Continuing with my series about Black contributions to music, I am highlighting a genre especially important to those of us who are Southerners: bluegrass. This genre of music is another that is often dominated by White men, but it has been influenced by Black musicians who are typically not recognized for their achievements.
Many features of Appalachian bluegrass were influenced by or originated from African musical traditions, brought to America by African slaves. A key feature of bluegrass music is its instrumentation, including the fiddle, banjo, guitar, and more. The four-stringed banjo actually originated in Africa, most likely West Africa. In the 18th century the banjo and music inspired with themes of freedom and religion contributed to the spread of African-American music like gospels and spirituals, which was especially influential to the sound of music in the South. Black people in America were the first to learn and perform with the banjo. Another facet of bluegrass, “thumbpicking” or “thumb style” of guitar, popular in the bluegrass genre, is credited to Black instrumentalist Arnold Schultz. Schultz influenced both the bluegrass genre and many white guitarists. Another influence to bluegrass is the vocal tradition and tunes. Much of the powerful, emotive lyricism and vocal traits originate from African musical influence, and the dance tunes famous in bluegrass are very similar to those of the African musical tradition. There are also many European contributions to the genre, but the African, particularly West African, influences on bluegrass are just as essential.
Bluegrass is such a unique genre of music and is especially important for Southerners and the Appalachian region. It’s important to recognize its roots and the incredible influence of Black musicians and African musical traditions which have shaped the genre.
To further your understanding, check out these quintessential Black bluegrass artists: Joe Thompson, Victor Wooten, Kaia Kater, and Rhiannon Giddens.
Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance takes place October 6-9 in the beautiful Chatham County, NC. Shakori Hills features 50 bands on 4 stages across 4 days, with genres varying from indie to bluegrass, and indie to electronic. This is a family friendly event that not only includes live music, but crafts, food/art vendors, dance & music workshops, and sustainability education.
More information on the festival can be found here.
Old Crow Medicine Show along with special guests, Shovels & Rope, will be coming to the Red Hat Amphitheatre on August 20th. WKNC will be giving away tickets for the show until Tuesday, August 19th. All you have to do is be the correct caller when the DJ asks for it and you could win yourself a night of great music. So don’t miss this golden opportunity! All of your friends will think you are so cool once you tell them you won free tickets from WKNC. That girl/guy will be highly impressed by your resourcefulness and finally agree to go out on a date with you. Basically, these tickets will change your life.
Old Crow Medicine Show is a bluegrass/americana band from Harrisonburg Virginia. They were discovered by bluegrass legend Doc Watson while the band was performing out on the streets of Boone, North Carolina. The band brings a classic, folk rock sound to the table that warms your heart and makes ya’ feel rightcha at home in ol’e North Caka-Laka. Old Crow Medicine Show makes me think of what southern country music should sound like. Plenty of harmonica solos, lots of banjo pickin’, a big upright bass, and overall great tunes. Even if you don’t like americana music, it’s hard not to like Old Crow Medicine Show’s sound. And with songs like “Down Home Girl” and “Caroline” you can’t help but admire the musical talent behind the music. But you know what they say, “Americana sound’s best when heard live”. I think that’s an ancient chinese proverb. Maybe not. But who knows, right? What is for certain is that you won’t regret a night with Old Crow Medicine Show!
(P.S. If you’ve gone to any NC State sponsored/related event you’ve probably heard Old Crow Medicine Show’s song Wagon Wheel “heeeeeeeeey mama rock me”)
Shovels & Rope is an Americana duo from Charleston, South Carolina. Their music is filled with mellifluous vocal harmonies, palpitating drums, and dulcet acoustic guitars. A little less bluegrass than Old Crow Medicine Show but still an excellent example of southern americana rock. Check out their song Birmingham to hear a great example of my (fancily worded) description for the band.
So be on the listen for DJs giving away these tickets all week!
I had high hopes for the Drumstrong Rhythm & Arts Festival this past weekend, and it most definitely did not disappoint. Right from the get go, the music was solid. Starting off running with Modern Primitives on Friday afternoon, and ending with Dom Flemmons Sunday night, everyone’s musical pallets should have been whetted. From indie to bluegrass to electronic and nearly everything in between, Drumstrong definitely covered their bases with this lineup. The shortest setlist award goes to The Mantras, whose 30+ minute jam on Saturday definitely got the crowd’s interest. HRVRD’s creative use of looping and vocal effects was a crowd favorite on Friday night, and Railroad Earth blew the non-existent roof off the festival during their Saturday night headline slot. There were plenty of bands local to the triangle that showed up as well. Lost in the Trees, American Aquarium, Chatham County Line, and The Love Language just to name a few.
