Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Minnesota Zoo, 8/27/10

Categories: Last Night
Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Carolina Chocolate Drops with Roma di Luna
August 27, 2010
Minnesota Zoo Weesner Amphitheater

There was something appropriate about the hot, sweaty, and swarming atmosphere that the audience swam through to listen to Carolina Chocolate Drops' swampy string band music at the Minnesota Zoo Friday night.  As stage techs pushed citronella candles toward the center of the stage and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens doused herself in bug spray, the trio stomped their way through some incredible and lively old folk tunes that had more than a few folks on their feet for the entire set.

The band sticks to the bare essentials, in terms of instrumentation: with only a few microphones to amplify them, the three players traded off on banjo, jug, guitar, fiddle, snare drum, and the all-mighty kazoo, which Giddens played with such soulfulness that it sounded more like a miniature trumpet sounding off in the night. The result was anything but pared-down, and the sparse acoustic instrumentation gave their performance an intimacy and immediacy that could be felt from anywhere in the packed amphitheater.

Band leader Dom Flemens stopped several times in the evening to pay homage to their musical mentors, including a local that he had had coffee with earlier that day. "I went to Ginkgo's with Tony Glover this afternoon," Flemens said, citing Koerner, Ray, and Glover's work as an early influence. "He's a great dude."

Photos by Stacy Schwartz
The band seemed genuinely pleased with the crowd, with Flemens calling Minnesotans "rambunctious people" and joking that "this is where the west wasn't won -- it's where it's still fighting." Though many in the upper rows remained seated, quite a few folks rushed down to the front of the stage to dance to the music, including a pair of adorable two-year-olds who bounced up and down during "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine."

Openers Roma di Luna brought a more lush, amplified arrangement to the Zoo, and their powerful set showcased Channy Moon Casselle's increasingly controlled and soulful voice. Casselle dedicated a newer song to her husband Alexei about "how hard it is to be married," a sad, sweeping ballad of struggle and devotion, and it kept the audience mesmerized from beginning to end -- a difficult feat for any opening act.

Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Critics' bias: Wasn't sure what to expect, quite honestly, but left happily surprised by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
The crowd: A bit suburban and reserved at first, but up for dancing after a glass of wine.
Overheard in the crowd: "Is that a bat swooping around on stage?"
Random notebook dump: Best kazoo solo ever!

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