Carolina Chocolate Drops a sweet treat for local ears

Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Carolina Chocolate Drops -- Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson -- performed at DePauw's Moore Theatre Tuesday night.

GREENCASTLE -- As I took my seat in DePauw's Moore Theatre for Tuesday night's Carolina Chocolate Drops show, I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive.

Since I found out the Drops would be visiting town, I've spent quite a bit of time familiarizing myself with their music. I must say I love the way they meld diverse influences into a cohesive set.

But I wasn't sure about hearing this band in a theatre setting, staying in my seat, listening politely. This is a band properly heard in a slightly dingier venue -- a barn, under a tent in a field, in a little bar.

Was this too anesthetized?

Not at all.

"I don't want you to get the idea that this is some kind of museum act because it's far from it," Ron Dye said as he introduced the band.

The band backed this up.

"There's a little bit of room in the aisles, so if you want to shake a leg, feel free," said multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Dom Flemons.

And that was the night -- a loose, fun evening filled with joking, stories, music history and some great, great tunes.

The most common lineup is Flemons on guitar, Rhiannon Giddens on banjo and Justin Robinson on fiddle, but it doesn't stay that way for long. Flemons spent time Tuesday on guitar, 4-string banjo, jug, bones and vocals. Giddens played 5-string banjo, fiddle, kazoo and her beautiful voice. Robinson split time between fiddle, banjo, jug, human beatbox and vocals.

Seeing human beatbox featured next to traditional string band instruments seems a bit odd until you see the way Flemons and Robinson play the jug. It's essentially the same as beatboxing, just with a homemade amplifier.

One of the more beautiful moments of the night came when Flemons stepped off stage while Giddens grabbed the fiddle and Robinson accompanied her beatboxing on a pair of traditional songs.

Another captivating song was "Genuine Negro Jig (Snowden's Tune)," the title track of the band's latest release. With Giddens on fiddle, Robinson contributing percussion with stomps and claps and an amazing performance from Flemons on the bones, the trio brought this tune to life in a way that can't be recreated in the studio.

It wasn't all about the beautiful instrumentals, though. This music is fun. The band talked about it all being dance music of one form or another, and while there wasn't a lot of dancing going on, the feeling was certainly there, as the switched between jazz ("Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine"), waltzes ("Short Life of Trouble") and even modern R&B ("Hit 'Em Up Style"), as well as various stops in between.

There were also the moments of absolute fun like when Giddens would perform a kazoo solo or either man a jug solo or when the audience was asked to sing along. The point of the evening was to have fun, and anyone who walked out without a smile wasn't trying.

The best message to come out of the evening was that good music doesn't have boundaries -- nor should it.

Good music is good music and things like genre, instrument choice and venue are secondary to having quality music truly played from the heart.

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