Dom Flemons, who as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops won the very last Grammy available for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2011, took his good-timey post-modern minstrel show to the Oxford American's South on Main on Thursday night, and a swell time was had by all.
Flemons, who affects the persona of slightly goofy jug band nerd onstage, is a delightful performer and raconteur whose stories about the origins and secret histories of the music he plays rival his performances for interest. He's a bit like a musicology professor who can shred a four-string banjo (and isn't half bad on a OO Martin acoustic).
On most of his set, Flemons was accompanied by Brian Ferrell, who alternately played upright bass and fiddle while providing backing vocals. The pair seemed to have a preternatural sense of rhythm, locking in together despite the sometimes tricky demands of the music, which often took on a double or quadruple-time feel as Flemons flailed away on one set of strings or another.
Styling himself as "songster" in the tradition of Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, Blind Lemon Jefferson or Mance Lipscomb, Flemons punctuated his antique-sounding originals and authentic-sounding re-creations of early 20th-century blues and string band tunes -- including a super-hot version of Tampa Red's risque "hokum" number "They Got It Fixed Right On" -- with information gleaned from his moonlighting as a music journalist (largely for the Oxford American).
As the show proceeded, Flemons had the opportunity to demonstrate his fluency on a number of instruments, including a six-string banjo with an unusual 18-inch head and a baritone voice, bones, and the pan pipelike quills, an instrument few in the audience were likely to have seen played live before. And his between-show patter continued like an offhand TED talk, touching not only on musical but social and cultural histories.
While Flemons -- a former slam poet -- is a widely recorded artist with several solo albums in addition to his work with the Chocolate Drops, he's one of those performers who is most effective live. He comes across as an intelligent, generous artist and archaeologist deeply in love with his discovered worlds.
Metro on 05/27/2016