A Foot-Stomping Night of Old-Timey Music

March 15th, 2010

Carolina Chocolate Drops – The Bowery Ballroom – March 14, 2010

(Photo: Bruce Deboer)

(Photo: Bruce Deboer)

It was another one of those crazy-weather weekends, so that by Sunday evening you could be forgiven for thinking The Bowery Ballroom had been lifted clean out of the Lower East Side, Dorothy-and-Toto style, and placed in some bizarro world where irony hadn’t yet been invented, iPhones are irrelevant and old-timey music is just plain old music. The journey to this place was provided by Carolina Chocolate Drops—the multitalented trio of Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson—who played a grin-inducing pre-bluegrass hill music: banjo, jug band, fife-and-drum, blues, gospel and the like. This wasn’t influenced by anything. No, this was the real deal. In fact, until they mentioned their Web site at the end of their barn-burning set, I wasn’t 100 percent sure I hadn’t been sucked back in time.

Carolina Chocolate Drops opened with “Starry Crown” and immediately the crowd was theirs. The sound was gloriously imprecise, like they were not only recreating the music they had learned from old records, but also the scratches and clicks the records are riddled with. The effect was intoxicating, as the energy provided by banjo, fiddle, resonator guitar, hand percussion, jug and the like prompted hoots, hollers and plenty of foot stomping from the crowd. Often, the spirit would overtake Giddens and she’d hop out of her wooden chair to flat-foot around the stage.

The set was a folk-art patchwork of unearthed 100-year-old numbers sprinkled with originals, sing-alongs, instruments being passed around, history lessons and self-deprecating humor. The band slowed things down a couple of times, including a wonderful “Genuine Negro Jig,” the title track from their newest album, but mostly it was an infectiously good time. The Chocolate Drops turned a full Bowery Ballroom into a cozy barn dance down in Carolina with the magic of a music that will last at least one more generation. —A. Stein