Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY- 4/5
Upon entering the Bowery Ballroom for the recent Carolina Chocolate Drops concert I quickly dismissed the fact that it was located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side as I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and was brought back to the barn jams I attended growing up in rural South Carolina.
The Chocolate Drops took the stage and immediately burst into the old time classic, “Black Annie” which they recorded on their first album, Dona Got A Ramblin’ Mind. As Rhiannon Giddens showed off her musical might with fiddle in hand, it became quite clear as to why the Chocolate Drops were selected to help celebrate the music of the Rolling Stones this past April at Carnegie Hall.
The group’s banter between songs covered such topics as the difficulty in finding parking in NYC to honoring the late Joe Thompson, the legendary picker who helped inspire their preservation of the old time sound. The Chocolate Drops offered up a brief history for several of their songs in an effort to preserve a tradition rooted in old time music, something that is rarely done at concerts these days. It’s a relief to know that bands such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops are acting as missionaries for genres that helped form the foundation of American culture.
The breadth and depth of the band’s musical knowledge was fully expressed over the course of their set, as they covered Tampa Red’s “Got it Fixed, ” the Haitian folk song, “Rose Marie,” and Johnny Cash’s “Jackson,” with members switching between cello, banjo, fiddle, the bones, and the rarely played minstrel’s banjo. The barn jam vibe continued throughout the night as the crowd stomped their feet and clapped along to nearly every song. They also played several songs from their most recent Grammy nominated album, Leaving Eden, including the title track, “Country Girl, and crowd favorite, “Boodle-De-Bum-Bum.”
Equal parts history lesson and passionate concert, the Carolina Chocolate Drops came to NYC and delivered a show deeply rooted in the old time roots of the Carolina piedmont. The band returned to the stage and promised that they would play all night if it were not for the two toddlers of the group already asleep backstage in the green room. The band encored with “Read ‘Em John” a slave shout song about the emancipation proclamation that had the crowd hootin’ and a hollerin’ until the very last note.