Thursday and Friday could be the Carolina Chocolate Drops' final concerts in Knoxville with founding member Dom Flemons, who is leaving the group to pursue a solo career.
(WBIR - Downtown Knoxville) The Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops returned to Knoxville on Thursday to prepare for two consecutive nights of music at the Bijou Theatre.
WBIR aired a story by 10 News reporter Jim Matheny in February 2013 about the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the band's link to the historical legacy of a black East Tennessee musician named Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong.
Matheny was able to reunite with a couple of founding members of the group, Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens, for a quick interview Thursday afternoon. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Matheny: A lot of people around here know your music. You've made several stops in Knoxville through the years. For someone who has not seen you perform, give a quick "101" about what somebody is going to get if they come see the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Flemons: They're going to hear a lot of different types of early-American music. We'll have some old-time fiddling banjo music, blues, jazz, country music, and some things in between that stretch the boundaries of old-time American music.
Giddens: The main aim of our band is to entertain and educate through the medium of early-American music.
Matheny: Every member of your group, you all have a lot of individual talents and you all play multiple instruments. But this guy (Flemons) in particular, has decided to take his individual talents and go solo. So these next couple of nights, is this going to be the last time Dom is going to be here with the Carolina Chocolate Drops in Knoxville?
Giddens: Who knows what the future holds? But for this run, yeah, this is I guess do we call it the farewell tour? That sounds so final. But it is the "farewell for now" tour. Dom does so many different things and plays so many different instruments. I know he is kind of eager to get out there and show the world what he can do.
Matheny: Dom, why do you want to go solo?
Flemons: Like Rhiannon said, I've got a lot of things I do on my own. I want to strike out and do those and go places the Chocolate Drops can't take me. But at the same time, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are a very powerful entity in the musical community. I felt that instead of trying to disband the group, I just wanted to take myself out of the picture so the Carolina Chocolate Drops can continue to go on because it is very important. That's something Rhiannon and I talked about very early on, is to keep the music going in spite of any individual. The Carolina Chocolate Drops has always been a collection of individuals instead of just a regular band.
Matheny: What has it been like playing these last few shows where you know this is going to be a 'swan song,' at least for now?
Giddens: It is bitter-sweet. Dom and I have been playing together for eight years. He has been at my right-side the whole time and we know how to play really well together and have all of our stage-banter. You do think, "Oh, gosh. This has been a really great run." But we are totally dedicated in supporting each other in how the next year happens and we're both looking forward to the change that is going to come next year at the same time.
Matheny: We hear from a lot of musicians, including from you in the past, who comment on how much they like playing at the Bijou. As a performer, what is it about the Bijou that you enjoy?
Flemons: There's nothing like playing in a 100-year-old theater to really get you inspired. You get to see just the design and the sound acoustics from so many years ago for entertainment. It is a great thing playing this old time music in a really classy theater like the Bijou Theatre, there's a feeling that is hard to describe but it is beautiful.
Giddens: The nice thing for a dance band like us is while it is a seated theater, the audience that comes here gives it a feeling that's like a dance hall. Even though everybody is sitting down, the energy they give us is huge. That really makes a big difference for a band like us because we take the energy and roll it back out there, so we always love that about coming here.
Matheny: The last time you were in Knoxville was December of last year. The Christmas Parade was going on and I think you (Giddens) may have been one of the floats because you were about nine months pregnant.
Giddens: (laughs) I was not that big, but I felt that big!
Matheny: You know I'm just kidding with you. You look wonderful now and you looked beautiful back then, as well. I mention it because, really quick, tell the story about them hearing all of this rip-roaring music in the womb. What does this music do to your children?
Giddens: It makes them go to sleep (laughs). Particularly my daughter, who I was playing banjo when I was pregnant with her. Whenever she was crying in the car, we could just put on some hard-hitting Kentucky banjo music and she would just [immediately fall asleep]. It was like clockwork and was just magical.
Matheny: Obviously, you're not going to be putting anyone to sleep the next couple of nights at the Bijou. Thank you so much for being here. It is always a wonderful show. Dom, we hope you enjoy your final trip to Knoxville as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, at least for the foreseeable future.