STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Dom Flemons is having a challenging time finding a private place to chat.
The former singer/multi-instrumentalist of The Carolina Chocolate Drops recently was one of the special guests at the Folk Alliance International conference held in Kansas City, and is easily recognizable with his 1920s throwback fashion sense.
Flemons punctuates a phone interview with this writer with distracted asides like “good to see you, man,” as he gets greeted in passing by musical colleagues.
The way he articulately discusses folk genres like Piedmont blues, blackface minstrel show songs and jug band music, one gets a sense that the 32-year-old Flemons stepped through a time portal from 100 years ago. Indeed, the passion for old-time, traditional string band sounds that shows up on his new solo album, “Prospect Hill,” and the work he did with The Carolina Chocolate Drops (who won a Grammy in 2010), might have you questioning what year this is.
“With Pete Seeger’s passing, and this post-digital society, there are people that need to be telling the story again. If it’s too precious, it doesn’t really live. I’ve tried my best to contextualize completely unknown styles of regional folk music,” said Flemons, who has declared 2015 to be “the year of the folk singer.”
When Flemons was 16 and growing up in Arizona, his peers were listening to Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, while he identified more with Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the singer/songwriters of the ‘70s and whatever discarded vinyl record collections he could get his hands on.
As the various folk and blues sounds from even longer ago — Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Odetta, Skip James, Papa Charlie Jackson — reached his ears, Flemons started playing for tips and recording his own songs. The event that changed everything was the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University, which eventually led to the formation of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. “It was very exciting and exhilarating from the get-go as a fan of folk and blues and the music I was hearing in North Carolina,” Flemons said.
His musical journey has taken him to the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Grand Ole Opry, Bonnaroo, producing an album for the Pennsylvania bluegrass band HogMaw, the board of directors of the Music Maker Relief Foundation (which, according to the nonprofit’s website, seeks to “preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time”), and now performing as a solo artist again. “I left the group in 2013 because it was changing,” Flemons said of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. “Rhiannon (Giddens) is ultimately the one that’ll decide the fate of the group.”
Branding himself as “The American Songster,” which he described as a scholarly tradition of “musicians that played and sang songs of many types,” Flemons will be taking the stage March 10 at Sellersville Theater to present a songster setlist that he said would include “old-time songs I’ve picked up along the way,” 1940s R&B, 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, country-blues, fife and drum songs, and selections from “Prospect Hill.”
“I’ll more than likely have my trio with me,” he said, promising an entertaining evening that’ll make you want to get up and dance.
IF YOU GO
What: Dom Flemons in concert.
When: 8 p.m. March 10.
Where: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave. at Main Street, Sellersville.
Tickets: $19.50 and $29.50.
Info.: Call (215) 257-5808 or visit www.st94.com.