Crossing Chatham County Line

With sparkling blue eyes and a mischievous grin, Dave Wilson, lead singer and songwriter for Chatham County Line (CCL) reminisces about the band’s 20-year history.

“It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this so long,” he says. “We’ve had some incredible opportunities over the years and the end is not in sight.”

Long a staple of the North Carolina music scene, Chatham County Line has recorded eight studio albums of original material, inspired by Wilson’s large collection of albums from the 1920s to 2020. On their 2019 release, Sharing the Covers, listeners can get an idea of what inspires them, from songs by Wilco and Beck, along with those of John Lennon, Tom Petty, and John Hartford. In November 2019, the band released Winter Stories with Judy Collins and Jonas Fjeld. “Judy’s manager lives in Jonas Fjeld’s hometown in Norway,” explains Wilson. “We all got together in Raleigh in October 2018 to see how it would work out. She was a joy to collaborate with, and even though it’s not a traditional bluegrass album, it got to the top of the bluegrass charts.”

Collins lives in upstate New York, and the inspiration for the album was cold weather and winter. The seasonal album isn’t a drinking-hot-chocolate-while-sitting-by-the-fireplace kind of listen. The opening song of the album, Northwest Passage, traces the path of the ill-fated quest led by Sir John Franklin to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. The song was written and originally performed by Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers, who died tragically himself in an airline fire in 1983.

Wildwood, an album first released in 2010 by CCL, released again as a 10th-anniversary release album on YepRec in March. A new album, Strange Fascination, will be released in May. The core CCL members, including Wilson (guitar, harmonica, vocals), John Teer (mandolin, fiddle, vocal) and Greg Readling (bass, pedal steel, piano, vocals) will be featured, as well as a “rotating cadre of drummers,” according to Wilson.

ccl bluegrass standardWilson says the retirement last year of founding member Chandler Holt (banjo) resulted in the band pushing their sound a bit more into the modern world and embracing the use of drums on stage. While the band has played across the United States (including numerous times with Steve Martin and Martin Short) as well as in elegant European music halls and venues in Scandinavia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, their touring career is slowing down a bit to give time to family. “We now do under 100 shows a year,” says Wilson. “We pride ourselves on the time we spend with our families.” 

For those fortunate enough to attend a Chatham County Line show, they’ll be treated to the musical chemistry that is fostered by the band’s longtime lineup that often time results in improvisational flashes that seem as rehearsed as the rest of the band’s sets. “Those moments keep the performances fresh,” says Teer. “The fans drive our setlist,” adds Wilson. “We are amazed that we have all these songs that people listen to and make babies to, and they bring their baby to the show to hear that particular song.”
While Chatham County Line is spreading their musical wings a bit, Wilson muses that the band creates a product that listeners are familiar with, and they’ll enjoy going back to. “My dad ran a local hardware store years ago, and I always felt like we shared that same sensibility.” As they venture out into new musical territories, CCL will continue to stick to their strengths, which are poignant songwriting, inventive acoustic arrangements that draw upon a broad array of American root influences, and strong harmonies.

 

The band did manage to pack their January with a showcase at the Folk Alliance International Conference in New Orleans before jetting to London for AMERICANAFEST®, then doing a tour project in Norway in February with Judy Collins before heading to Belgium in March.

ccl bgsmThe band respects bluegrass history, from bluegrass inventor Bill Monroe to innovators like John Hartford. At the same time, they are mindful of more modern musical influences. “A lot of that comes from the fact that we all played in rock bands at one time,” laughs Wilson. While the group is primarily categorized as American, Wilson says that “when you have a banjo in your group, you can’t help but be bluegrass. We’ve always felt a little like we’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But with the passage of time, we feel like bluegrass encompasses what we do.”

Readling holds strong to the Americana genre label. “There’s a story held in a cradle of acoustic instrumentation in the folk tradition that just has the sound of America to me.”

 

 

 

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