by Kevin Crowe
The guys in Chatham County Line began their musical lives as roots rockers before they headed down the path of traditional bluegrass. Dave Wilson (guitar, harmonica and vox) could be found playing in a rootsy rock band called Stillhouse when he first met up with John Teer (fiddle, mandolin and vox) and Chandler Holt (banjo), both of whom were immediately impressed with Wilson's originality and enthusiasm. They were complimentary, saying that his music â“didn't suck.â” After a few beers and a couple of impromptu jam sessions, a new band seemed inevitable.
â“I came into it through the Jerry Garcia connection,â” Wilson says of his slow capitulation into bluegrass orthodoxy. â“I got into the sound and over the years began to delve a little deeper into the roots of bluegrass, to find out where it came from.â”
Maybe the most remarkable thing about bluegrass is its ongoing sameness. There hasn't been too much innovation of the Appalachian sound since front porch concerts first gave mountain folk a musical escape from life's hardships, and Chatham County Line taps into Appalachia nostalgia, in a sense, doing its best to keep the sameness flowing. At the same time, even though these 'grassy tunes have the heart of, say, Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers, there's a streak of rebellionâ"it's subtle, almost like a sleight of handâ"pushing their peculiar breed of twang as far out as they could without losing too much authenticity.
On their sophomore release, Route 23 , the Chatham County Line sound began to mature into something all its own. There are still the traditional ballads, such as â“Nowhere to Sleep.â” Obviously influenced by J.D. Crowe and the New South, these guys have taken an arrangement that's eerily similar to â“Old Home Place,â” adding new lyrics and a mandolin solo to create a nice number about the perils of ramblin'. When the music doesn't focus on rambling men, sultry Southern gals are in the limelight. Not much has changed over the years, because people are still people and we still have the same problems.
â“We play traditional music,â” Wilson goes on, â“but we can't erase all the music that's been created over the last 60 years. We can't be a time machine bandâ. We can't pretend it's still the 1940s.â”
Wilson and company had originally toyed with the notion of only playing the most austere bluegrass imaginable, but at the end of the day, the need to experiment began to seep into their songwriting.
â“We had a lot of homework. We didn't grow up with this music,â” Wilson says. â“Let's just use what we have and make something new out of it.
â“We definitely have a lot of energy. You see a lot of bluegrass bands, and they just sit there while their hands go a thousand miles per hour. I can't sit still when I'm playing music.â”
On June 16, Chatham County Line will be heading across the pond for a second time, to play a few gigs through Holland and Belgium. â“The average music fan in Europe will know more about our musical heritage than we do,â” Wilson says.
Last time they were in Europe, Jonas Fjeld, a Norwegian musician and sound engineer, recorded four Chatham County Line shows. The CD, entitled AmerikabesÃk , has all but sold out, and has enjoyed rave reviews. Just goes to show, there's something about the sound that transcends time and even geography. Wilson and company call it â“new traditionalism,â” a new kind of authenticity. It's a little different than their bluegrass idols, but the same sentiment is there.
â“I think it's the instrumentation and the feeling that's been passed down. It brings a sense of family,â” Wilson explains. â“I think deep down all people wish that they sat around and played music.
â“Anytime we're together, we'll go out and play.â” Once, while in New York City, they headed out to Times Square for some old fashioned busking. â“Actually,â” Wilson admits, â“we just drank a bunch of sangria and goofed off.â”
WHO: Chatham County Line WHEN: Thursday, May 31, 10 p.m. WHERE: Barley's Taproom
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