Less than an hour’s drive from my home is the community of Hyltons, Virginia. Nestled in the rolling hills of Scott County, Hyltons is most famous for being home to The Carter Family, perhaps the most iconic family in the history of old time and country music. At the heart of The Carter Family sound were the vocal harmonies shared by Maybelle Carter and her sister-in-law, Sara Carter.
I once read an article that mentioned there were no better harmonies than those created by family bands. I had a hard time disagreeing with the author. Appalachian music is brimming with family acts whose harmony work was beyond compare, and Maybelle and Sara set the gold standard for female vocal harmony. It’s a standard most difficult to attain.
While not a family band, Locust Honey String Band does a mighty fine job with female harmonies on their latest record, Never Let Me Cross Your Mind. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Locust Honey String Band consists of Chloe Edmonstone, Meredith Watson, and Hilary Hawke. Drawing from the old time customs of bands like The Carter Family, along with blues and old country, Locust Honey String Band continues the grand tradition of Appalachian string band music.
Trail Mix recently caught up with the band during their trip out west to chat about the traditions of old time music, the importance of passing along the folk traditions to younger generations, and mountain dancing.
BRO – Do you support spontaneous outbursts of clogging or flatfooting at your shows?
LH – Do we ever! Typically, we support all kinds of spontaneous outbursts, but especially clogging and flatfooting. Chloe’s mom was a Greengrass Clogger in the seventies, so, in a way, Chloe’s love of old time wouldn’t exist without percussive dance, and neither would Locust Honey.
BRO – Favorite artist out there touring right now that is really nailing that old time sound?
LH – To be honest, there isn’t a lot of “touring” in the old time world. While we’re definitely rooted in old time, our typical set consists of a lot of original songs, old country, even blues. We scatter old time tunes in there, definitely, but we would never play an entire night just those tunes unless we were playing for a dance. One of the great things about old time, actually, is that it is so much more about getting together and playing for enjoyment than it is about performing. There have always been fiddle competitions and dances, of course, but, if you were to gather every note of this music that had ever been played, I’d bet about 99% of them would have come from a bunch of people circled up knee to knee.
BRO – Each member of the band, in some form or fashion, is involved in teaching. Why is it important to you three to pass along your respective knowledge in dance, music, and theater?
LH – First off, we all teach because we love teaching. It balances out a life of performing really nicely to get to spend regular time with some fresh faced, eager kids who are totally open. It also keeps the music in perspective. This is traditional music. It’s based on tradition. And tradition can’t exist without being passed through generations.
BRO – We are featuring “When The Whiskey’s Gone” in this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
LH – Well, a lot of Chloe’s songs have complicated chord structures and crooked arrangements, so when she sat down to write this one, she deliberately went for a classic country composition. With that came the ongoing theme of musicians drinking too much, or putting drink before love, responsibility, and family. Unfortunately, that’s a constant theme because it’s true. She drew from some past experiences of having close friends and loved ones that struggled with that problem.
BRO – If you were to pull just one tune from the old time canon that epitomizes the sound and spirit of the music, what would it be?
LH – That’s honestly impossible. When these tunes were developing, people couldn’t move around and mingle the way we can now. Regions were geographically isolated from one another, so each region developed a different kind of musical dialect. We happen to be drawn to a lot of Georgia, West Virginia, and Round Peak tunes, but that’s not because they’re any better than, say, Midwestern tunes. Every style is worth delving into and studying. If there was one tune or song in this world that truly said everything there was to be said, then we all may as well throw our hands up and walk away. So thank goodness there isn’t!
Locust Honey String Band just wrapped up a run of dates in Colorado and are now heading for California, where they play San Francisco, San Rafael, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura over the next week. After that, the band is off to Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico before they had back east.
For more information on Locust Honey String Band, how to get your hands on the new record, or when the band might be hitting your town, surf over to www.locusthoney.com.