News Column

Chatham County Line playing Allerton Park concert series

June 20, 2014

By Jim Vorel, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

June 20--MONTICELLO -- When Dave Wilson met the three other men with whom he would form Chatham County Line, the future bandmates gravitated toward one another immediately.

For several years, they spent their late nights jamming and plucking stringed instruments in the basements and back porches of Raleigh, N.C., until plans to form a bluegrass band were all but obvious. And that's how it's been for the 15 years since -- no changes of membership, and plenty of commercial success. Chatham County Line has been a band that simply works.

"The fact that we're all great friends, that we all love performing and being around each other, is the most important thing about us as a group," said Wilson, the band's guitarist. "Our VH1 'Behind the Music' episode would be pretty boring with the lack of drama."

The band comes to Monticello'sAllerton Park Friday, June 27 as part of an ongoing concert series. With his friends, Wilson has traveled far and wide since his upbringing in Charlotte, N.C., where he was never really exposed to roots or bluegrass music. In fact, he never knew there was "good music" until he shipped off to college and picked up a mandolin. From there, he played in a few folk bands before forming Chatham County Line, a band that he says was far too derivative in its early years before slowly finding its own identity.

"We were trying to be the next Del McCoury Band, but that's not even attainable," Wilson said. "We couldn't pretend to be a bunch of super pickers, we had to embrace who we are as people and become more natural. These days, we're only striving to sound like Chatham County Line."

That sound has been quite well received on a commercial level, as the band has notched four top 10 bluegrass albums since 2008. Their most recent, "Tightrope," was released less than a month ago and represents their most collaborative work to date. Where Wilson once would have taken control as a band leader, he now prefers to involve all the players simultaneously.

"I definitely wanted to write more with them because it's a powerful thing when we collaborate," he said. "Everybody has become more adept on their instruments than we ever imagined, starting out. So what we wanted to do as a unit was focus on writing an album of songs that we would all want to be performing for years."

Those songs include some very personal stories culled from daily experience as well as history. One track, "Hawk," mourns the death of an aging WWII airman who had befriended a man almost 50 years younger. It's not a story from the band's history, but a story from their world.

"Several of us have been to WWII veterans' funerals, and it's such a powerful event," Wilson said. "To see these guys in their uniforms saluting a soldier they never even knew, but fought alongside them in that huge conflict, gives you a slight idea of how dedicated they were to each other."

Today, Chatham County Line are enjoying the fruits of their labor and a renewed interest in American roots music and bluegrass. They hew a little closer to the traditional side of the spectrum, but don't begrudge the success of bands such as Lumineers that have plucked their way to superstardom by infusing bluegrass into pop and rock music.

"Banjo and mandolin always had the potential to be million sellers," Wilson said. "I think it's awesome. Music is a healthy, beautiful thing, and I'm in favor of whatever puts a smile on peoples' faces.

"I just hope they keep going to see live music and people playing their instruments."|(217) 421-7973


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Source: Herald & Review (Decatur, IL)

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