pretty much us and the Ebony Hillbillies for full string bands.

I think we are also on the cutting edge for black folk music. Black culture has been changing in the past few years with music so it’s hard to tell where we it will go from here.”

Any collaborations in the works?

Currently we have two collaborations floating around. The first is our EP, Carolina Chocolate Drops/Luminescent Orchestrii where we are collaborating with Brooklyn-based Gypsy/Tango/Punk band, and Adam Matta who is currently touring with us.

The second is a collaboration in the works where we are working on a show in Chicago celebrating the Black Roots of Vaudeville, tentatively titled Keep A Song In Your Soul. We will be collaborating with Reginald Robinson, a ragtime piano player, and McArthur Genius Grant recipient Reggio ‘the Hoofer’ McLaughlin, a well-established tap dancer. It will be a great show.

It is currently in the works and will go up for a small run in the late fall.

Having already won a Grammy (clearly the industry’s highest nod of approval for your efforts), where else would they like to go with this?

“Just want to keep making good music. That’s it!”

When it comes to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, any way you add it up, it is true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They are good folks making good music and that’s a winning combination every time.

You can find more information on The Carolina Chocolate Drops on their web site, and see more of Milo’s photos on his site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.