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Carolina Chocolate Drops provide rare, sweet treat

By Brian Baker, November 2007

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"But at the same time, it's casual. We can make the music very easily. The hardest things we've been finding culturally and personally have been trying to adjust from being a local band to being a full time band and getting the business and the taxes and the medical and whatnot together. The actual music making is easy. If you sit us down and we started playing, that's easiest part of the whole thing."

Perhaps the rise of the Carolina Chocolate Drops is signaling a paradigm shift of changing attitudes within the African American community toward a style of music that was once closely associated with the black population, but hasn't been for quite some time.

Although the Drops don't necessarily see themselves as the musical advance guard of some new cultural upheaval, they do feel as though they have some philosophical responsibilities to both black and white listeners. The trio feels the need to do some outreach within the black community to expose them to this kind of music - their school shows are just one part of this facet of paying forward the legacy they've absorbed from Thompson - and there's a similar push to make sure that all fans understand the vital importance of black musicians in the earliest development of this branch of bluegrass.

"Like anything in the black community, it's very hard to get people out," says Flemons. "Culturally, I think more black people are feeling okay to look into some of this music because they're either so far away from it contextually that it becomes a new thing to them, or they're people like us, odd ducks in their own pond, and they want to find an interest in music that's not black music per se, but just music that they enjoy."

"I think it's going to be several years before we have all black audiences or a lot of black people coming out. But we go into schools - sometimes we do all black schools, sometimes we do mixed schools - and the kids are interested. Younger kids don't care what you're playing, as long as they can enjoy it, that's fine."

"Also, socially, black music is going back to square dancing, or a lot of elements similar to square dancing, with calling and formalized dancing in groups. There's a dance called the Crank Up Soldier Boy that the kids all know. We can get volunteers up on stage, and we can get the whole auditorium to sing the 'Soldier Boy' song, and the kids know the dance. Different towns have regional differences, and it's a whole other folk culture that's growing out of hip hop culture, and I think it's going to collide at some point, when kids say, 'I can take instruments and do this.'"

And maybe it's not a black/white thing at all, merely a pendulum swing back to a simpler type of music played with mastery and love. "We're seeing people in general be more interested in acoustic and roots and old time music, whatever you want to call it; music that's more organically built," says Flemons.

"The fact that we can be a part of it is a wonderful thing. Culturally, just seeing where America's mindset and tastes are changing, and we're there. A lot of people spend a lot of time talking about how we're a young black band reviving black music. Some articles pick up on that, besides all that, we're a good band. We're not worrying about the hype catching up with us because all we've got to do is put down a solid set, and then people take away whatever they want from it."

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