The Hiram Rapids Stumblers & Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, 3.10.10

The first thing to stop me short after entering the Beachland Ballroom Wednesday night was the rows of chairs. The second thing was all the grayhairs who were sitting in those chairs. And they all seemed to know each other. I began to wonder if I’d missed news of a venue change or had somehow arrived on the wrong night. It was only when the Hiram Rapids Stumblers took the stage that I was sure I was at the right place at the right time.

The Hiram Rapids Stumblers setlist
I totally dropped the ball on this one. Here are the songs I’m sure they did:
Hop On Lula
Baltimore Fire

Yeah. I know they did an Uncle Dave Macon song concerning a mule and a semi-original composition that set a Langston Hughes poem to music, and there were a couple of tunes about gals with similar names (Susannah and Susie Anna?), but that’s as detailed as I can get. If anyone can help me fill out the information there, just drop me a line.

The Stumblers are a decent band – a downhome string band whom I suspect were toting moonshine in that shiny, little flask that sat in front of Scott Huge – but they seemed to be suffering from a slight lack of confidence. Perhaps, like me, they were put a little off kilter by the audience composition for the night. They did manage to build up a good head of steam for “Hop On Lula” and the little story about Scott riding a mule backwards while naked in the middle of the night was more along the lines of what I was expecting from this bunch. I’d like to see these guys again in a more intimate setting, perhaps with more liquid courage involved.

Carolina Chocolate Drops setlist
Trouble in Your Mind
Cindy Gal
Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine
Will Adams Breakdown
Two-time Loser
Sandy Boys
Peace Behind the Bridge
There’s a Brown Skin Girl Down the Road Somewhere (adapted by Flemons for harmonica)
Lights in the Valley
Black Annie
Snowden’s Jig (Genuine Negro Jig)
Cornbread and Butterbeans
Hit ‘Em Up Style
Sourwood Mountain
Travelin’ Shoes [encore]

Introduced by a vibrant woman (whose name I have shamefullly forgotten) from the Roots of American Music organization who met Carolina Chocolate Drops at that fateful Black Banjo Gathering where the seeds for the formation of the band were first planted, it was clear from the start that CCDs were there to entertain and educate. With Dom Flemons as the Performer, Rhiannon Giddens as the Mouthpiece (with a strong touch of the Performer) and Justin Robinson as the Quiet One, CCDs tore through a set heavy with songs from their new album, Genuine Negro Jig, and sprinkled with stories of where the songs came from and how CCDs came to the songs. It didn’t take long until everyone in the place, including (especially?) the comfortably-seated grayhairs, were whooping and hollering their appreciation. While CCDs don’t change up the songs they play much between album and stage, hearing those songs played live brings a whole different dimension, and the energy of the band is inarguable. Robinson spends most of the show standing while Flemons and Giddens are seated, but there is no shortage of motion from those chairs, Flemons windmilling his dobro and double-foot stomping (causing his stylish hat to fall off more than once, prompting someone behind me to comment that he needed a “hat roadie”) and Giddens chair-dancing. They engage the audience immediately with a warm and friendly rapport and build on that rapport with songs spanning genres from traditional string-band music to blues to R&B; to the gorgeous three-part harmony of the a capella show-closer.

With an education-minded band like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, you even get book recommendations. I have added to my to-read list Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem by Howard L. Sacks, which tells the story of the Snowden family of Mount Vernon, Ohio, whom, it is argued, taught the Confederate-minded tune “Dixie” to the historically-accepted composer of the song, Dan Emmett. As you can gather, “Genuine Negro Jig” was also a Snowden family song.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops will be coming back around in May for the Oberlin Folk Festival at Oberlin College (where Giddens went to school), and NTSIB greatly encourages all you NEOers to make the drive out to see them.

Carolina Chocolate Drops Official Website
The Hiram Rapids Stumblers MySpace
Roots of American Music
Music Maker Relief Foundation