Not only was the music fantastic, but the artists and vendors had something to offer people of every taste. Including talented painters like Sarah Goodyear, and even handmade drum vendors, the amount and quality of local crafts was extremely high. Sponsorship from PBR and Starr Hill Brewery in addition to multiple food trucks from the Charlotte area meant that refreshments were of quality and in high supply. All of these elements, along with the pleasant location of Misty Meadows farm set a great backdrop to a great festival that offered much more than great music.
Then there was the drum circle. Starting off at about 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, a huge crowd gathered underneath the tent with drums, tambourines, cowbells, and five gallon buckets in hand. For the next 24 hours, everyone drummed non-stop while the entire event was broadcast worldwide. As people got tired, and as hands got blistered, people would switch off and take breaks. However, there were always a few people always willing to drum through the night, and into the early morning. Catching up on Sunday afternoon, we were able to witness the culmination of this year’s efforts, into an almost deafening roar of percussion as the clock counted down to zero. When the 24 hour mark was reached everyone stopped in unison, which left a strange silence after the constant pulse that had been present. I think that it’s safe to say that this year’s Drumstrong Rhythm & Arts Festival was a big success, and here’s hoping to an even bigger weekend next year.
– Ben Goodson
The Main Stage at Drumstrong
I spent this past weekend at the Drumstrong Rhythm and Arts Festival. Upon arriving at the festival grounds, I was surprised at how big the stage setup was. There were huge banners in front of the speaker stacks, ample stage lights, and huge soundboards. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect music-wise, having only heard a few songs by the artists on the bill, but I heard a lot of good music that weekend. Here’s a rundown of some of my favorite acts that played.
Jesse Clasen of HRVRD
The first band that threw me for a loop was the Friday night headliner, HRVRD. They’re a Charlotte-based band that plays a darker style of indie rock and alludes to post-hardcore at times (thinking of Circa Survive). The bassist and drummer did a fantastic job of holding down the mood of their songs. Meanwhile, the lead guitarist laid down some gloomy-sounding chords. Awesome set from these guys.
Miami Dice throwing it down
Miami Dice is an electro-pop group that makes reference to the 80’s in both style and sound. They somewhat remind me of CFCF, a band I remember enjoying quite a lot in past years. Miami Dice’s slightly odd stage act is worth mentioning. They come fully equipped with blazers, Ray-bans, and backup dancers. They played a very danceable set on Friday night, and I’m interested in seeing what they’ll do in the future.
Futurebirds are a laid-back country rock band off of Fat Possum Records. Their extended song lengths give ample time for vibing out, and it’s hard for me to not imagine their practice space being a big barn somewhere in rural Georgia.
Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line
Chatham County Line are a renowned bluegrass outfit from the Triangle region. Their set Saturday did not disappoint, and it’s clear that they were some of the most skilled musicians at the whole festival. They just released their sixth album this week, entitled “Tightrope”, off of Yep Roc Records.
Joe Pug Trio
Joe Pug is a singer-songwriter currently based out of Austin, TX, and the guy knows his way around a folk song. The first song he played Sunday was “Hymn #35”, a contemplative tune that comes off like a riddle. From that moment I knew I was going to enjoy his set. His music has themes of vagrancy and regret, and his narrative lyric style is reminiscent of Bob Dylan. Pug has also stated literary influences of John Steinbeck and Walt Witman. Definitely check this guy out if you’re looking for some good folk.
I look forward to seeing what the guys over at Drumstrong have in store for next year!
Imagine seeing Vassar Clements, John Kahn, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Tony Rice…. The Steep Canyon Rangers match the virtuosity of said musicians. The Rangers primed their music careers pickin’ and a-grinnin’ on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, where they frequently played bars on Franklin Street and fraternity houses. Now… Carnegie Hall!!! This is HUGE!
The Rangers played February 26 at the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Raleigh. Having attended this show and previous shows of theirs, one interesting observation to point out while attending a Rangers concert is the crowd dynamics. Ages range from 21 all the way up to 65. There are fraternity brothers and middle age women. Finally you have static dancers (people who wish to do the dancing in their heads) and full out flat footers!! So, if one were not to enjoy bluegrass music (God forbid), a Rangers concert is a great venue for people watching. Once again, the band proved to provide another entertaining show, picking fast songs, huddling round a central mic, and getting the crowd to make bird calls! The Steep Canyon Rangers will return to the Triangle area on May 21 with Steve Martin. This tour is promoting the album, “The Rare Bird Alert” that awaits release on March 15! It is a collaborative album created by the Rangers and Martin. So keep your ears and eyes open for this, and keep on ‘a pickin’ and a grinnin’, y’all!