Hubby’s Intoxicating Brewery Gig Salutes Chocolate Drops
Hubby Jenkins is carrying the tradition forward and enjoying the ride. In a performance recently in a large craft brewery in Norfolk, Virginia, he showed off his prodigious talents with banjo, (parlor-size, acoustic) guitar, voice, and bones. He’d played shortly before at Norfolk’s historic Attucks Theater in Rhiannon Giddens’ band. Jenkins and Giddens were members of the groundbreaking group the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Jenkins’ goal, he said, is to carry forward the effort begun by the Chocolate Drops, having created music much like candy, infused with liquor, dusted with sea salt. “When the Chocolate Drops hit the scene,” he said, “the mission was historical, reinserting black people into the narrative of old-time music and black peoples’ influence on it, including that the banjo, the pillar of American music, is a black instrument, is a slave instrument. And, also there was the visceral reaction of people seeing black people playing folk music.” He said his recent audiences at MerleFest and the Floyd General Store in Floyd, Virginia, said that was a hole that needed filling. “Rhiannon and I (they performed separately at MerleFest) were the only blacks in the four days, but the large crowd said they’d like more of the same.”
Before taking the stage at O’Connor Brewing Company, Jenkins related how he got his name Hubby, saying it was short for Blind Hubert Jenkins, a name he made up in case he failed playing. He said he wore dark glasses to feign blindness so, if need be, he’d walk away and nobody would know who he was. He’d sweat, shake, and couldn’t hold his pick before going on stage. He eventually managed to overcome this stagefright, he said, in part by watching comedians he admired.
That night, he expressed that he was in a banjo mood, and his long fingers flashed along the neck and strings. He featured gospel along with African roots tunes at the core of Carolina Chocolate Drops’ work. He said he plans his next album to feature gospel, and said he likes to expand the musical experience of his albums, planning to include his parents’ voices and do some sermonizing. His performance included American folk tunes and soulful blues, in his rich, ranging voice, and he played guitar and bones with impeccable rhythm, speed, and dexterity.
Between songs, Jenkins described influences on his work from the likes of African Americans Skip James and Sly Stone and white performers like the Carter Family and Peter Stampfel. He noted the effect of inclusion of Carolina Chocolate Drops in the Music Makers Relief Foundation and the influence of Captain Luke and other Music Maker blues icons.
Jenkins exudes a vibe of belief and urgency when performing, and his desire to communicate stories of black experience, struggle, and musical developments is clear. He related it to his passion for the Stan Lee/Marvel Comics Black Panther movie, which he had seen four times. He described how the film is a revelation in its groundbreaking positing of the blacks and women of the imaginary African country, Wakanda, as comprising the inner circle of those having the world’s abundance of power, strength, talent, wealth, and technical and intellectual prowess.
A young white player, Zak Vincent, who idolizes Jenkins, opened for him on a variety of acoustic instruments, including the ukulele. He said he’d “hit the heavens” when Jenkins joined him on stage to play “bones.” And, before Vincent, Brackish Water Jamboree, in a trio version, played some hot blues to bluegrass tunes, featuring charismatic leader Paul Bidanset on banjo, Ben Lassiter on mandolin, and bassist Taylor Vertrees.