The versatility has started to attract a wide range of audiences. The band is now finding itself embraced at rowdy rock clubs and bashes like Bonnaroo, as well as mellow folk festivals and ornate theatres. The members aren’t shy in admitting they specifically want to expose young, African-American audiences to the sounds of their past.
“In the past five years the interest in folk and old-time music has grown tremendously,” says Flemons. “We came in wanting to create awareness about the music and perform it. When we first started playing together, the old guard was still firmly placed, but now it feels like a lot more young people are getting involved in the music. This year we’ve been trying to reach out to a broader audience, especially as the idea of mainstream music continues to change. As black musicians, we also always try to reach out to the black community. We want to show them that they historically have a claim on string band music.”
This year the band will continue to tour rigorously with a notable regional appearance set for FloydFest in July. In addition to cutting a new album, they’re also working on a show with Chicago’s venerable Old Town School of Folk on the roots of black vaudeville.
“There’s plenty of territory that we haven’t even tapped into yet,” Flemons says. “We’ve barely scratched the surface, and there are so many places we can still go. The possibilities are really endless.”
Hear a track from the latest album in this month’s Trail Mix.
Hear the Drops Since forming in 2005, the Carolina Chocolate Drops have released three albums and a limited-release live album, and contributed music to the soundtrack of the film The Great Debaters.
Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind (2006)
The band’s independently released, critically hailed debut features the young group finding their collective voice on a series of raw rural country and blues traditionals like the title track and “Ol’ Corn Likker.” One of the best parts is Rhiannon Giddens’ acapella reading of “Little Margaret.”
The Chocolate Drops get into more familiar string band and jug band tunes with takes on old staples like “Sittin’ On Top of the World” and “Real Old Mountain Dew.”
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson (2009)
This live album captures the band performing with Piedmont string band mentor Joe Thompson at Merlefest. It’s available on the band’s website carolinachocolatedrops.com.
Genuine Negro Jig (2010)
The group’s Nonesuch records debut featured production help from songwriter Joe Henry (Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke). The band embraces a modern edge by mixing traditionals like “Snowden’s Jig” and “Cindy Gal” with string band-style interpretations of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”