Friday, June 01, 2007 ... 1:46 PM

Toward Mt. Airy

We're heading up to Surry County, at the toes of the Blue Ridge, to attend the Mt. Airy Fiddler's Convention, a hundred miles north of Charlotte on the Virginia line. This'll be my first convention, and though I'd like to have started at Galax, the region's oldest and most storied, that the Galax convention runs during the work week leaves cubicle-billies like me on the wayside.

Mt. Airy, one of four incorporated towns in Surry County, is the birthplace of Andy Griffith, and in the 1830's became the homestead of the eponymous Siamese Twins. Fourteen miles west sits the Round Peak community, home of Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, Old-Time multi-instrumentalists who figure largely on the County label's classic Clawhammer Banjo records, where they propagated a frailing technique called Round Peak style. I'd like to explain to you exactly what "Round Peak style" means, teach you how to recognize Round Peak in a crowd, but its exact shape is yet a matter of controversy among Old-Timier souls than me.

Banjo styles aside, Cockerham is best-known as a fiddle-player, who developed his style largely by imitating Fiddlin' Arthur Smith's performances on the Opry, which Cockerham in piedmont NC heard on the radio, broadcast of course from Nashville -- a fun little wrench in the ghost machine of folk authenticity. As a member of the Ruby Tonic Entertainers, hawking "rubarb salve," Cockerham played for broadcast himself, at WBT here in Charlotte, the station that hosted the Carter Family's last gig. In this story, Cockerham gives us a great image of the WBT studio environment:

"At Charlotte, the first broadcast studios were air-tight, doors went together like a money safe, and when that door went together, buddy, that is it! No ventilation, we'd come outta there many a time in summertime and roll foam off our britches with our hands."

Cockerham is dead, so he won't be fiddling tomorrow, but notably appearing at the convention are the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a self-described African-American String Band about whom I'm apparently the last person to have heard. Which is nothing new. They interest me not only because they seem to be singularly lading their important cultural mantle toward an uncertain future, but mainly because they sound so God damn good. Pulling on different overlapping traditions, from Appalachian fiddle tunes to Memphis jug band stomps to Deep South string band blues, they sound like a fiery rough-hewn load of fun. My beautiful Betsy's interest in Old-Time music hangs between marginal and purely circumstantial, but when I played her a YouTube video on the Chocolate Drops' website, after listening to about three seconds she told me, "I want to buy everything they've made."

The Chocolate Drops will play here in Charlotte in a few weeks, where we hope to catch them again. Then they're on to A Prairie Home Companion.

Also playing Charlotte this month -- Tim Easton. He'll open for the fairly bland Carrie Rodriguez, who I hope will nonetheless draw out some locals, as last year's turnout for Tim's show was flat fucking shameful. (Aside from my wife and me, maybe one other Tim fan showed up. Maybe.) Turnout aside, Tim's yearly shows at the Evening Muse have become a nice summer tradition for Betsy and me, if for no one else. I hope he keeps coming back.



You sir obviously haven't listened to, or seen - Carrie Rodriguez. She is in no way bland! She rocks and has an amazing, very musical dynamic. I saw her open for Lucinda Williams in Toronto in April and she earned a standing ovation. She started the set to a smattering of applause - because no one knew her (myself included) - it (the applause) was thundering by sets' end. After her set I got to meet her as she sold CD's and she's as sweet (and beautiful) off stage as she is on. Heard her on A Praire Home Companion two weeks back. Garrison had her do four (4) songs then a Merle Haggard duet with him! He certainly thinks, as do I - that she's a future super star! I LOVE Tim Easton too. Should be a great show. I hope he's with her up here in July... Respectfully disagreeing with you sir, Chuck

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/02/2007 4:53 AM  

Hey Boney,

Great to hear about the Choco Drops on PHC! I'll be listening in. My claim to fame is that I attended the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC where the Drops first met. I was there at the beginning, watched it happen. That was a great weekend, and it all comes rushing back when I hear, or hear of, those CCDs.

Can't wait to hear about your research into Ms. Wise. (Or anyway, to see it online. You wrote me offline about it, and I never responded. It was extremely interesting, but I am a big LLLLLoser when it comes to answering mail.) Spill the beans!

... hardwood floors? Is that a North Carolina thing, or ...



By Anonymous The Celestial Monochord, at 6/11/2007 9:50 AM  

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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


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