The Carolina Chocolate Drops leaves WCU audience thrilled

Photo by Randy Conn

The story was edited and updated March 5 by Tanner Hall

The Carolina Chocolate Drops brought their unique blend and soulful spin of antique acoustic country, jazz, blues, jug, string, banjo, violin, and even gospel music to a packed audience at the Bardo Center Monday night. The Drops mixed solos, stories, history and comedy with their stunning and telling trip-through-time performance. Starting at 7:30 p.m., the group featured songs that span their five available albums and included clog-style dancing by the famous Green Grass Cloggers.

The majority of the audience was between the ages of 35-50, with some bringing their young children. A few students, along with faculty, were there as well. The crowd was buzzing before the event started.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops first got their start in 2005. Since then, the band saw members Dom Flemons and Leyla McCalla leave to pursue solo careers, leaving Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins to add Malcolm Parson and Rowan Corbett to the group. The band’s talent ranges from banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug and kazoo.

The Rolling Stone calls the group “revisiting, with a joyful vengeance, black string-band and jug-band music of the Twenties and Thirties,” and describes them as “dirt-floor dance electricity.”

When asked what to expect, an elderly woman and excited show-goer said “You can expect lots of rhythm. They’re very unique. They write a lot of their own music so it’s not a ‘copycat’ type thing. You’re gonna love it.”

Rhiannon Giddens, lead vocals

The Drops opened with “Pretty Little Girl with A Blue Dress On” and for the next two hours played other popular songs off their albums, such as “Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind,” “Country Girl,” “Snowden’s Jig,” and their own version of “Hit ‘Em Up Style.” The set included a spectacular performance by Rowan Corbett that showcased the sounds of the bones and Giddens blew the crowd away with a song that she sung entirely in Gaelic.

“They’ve studied a lot with traditional black music but they’ve also studied in Ireland with Gaelic and Jazz and old timey country bluegrass as well so it’s a really interesting mix,” said Amanda Allen, longtime fan of The Chocolate Drops. “I think Rhiannon has a beautiful voice. It just has this great, old, Ella Fitzgerald kind of sound, it’s beautiful.”

The Chocolate Drops are joined by The Green Grass Cloggers for a singing/clogging combo

The band had an interesting way of telling their music’s story. They kept the crowd entertained with smart jokes that didn’t go over the head of any true music historian. “I love the humor,” said Amy Newton. “It’s not just humor, it’s musical humor. [Gidden’s] voice is just outta this world.” Newton added. “She’s a one woman chorus. This is our first time hearing them and I’m blown away. They’ve got that Old Crow Medicine Show flavor in there.”

A woman in line at the merchandise table mentioned, “I’m gonna support them by buying a set of bones for my daughter. The kids love the music too. It’s a simple music, not easy, but simple. And simple is good for a little kid.”

The Drops have been making music for nearly ten years. Some in attendance were able to recall where they were as the band was making their break.

“We knew them when they were introduced by David Holt as this new band at NCAT (North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, NC, which is singer Rhiannon Gidden’s hometown) back in 2005,” said Rene’ Coward. “It was in just a little venue of about 100 people and they’ve come such a long way. I love the way they bring in the old and the new and put their spin on it.”

Hubby Jenkins (left) and Roan Corbett (right) in the middle of a "dueling bones" performance

Travelers from far and wide were in attendance at the event. Mark Finnegan is traveling through WNC from Ireland and ended up buying a CD at intermission. “I’ve never heard of them before,” said Finnegan, “but the show’s only half over and I had to pick up one of their records. Their performance is going extremely well.” Judith Gruber is from Austria and also bought an album. “They are so talented,” said Gruber. “The show is amazing.”

Overall, the audience left the auditorium feeling very happy.

For dates and times of future performances, visit The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ website here. The group also engages fans on their official Facebook page, and includes fun information such as book suggestions, other bands that they are listening to and more socially interactive activities.

Below is exclusive footage of the Carolina Chocolate Drops performance Monday night from inside the John K. Bardo Fine Arts and Performing Center: