The Electric Holiday Tour

Dec 19 • ARTSY SMARTSY, MusicNo Comments on The Electric Holiday Tour

Chatham County Line
Thurs., Dec. 20th
Brooklyn Arts Center
516 N. 4th St.
doors: 7 p.m., show: 8 p.m.
$16-25 •

Chatham_County Line

HOBBY TURNED CAREER: Chatham County Line began as a gig to entertain the band itself, then blossomed into an international bluegrass sensation. Courtesy photo

With insightful lyrics and a drawling singing voice, Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line is the musical equivalent to a retired backwoods miner. He’s got a lot of time-honored wisdom to share, and there’s a lot of color in the way he sings it. Filter in rousing harmonica, lively ivories and harmonies that intrigue, and CCL is shaking up the international bluegrass world.

In 1999 the foursome began right here in NC. They’ve performed on a UK late-night show alongside The Raconteurs, Nick Cave and Bon Iver. Festivals like Merlefest, Shakori Hills and Bristol Rhythm and Roots welcome CCL regularly. This past July the group released its sixth album, “Sight and Sound,” featuring some of their most energetic—and even haunting and provocative—works yet.

Comprising Dave Wilson (guitar, harmonica, vocals, most songwriting), John Teer (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Chandler Holt (banjo, guitar, vocals) and Greg Reading (bass, pedal steel, piano, vocals), the band is embarking on their annual Electric Holiday Tour. They’ll stop at Brooklyn Arts Center on Thursday, December 20th with Johnny Irion, Zeke Hutchins and Jay Brown also taking the stage.

The show will double as a fund-raiser for the local charity 1,000 People Who Care, an organization dedicated to the enhancement of public space in downtown Wilmington. A donation is included with ticket purchase, which is $16 in advance, $18 on the day of, and for $25 folks can get balcony access with holiday drinks and appetizers.

encore had a chat with Wilson just in time for the BAC event.

encore (e): From the time the band formed until it was signed, quite a few years ticked by. What kept you guys going?

Dave Wilson (DW): That was the early days, and Greg and I were playing with Tift Merritt for a little while, so we were really too busy to do anything serious with this band. We would just kind of get together for fun in the periods that Greg and I were off the road. We’d play Mellow Mushroom shows and beach-bar stuff, just so we could learn what in the world it was we were trying to do together.

e: How has the band’s sound evolved since?

DW: At the very beginning we used to do shows where we would bring this big bluegrass songbook, “Fakebook,” as it’s called, and just turn the pages and play all the staples of bluegrass to learn the way our instruments were made famous by certain people. From that point, in the songs that I wrote and that we wrote together for the first record, we were really trying to be The Del McCoury Band Jr. After, people started taking us seriously. We kind of just follow our muse now, and whatever songs get written, we develop in our own musical style and don’t attempt to sound like anyone. In the time the third and fourth records came out, it was about coming into our own as a band and realizing that we have our own sound.

e: Do you recall one of the first moments you realized you had international fans?

DW: For a lot of years there were little hot beds of people overseas who followed American music, and we would get e-mails asking for us to come overseas and play shows. It was really one of our first trips there that we actually were playing to more fans than we would in America, except for our home-base area. We got to meet some of those people who’d sent us e-mails in the early days and they were like, “Thank you for coming over! We looked forward to this day!” It’s just an insane thing—they take it really serious over there, and they’re really respectful. I think it was one of those moments when it felt like what we’re doing mattered in this great big world.

e: That’s got to be rewarding.

DW: It was just a hobby for so long, and we did it to entertain ourselves—but to be able to make a living entertaining other people is a whole different ball game. I don’t know how to describe it.

e: Along the same lines, you guys encounter fans in each new place you visit, America included.

DW: One of the single greatest things for us has been Pandora, because people are playing similar types of music, and then one of our songs will come through on rotation. There was a period there right when everybody starting using that service that literally every night someone would come up after the show and say they found out about us via Pandora, and they bought one of our records, and that’s why they’re out at a live show to see us.

We love making records. We love being in the studio, putting those albums out, those little snapshots of who we are at a certain time. But, really and truly, we love to play onstage. That’s where we gain the most fulfillment.

e: What’s your favorite venue?

DW: That is a really good question. I don’t know if I can identify the venue—I mean the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro is probably one of my personal favorites—but it’s more a style of venue. I’m a huge fan of small towns and getting to see the local culture that place represents. When we go to a town that has resurrected their Main Street movie theater and turned it into a music venue or an arts or multi-use space, that is literally one of my favorite venues to play in.

It’s not just about the band or the stage, it’s also about the community, which is more powerful than all those things individually. It all can come together and just really create a special, special evening.

e: I read Chandler said you guys can find space and silence in your music. Can you discuss how resting and dynamics can make a song more compelling?

DW: That really comes mainly from the jazz world, where people like Miles Davis realized that the silence and the parts you do not play are equally as important as those that you do. It’s like a dramatic pause in speaking; silence has a greater effect on people, I think a lot of times, than the noise or the words or the music. That really comes from experience.

I think when we first started out, everybody was just banging that instrument to get the most out of it at all times—and we still do get a little excited sometimes. As you get a little more experience in playing music, you realize you don’t have to play all the time, and sometimes that has greater impact.

e: What are some other lessons you’ve learned over the years?

DW: I never got very nervous or anything like that before playing a show, but the most important lesson is watching your heroes get up there, or someone who’s really done it for a long time—almost like I feel like we have now—and realizing it’s just another extension of your day. It’s not this crazy—well, it is a special thing—but it’s not an anomaly.

If you just got a guitar and played your first show, you’d probably freak out. But it’s more a daily occurrence; it’s very much a “fact of life” for me to get on a stage and jam for people and play some songs that I wrote either by myself or with my friends. It gets to the point now when we’re off the road that it’s almost harder to not do it. Like Bob Dylan: It’s in his blood, and he’s never gonna stop.

e: Do you feel that it’s in your blood?

DW: At this point, I do, yeah. More than anything, I love playing shows, and I love the camaraderie that comes with playing with friends and people that you’ve known for years and years. That’s really what makes the holiday tour something that is even more special than a normal tour for us, because we get to hang out with some old friends and twist music in a new and different way.

e: Could you name an up-and-coming bluegrass band that you’d recommend?

DW: Locally there’s a band called Mandolin Orange that is a duo, and sometimes they play with more people, but they are great. The guy in the band writes just great songs, and as far as acoustic music, they are the shit.

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