Carolina Chocolate Drops at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse


The Carolina Chocolate Drops visited Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on Friday, December 6th, 2013 as part of their Winter 2013 tour. Most runs by the band are must-see entertainment, but this tour in particular should be of interest. Founding member, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons will be leaving the band to pursue a solo career beginning in 2014.

Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens started the Carolina Chocolate Drops together in 2005. Hubby Jenkins later joined in 2011, solidifying the line-up that has been going strong for nearly three years. Over several albums, the band introduced a new audience to old-time, fiddle and banjo-based music, earning a Grammy along the way for 2010’s Genuine Negro Jig.

The band greeted the sold-out crowd with the rollicking “Black Annie” from 2006’s Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind. “Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind” followed and the night kicked off in stellar fashion. Flemons then took a moment to introduce Malcom Parson, cellist and new full-time member of the band, and mentioned former regular guest Leyla McCalla’s newfound success as a solo artist in France. Quite a bit had changed since the band’s last performance in Atlanta over the summer, but the level of entertainment never fades with the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Appreciation for the audience and the support the band receives in the South was a point made consistently throughout the evening, and the crowd was delighted to receive the music. A young lady standing near me during the show was particularly impressed with Rhiannon Giddens, ooing and ahing at her every move. This must have been the patrons first time seeing the Carolina Chocolate Drops, as she nearly passed out during “Country Girl.” Giddens is a beautiful talent and not too hard on the eyes, either. She polled the audience at one point, asking if they wanted “a waltz or something uptempo and sassy.” The audience strongly favored the latter  and a riotous “No Man’s Mama” delivered as promised.

The traditional “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” received one of the most spirited audience responses of the evening, before the band stepped aside and let Flemons perform an intimate solo number. Giddens then joined in for “Wayward Girl Blues.” It was a nice treat to have the founding couple to ourselves for a few moments. “Jackson,” the band’s contribution to We Walk The Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash, and the popular original “Hit ‘Em Up Style” were standouts from an all around great evening of music.

Before closing the set with “Sourwood Mountain,” Dom took a moment to address the elephant in the room. His wavering voice indicated that his departure wasn’t an easy decision. Giddens in particular had a certain nervous emotion throughout the evening, her expression looking most troubled during Flemons’ address. Still, as the band closed out the evening with the aforementioned tune and encored with “Read ’em John,” spirits were high and there wasn’t a set of hands that weren’t applauding the evening and showing appreciation at the end of a chapter.

As happy as I was to have had the chance to see Flemons, Giddens and Jenkins one more time before Dom’s exit, the highlight of the evening for me occurred prior to the show. Arriving a bit late to the Variety Playhouse, the parking lot was full of cars but devoid of any people except for one. As I was walking to the venue I noticed an individual sitting on the trunk of a car pickin’ a banjo. As I approached I realized I was catching what would be my first of hopefully many Dom Flemons’ solo performances. I asked if I could snap a photo to humble approval and stayed for a few bars to enjoy the moment.

As Flemons said in his address, “the message and the story” told by the band “still needs to be told and is far more important than one person.” I’m certain that Giddens and Jenkins will continue on in a manner that will make Flemons proud and can’t wait to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops when they bring their new friends to town.

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Need an introduction to the Carolina Chocolate Drops? Check out our “ Recommends – Carolina Chocolate Drops” feature complete with a brief fact sheet, recommended tracks, and Spotify playlist. The playlist immediately below is a partial setlist from the 12/6/2013 Variety Playhouse concert, pieced together on Spotify.

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