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Friday, September 28, 2012

To the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Town Ballroom last night, capping off a pretty sweet run of live music over the past few weeks. We've missed the Chocolate Drops several times in the past, most recently last Sunday, when they were the closing act at the Freshgrass Festival. (It's good that we finally caught up with them too, because singer and fiddler Rhiannon Giddens looked to be about nine months pregnant, and it may be a little while before they tour again.) We knew more or less what to expect: string band music from the Piedmont region. What impressed me, however, apart from the cheerful virtuosity they displayed, was the fact that they completely owned this controversial music, without irony or anger. This is the stuff that minstrelsy derives from, arguably the first great cultural appropriation America was guilty of, but the Chocolate Drops choose to treat their music as purely American music, without dwelling on the ugliness of the blackface tradition. By treating the music respectfully they restore its happiness, I think, and make it possible to hear the joy that was in the hearts of its creators and early listeners. Sadly, we were impressed by the way the audience seemed to focus more on the down-home quality of the source material rather than its historical roots-- there is something very weird happening when the band tells you that a song was written in 1857 and that information is greeted with a loud "Woooo!" Who'd have guessed that there was so much excitement about the James Buchanan administration these days? (Ms. Giddens gently chided the audience on that point-- "Those were not the good old days for anyone like the people on this stage," and also, later, asked that people stop hollering out requests: "We've put together a set list for you. It's something that we do carefully, and we aren't going to change it." Right on,Rhiannon Giddens.) I should add that the Chocolate Drops do not limit themselves to period music. Perhaps the most beautiful song of the evening was a contemporary piece: "Leaving Eden", by Laurelyn Dosset.

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More banjo!
 

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