Written by Daniel Barker
Jun 16, 2010 at 07:30 PM
ImageWithin moments of getting the email from Mucky Duck’s owner-Rusty Andrews-announcing this date I had a check in the mail. The Carolina Chocolate Drops had been getting much press in my little news world and it had me interested. Were these guys for real or just some art students with OCD nostalgia for the past? I came to discover that The Drops are all about honor and respect for the original African American string band players incorporating a show and tell aspect to their live shows. The night would prove entertaining – kinda like a trip to the theatre or The Buffalo Soldier Museum.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are Rhiannon Giddens-5 string banjo, fiddle, and kazoo; Don Flemons-4 string banjo, guitar, jug, harmonica, kazoo, snare drum, bones, and quills; Justin Robinson-5 string banjo, autoharp, jug, and beat box. They arrive in Houston as the 5th stop on the 7 stop Deep South Tour in support of the February 16th, 2010 release of “Genuine Negro Jig” on the Nonesuch label.

These are three talented folks who bring out everything from empty moonshine jugs to some old ribs bones breathing life into a throwback sound they have been inspired to play by Joe Thompson, a carrier of the torch so to speak. Thompson is in his late 80’s and all of CCD members are less than 30.  It appears to me that Flemons is the historian of the group and our narrator for the evening who was feeling especially connected this night being that his grandpa spent time in Sugarland when
there were actually cane fields there.
This music was created as a form of relief from lives filled with constant struggle and strife as southern negroes on standard mountain instruments like guitar, banjo and fiddle plus anything else lying around. This group takes those tools and attempts to recreate that sound– a sort of dramatization with the characters and costumes to match. What some would say is kinda black artsy hippie cool others might find downright tacky and insulting.

Some of this group’s music made it onto the soundtrack of Denzel Washington’s 2007 movie “The Great Debaters” which was bankrolled by Oprah Winfrey. Good company to be keeping and a reason why this seemed like such a great ticket. The black traditionalist and white folk scenes are hungry for a group like this and I expect to see the guys playing larger venues soon. Upon arrival it was evident that the word has spread. Two SRO shows were on order for a Wednesday night!

The 7:00 scheduled show started about 20 minutes late…and we were packed in like sardines. The band made their way to the stage with an exuberant audience practically foaming at the mouth. They guys got things started with the lead track on the new disc, “Peace Behind The Bridge” and I have to admit – it is something to see these guys get down. After working out some sound issues on one of the mics they hit stride. Each song was met by louder cheering and applause followed by a brief preface to the next.

Rhiannon Giddens looks like Alicia Keyes if she had been in The Color Purple and there is no way to avoid a comparison especially during a cover of a 2001 tune by Blu Cantrell, “Hit Em Up Style”, a tune that brought the house down. They also do a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Jackson”. These songs seem to bring it all together. During the standards I felt like I was back in elementary school having an assembly on traditional black folk music. I was learning and having fun!!!!

And then it was over….It was 8:30 when they said goodnight. It was so crowded they totally blew off the whole going off stage and getting called back encore. They just sat back down and busting into “Old Cat Dive”. They actually were able to get off the stage at 8:40. I little too short I thought. The second show was at 9:30 or 9:50 all things even.

CCD headed straight for the green room choosing not to interact with the fans signing posters, CD’s etc….Flemons made it out briefly but that was it. Also, The Duck started closing tabs at 9 clearing way for the second show…I felt shortchanged walking to the truck but maybe it was because I had seen a 3 hour straight set the night before at the same place with Carolyn Wonderland and Guy Forsythe always taking time for fans……I felt like the ones making money off this event milked it for everything it was worth without much regard for the fans toting the note. Maybe I’m wrong.

The Set List this night was:
1. Peace Under The Bridge
2. Corn Liquer
3. Noel Adams Breakdown
4. Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine
5. Two Time Loser
6. Henry Thomas
7. Jackson
8. Cornbread and Butterbeans
9. Cyndi Gal
10. Hit Em Up Style
11. Starry Crown
Encore:
1. Old Cat Dive

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are good at what they do. I believe they are a band that everyone should see. It is truly an experience. It will be interesting to see where these three talents will land taking this uncharted sea that Joe Thompson sent them sailing on. We wish them luck. Until next time, I will see you out supporting live music.