But there’s no chance of such gaffes at a Chatham County Line performance. Chatham County is very much a real place, not at all far from Raleigh, which the band calls home. And speaking of real, CCL takes home with them wherever they go on their busy touring schedule via a giant North Carolina flag that serves as their backdrop at shows and has pretty much since their beginning as a band more than a decade ago. The quartet’s sound pulls heavily from the bluegrass roots that run deep in the state, and they wear suits (with cowboy boots) and play around a single mic as a nod to the genre’s forefathers and out of respect to audiences who come to their shows.
You can catch CCL at any number of venues and festivals around the country this summer, but nothing beats seeing them at a hometown show. At Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater, they played for a packed crowd that roared for every song as if it were a Top 40 hit. The band played songs from throughout their career, throwing in plenty of fun banter, expressions of appreciation, and a little plea for fundraising to buy themselves tickets for another show coming through Raleigh this summer: The Rolling Stones. I don’t have a lot of sway here, but if you can get a hold of a recording of the cover of “The Last Time” they followed up that plea with, Mick Jagger, you’ll surely find a place for these guys on your guest list.
After that came another killer cover: “Tailspin” by the Jayhawks, with an assist from that band’s Gary Louris, whose new project, Au Pair, with the Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins had opened the show with its first-ever public performance. Guitarist Dave Wilson explained that Chatham County Line had once covered the song, and he sent Louris a tape “so he would be impressed by my band.” He wasn’t, Wilson quipped, but he agreed to show up anyway (see top photo). That led to some tongue-in-cheek musings about who they might conjure for future shows: “What’s that Kanye song we do?” Wilson asked his bandmates.
Throughout the evening, Chandler Holt’s banjo skills were on prominent display, driving the train on “Tightrope of Love” and “Chip of a Star,” among many other songs. Fiddle player and mandolinist John Teer took several brilliant turns in the spotlight — including a few minutes improvising long enough for the rest of the band to sneak off and back on the stage — and bass player Greg Readling kept things moving both with and without a bow, adding vocal harmonies on many songs.
The encore launched with Brian Ferry’s “Price of Love,” followed by a slightly jammy rendition of CCL’s own “Traveler” inspired, Wilson said, after he was “challenged” to watch a Bob Weir documentary. But the final song was no surprise, and couldn’t have been a better fit. When the IBMA’s annual festival and conference was moved to Raleigh in 2013, Wilson was inspired to write “Living in Raleigh Now,” a playful chronicle of the movement of the heart of the genre from Kentucky to Nashville to, now, Raleigh. They released the song online and on cassette (a nod to their early memories of learning about bluegrass through tapes swapped at local festivals) last year, and it perfectly sums up the joy of the music the band loves finding its home where the band has been all along.