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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Carolina Chocolate Drops find success with their version of traditional folk
Old-time goes big-time
Heavy touring almost put the band in a tailspin.
Heavy touring almost put the band in a tailspin.
Credit:Rich Gastwirt

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have hit it big with their contemporary take on old-time folk music. So big that life on the road can be discombobulating.

"I knew we were hitting it hard on the road when I wouldn't remember what room I'd be in at a hotel, just because there'd been too many in a row," says multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons. "I'd go to the lobby, say my name and ask, 'Where am I?' Or I'd wake up and think I was home, but then realize, 'Wait, no, not at home. Aw, dang!'"

Flemons punctuates this final remark with a laugh, and that's good to hear because touring has not always been a laughing matter for the band. Original member Justin Robinson left in 2011 as they were getting ready to work on their latest album, Leaving Eden -- the follow-up to their Grammy Award-winning Genuine Negro Jig -- because of the heavy touring schedule. And beatboxer Adam Matta, who came on board around that time, departed shortly thereafter because of the toll that touring took on him.

"With Justin, it wasn't much of a surprise because he never liked touring that much," Flemons says. "With Adam, he toured with us for almost a year, and then it got to be too much for him, and this is with us touring less now than we did when we really started to hit it big back in 2007."

Along with Flemons, the Carolina Chocolate Drops include singer/fiddler/five-string banjo player Rhiannon Giddens, multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins and cellist Leyla McCalla. They've sold out both of their shows at the Stoughton Opera House on April 26 and 27, which gives you an idea of their popularity. Genuine Negro Jig and Leaving Eden both peaked in the Top 150 on Billboard's Top 200 chart, with both going as high as number one on Billboard's Top Bluegrass albums chart and number two on its Heatseeker Albums chart.

Flemons acknowledges that a lot of their success has to do with good timing.

"I remember when Old Crow Medicine Show's first major-label album came out [Old Crow Medicine Show, 2004], people were excited to hear the music they were doing," Flemons says. "It wasn't current pop or rock or punk music, but they were like, 'Wow, this is great music!' And now, almost 10 years later, they're the younger demographic that's bringing this strong energy into old-time folk music that wasn't there in the earlier part of the 2000s. If we had done this in the early '90s, or even around the same time Old Crow Medicine Show came out, I don't think we'd have had the same reception or popularity we have now."

Here's hoping Flemons has many more chances to forget where he is when he wakes up on the road.

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