With over 100 artists performing at Bonnaroo 2014, it’s impossible to know all of them. While most people are familiar with marquee acts like Elton John or Lionel Richie, there are bound to be some artists farther down the lineup that even the most ardent music fan doesn’t know. But one of the great pleasures of a huge festival like Bonnaroo is exploring and finding bands you never heard of who become permanent fixtures on your playlist. Between now and the lineup release we will be featuring some of what we consider the best hidden gems on the Bonnaroo 2014 lineup and a list of starter songs to get a feel for the band.
Our first featured band is the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This North Carolina-based quartet are Bonnaroo veterans, having played at Bonnaroo 2010. Their unique mix of traditional African American string band tunes, modern Americana pieces, and even some elements of pop and beat box have brought them a lot of critical acclaim and their high energy live shows have made them festival favorites.
Here are 5 songs from Carolina Chocolate Drops to give you a feel for their musical diversity:
Hit ‘Em Up Style
Arguably Carolina Chocolate Drops’ most well-known tune, this string cover of Blu Cantrell’s r&b pop hit took the Americana music scene by form. Featuring fiddle, banjo, and beat box, it is one of the most complete transformations of a cover song ever. The success of this song was in large part responsible for Carolina Chocolate Drops collecting a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for 2010’s “Genuine Negro Jig.”
Cornbread and Butterbeans
Carolina Chocolate Drops formed from their mutual love of the African American string band tradition, so it’s no surprise that their albums include a fair number of traditionals such as “Cornbread and Butterbeans.” This song shows off the band’s multi-instrumental talents, including jug and bones.
When 2012’s Buddy Miller-produced “Leaving Eden” was released, it saw Carolina Chocolate Drops relying less on covers and traditionals and spending more time on their original songwriting. The first, and most successful, single from the album was this original song from vocalist Rhiannon Giddens. While the song is new, it retains the feel of the traditional string band songs that formed the group, adding a new chapter to that old legacy.
The title track off Carolina Chocolate Drops’ newest album is a cover of Laurelyn Dossett’s “Leaving Eden.” While the song, about a family leaving their home due to a lack of work, sounds like a ballad from the Great Depression, but also fits very well with the current economic conditions. Carolina Chocolate Drops isn’t a political band, but this song certainly makes a social statement.
In addition to being a talented multi-instrumentalist, Rhiannon Giddens is also a trained opera singer. On occasion, she truly shows that she has one of the best voices in music today. Such is the case with her a cappella rendition of the traditional English ballad “Reynadine” from 2010’s “Genuine Negro Jig.”