DBFF: Bluegrass Band Reclaims Their Roots in Superb “Don’t Get Trouble In Your Mind”

Published on: Mon, Jan 14, 2019

Bluegrass probably isn’t the first type of music you associate with prestige. When you think of Grammy-winning tunes, you probably think of catchy melodies and poppy beats, not banjos, kazoos, fiddles and beatboxing. But don’t get it twisted: The Carolina Chocolate Drops earned every award they’ve ever won — and then some.

Don’t Get Trouble In Your Mind: The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Story” chronicles the band’s rise from their humble beginnings to their big-stage debut. Described as a “a mix of old-time mountain music with the piedmont blues and a little bit of piss and vinegar about them,” the Carolina Chocolate Drops are nothing like anything you’ve heard before. Their music mixes five-string banjos, fiddles, kazoos, snare drums, bones, harmonicas and even beatboxing. The discordant yet melodic tones of each song are complemented by the band’s vigorous and lively stage performance, adding to their distinctive aesthetic. Throughout the documentary, you’ll find yourself wanting to clap along to the beat of each performance — and wondering where you can get a little bit of their wardrobe.

The band was founded in 2005 at a black banjo gathering in Boone, North Carolina. Rhiannon Giddens and Don Flemons, the band’s first two members, had an impromptu jam session during the gathering. With Giddens rapidly strumming the banjo, and Flemons on the harmonica, the musical spark was immediate. Shortly after their first encounter, the two found Justin Robinson, their third member, and completed the official trio infamously known Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops aren’t just here to perform; they want to highlight an untold part of African history. The band’s mission is to, “reclaim the all but lost tradition of black-string band music.” Although bluegrass music is commonly associated with white musicians, many are unaware that the bluegrass genre stemmed primarily from African history. In fact, according to the documentary, enslaved Africans were the first people to introduce the banjo instrument to Americans. The documentary also notes that prior to the civil war, the fiddle was known as a “black instrument” in the rural south.

This talented trio was the first African-American band to revisit the genre in over a century, pulling it from the ground-up and crafting it to be exceptionally inimitable. Throughout the doc, each band member expresses how a curiosity in their ethnic roots led them to their love of bluegrass music. Giddens describes how African-American bluegrass music helped her better understand her biracial heritage.

“My mom’s black, my dad’s white, so growing up I had this sort of hybrid upbringing,” said Giddens, “Getting into this music helps me makes sense out of what I grew up with, with my melanin-empowered side listening to hee-haw. That’s where I got hee-haw from, from that side — not the white side.”

“Don’t Get Trouble In Your Mind: The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Story” is both educational and entertaining, showing you a side of bluegrass music you’ve never seen. It’s more than just a tale of three closely-knit band mates and their road to stardom; it’s a story about a nearly lost African tradition that many know nothing about.
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Don’t Get Trouble In Your Mind: The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Story is a documentary feature and runs 83 minutes and will be shown Saturday, January 26 at noon as part of Denton Black Film Festival. This screening will be shown at the Campus Theatre, 214 W Hickory St. To purchase tickets at the online box office, click here.