Cover Story

Carolina String Band Chatham County Line Reinvent Rock Staples

Chatham County Line has been one of North Carolina’s most prolific yet underrated string bands since emerging from the state’s Triangle region in the early 2000s. Though often pegged as a straight-forward bluegrass outfit, due to traditional instrumentation and the preference of playing around a single microphone, the group uses acoustic strings to incorporate a wide range of styles from folk and country to various eras of rock. Last month the quartet released its eighth studio album, Sharing the Covers, which, as the name suggests, pays tribute to the band’s broad influences with a full set of songs by other artists. 

Though the group has a deep cache of original music found on seven albums dating back to a 2003 self-titled debut, the band has always peppered its fleet-fingered live shows with a dynamic blend of covers. After gigs, fans have often asked where they can hear the band’s versions of Beck’s “Think I’m in Love” or John Hartford’s “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry,” so the new record was inspired by popular demand. 

“This is kind of a scrapbook of all the years that Chatham County Line put on wax for the fans,” said singer/guitarist Dave Wilson, in a statement on his band’s latest album.

In addition to interpreting the electro-rock sounds of Beck with front porch warmth, the group also lends its rich, Southern-accented harmonies to sturdy takes on Wilco’s “I Got You (At the End of the Century),” Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” 

The record, though, doesn’t just reboot the work of familiar heroes. Some of the finest moments come from less recognizable gems like Leo Kottke’s peppy folk shuffle “Bumblebee” and Alton Delmore’s mournful “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar,” which features the band members resting their usual strings in favor of a minimalist piano arrangement. 

Chatham County Line is hitting the road behind the new effort this spring and summer, performing at the Crimson Moon in Dahlonega, Ga., on May 4 and the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Va., on August 3. Of note, the band is also playing select shows in the Midwest in May with comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short in the supporting role usually occupied by another North Carolina string band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.  

Five Best Spring Fests

Festival season starts early in the South. If you’re itching to get out, check out these five essential music bashes taking place around the region this month.

High Water Festival
Charleston, S.C. – April 13-14

Hosted by Americana duo Shovels & Rope in their home city, this festival at Charleston’s Riverfront Park has quickly become a must-attend in the roots music world. In addition to sets from Leon Bridges, the Head and the Heart, Dr. Dog, and Lord Huron, the event also places focus on the coastal city’s thriving food scene, offering cuisine from the area’s award-winning chefs. HighWaterFest.com 

SweetWater 420 Festival
Atlanta, Ga. – April 19-21

Named after SweetWater Brewing Company’s flagship pale ale, this festival at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park has grown into a regional mainstay. Heading towards its 15th year, the upcoming iteration is set to feature two days of home-state heroes Widespread Panic, along with the Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and Rebelution. If you want to work up a sweat before the tunes and brews, sign up for the 420 Fest 5K on Saturday. SweetWater420fest.com

Merlefest
Wilkesboro, N.C. – April 25-28

Merlefest is one of the country’s preeminent Americana festivals, started by late icon Doc Watson to honor his son and fellow musician Merle, who predeceased him. An estimated 80,000 people flock to the campus of Wilkes Community College for a huge line-up of artists that blur the lines between country, blues, bluegrass, and rock. This year’s roster features the Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Tyler Childers, and Wynonna & the Big Noise. Merlefest.org 

Tuck Fest
Charlotte, N.C. – April 25-28

Tuck Fest is becoming a huge party that mixes an impressive music line-up with more than 35 outdoor competitions, including options for running, kayaking, biking, climbing, stand-up paddleboarding, and adventure racing. Last year around 55,000 people came to the scenic property of the U.S. National Whitewater Center over the course of the four-day event to get dirty, check out an array of gear booths, and dance to a stout roster of bands. This year, in addition to running a night trail race, showing off your freestyle boater skills, and entering a bouldering comp, you can check out sets by Tyler Childers, Marcus King Band, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, and J. Roddy Walston and the Business. TuckFest.usnwc.org

Charm City Bluegrass
Baltimore, Md. – April 26-27

Baltimore has a rich history with bluegrass, dating back to the mid 20th century when Appalachian migrants moved to the city looking for industrial work with instruments in tow. That legacy is celebrated at the annual Charm City Bluegrass Festival, which will take place for the seventh straight year at Druid Hill Park. The festival features acts that respect tradition but also favor a progressive edge; this year it’s hosting Steep Canyon Rangers, Seldom Scene, and Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. Even more out of bounds, sets from country-punk outfit Deer Tick and jam band the Bridge. CharmCityBluegrass.com