The Atlantic: The Podcast Spreading the Love of Cowboy Culture

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In the first two decades after the Civil War, more than 10 million cattle were driven north from Texas to railheads in Kansas, where they could be shipped to larger markets in the east. Fighting boredom on the trail, cowboys would often improvise poems and songs. They’d sing on horseback and around the campfire, collectively writing verse, adding a new line or amending an old one, usually in the form of an English ballad. Thus cowboy poetry was born.

While the cattle-drive era has long since passed, the poetry hasn’t stopped. In the early 1980s, a small group of folklorists, having stumbled upon this underground genre, sought out cowboy poets from all over the west. In 1985, the Western Folklife Center hosted the results at the inaugural Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. This year, the center hosted its 33rd gathering, a weeklong event that now annually attracts thousands, urban and rural alike. The national event has spawned a tight-knit community of poets and musicians, among them Andy Hedges. The 36-year-old cowboy poet and singer is also the host and creator of the new podcast Cowboy Crossroads, a refreshingly diplomatic effort to connect today’s vibrant cowboy culture with a world only vaguely aware of its existence.

Cowboy Crossroads explores the genre’s ongoing evolution—and initiates newcomers—through its interview-driven episodes. Each approximately half-hour segment features a special guest, usually an artist. In the first eight episodes, Hedges has chatted with the cowboy poets Ross Knox and Waddie Mitchell, and the musicians Michael Martin Murphey, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Noel McKay. Upcoming episodes will include the singer-songwriter Martha Scanlon, and Dom Flemons, the founder of the band Carolina Chocolate Drops, who is currently recording an album of songs by and about black cowboys.

Read more here.

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Dom Flemons, late of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, plays music that makes me very happy

I was listening to the latest Judge John Hodgman podcast today (as I do every week!) which was performed live in Washington DC; as with every live show, there was a musical guest, and this guest was so completely awesome I made a note to post about him when I got home.

That musical guest was Dom Flemons, a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops (previously), whose solo music is — incredibly! — even better than the boss stuff he recorded with the old band.

Flemons kicked off by playing Till the Seas Run Dry (it’s about 29:00 in the MP3), and I knew as soon as I got home I’d be buying his most recent album, which I’ve just done!

Oh, and it was a great Judge John Hodgman.  Read more here.

Judge John Hodgman Episode 308: Live From Washington DC

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“Rabius Corpus” and Swift Justice taped in front of a live audience at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC on September 21, 2016. Plus, Sean and Jamie from Episode 194 “Do You Want to Hoard Some Snowglobes?” return with more Frozen-related justice. We also hear from Ray Suarez with an expert testimony and music from the Dom Flemons Trio!

For info on Dom Flemons’ tour dates, music and more, visit TheAmericanSongster.com! Ray Suarez is on Twitter @RaySuarezNews and Linda Holmes, who introduced the live show for us, is @nprmonkeysee. You can also catch Linda on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.   Read more here.

PBS: “David Holt’s State of Music” Season 2 premiered April 2017

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Season 2 of “David Holt’s State of Music” showcases top acoustic performers of traditional music filmed on location in the Southern mountains. Featured artists include the Steep Canyon Rangers, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Kruger Brothers, Mipso, Laurelyn Dossett, Dom Flemons, Amythyst Kiah, Rayna Gellert, Alice Gerrard, and the St. John AME Zion Unity Choir. The season finale, recorded live onstage, features Rhiannon Giddens, Dirk Powell, Jason Sypher, Balsam Range, Josh Goforth, and The Branchettes. Musical styles include traditional ballad singing, blues, old-time string band, African-American gospel, bluegrass, three-fingered banjo, slide guitar, mandolin, fiddle, bass, mouth bow and even stump fiddle. Learn more here!

Georgia Music: Savannah Music Festival Shines in Captivating Photos & Reviews

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The Haitian theme continued into the evening with a double-bill featuring McCalla and her trio joined by fellow ex-Carolina Chocolate Drop-mate Dom Flemons followed by the American debut of Chouk Bwa Libète. Covering territory previously explored by groups such as Boukman Eksperyans and Rasin Mapou de Azor, Chouk Bwa Libète specialize in conveying the mystical power of Vodou (voodoo) through music unencumbered by Westernized accoutrements. Eschewing melodic instruments, the band consists of four drummers, two female singer-dancers and lead singer (and bandleader) Sambaton Dorvil who also wields the fer, a metal bar that “calls” the rhythms.

If nothing else, Chouk Bwa Libète proved to be the uncontested leader in the running for the annual SMF “Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t” award. The potential for a crushing onslaught of percussion was tempered by the magnificent interplay of rhythms and the hypnotically soothing call-and-response vocalizing between Dorvil and the band. The melding of cultures in early American history, which McCalla eloquently addressed during her set, was immediately evident to anyone who has seen a performance by the McIntosh County Shouters in the shimmy shaking dance moves by the two women flanking the lead singer in Chouk Bwa Libète. With hair braids flying, the male percussionists pursued a regimen of disciplined fury while switching between drums and imploring the spirits to presumably do the right thing. At intermission, the band members switched from all-white attire, which seemed ceremonial in purpose, to clothing imprinted with iridescently bright floral colors and tropical patterns, which imparted an element of psychedelia to the proceedings.

Read more here.

Burlington Discover Jazz Festival

Dom Flemons is a folk throwback with contemporary purpose. The Grammy Award-winning musician expands upon the traditions of ragtime, Piedmont blues, and spirituals to craft a potent mélange of American songster roots. Flemons’ aim to reintroduce folk music and its indispensable histories to new generations received warm reception via his hugely popular band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he cofounded. In sparser duo formation, featuring drummer and vocalist Dante Pope, Flemons’ subtleties are given ample room to resound. The multinstrumentalist, most frequently helming the banjo, has a unique penchant for focusing each note, negotiating that liminal zone between space and sound.

Click the photo below for tickets.

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Do Savannah: Empire of Sound: Notes from a music junkie at Savannah Music Festival

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Over the last week, I caught 11 Savannah Music Festival concerts and three rock shows around town, and still managed to miss a lot of really great music.

Fortunately, there’s another week-plus of the festival set to open what promises to be an amazing April of music.

Here are some highlights from one music junkie’s point of view:

Honestly, there was little to complain about or critique at any of the shows I attended this past week. In his Unplugged column, the wonderful Bill Dawers was correct, I believe, in his assessment of Savannah’s music scene: we are spoiled rotten.

You can read my reviews of Arias & Encores, Brahms vs. Tchaikovsky, The Avett Brothers and Monk and Dizzy at 100 elsewhere on this site, so I’ll skip on those.

Probably standing at the forefront of this week’s highlights was the double bill of Haitian roots group Chouk Bwa Libete and Leyla McCalla featuring Dom Flemons.

Staying true to the educational spirit of the Savannah Music Festival, McCalla went into great detail about the history and personal importance of each song she chose. Singing in a mix of Creole, French and English, McCalla and her band offered an intriguing journey into Haitian folk music. Flemons is an insatiably happy guy, and was the icing on the cake for this performance. Read more here. 

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