It all started at an unheralded event called the Black Banjo Gathering, held in 2005 at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. That four-day conclave of young African American musicians explored the African and African American roots of American vernacular styles–a knife’s edge if there ever was one, for the banjo was the icon of the racist minstrel shows of the nineteenth century. The gathering spawned the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops trio, who went out to learn from one of the few living black old-time country fiddlers, Joe Thompson, and built on his repertoire in fascinating and often challenging ways. Dom Flemons, who comes to the Ark on January 16, was that band’s virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, and his growing solo career has produced traditional music of an unusual sort.
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