They’ve been busy knocking off milestones throughout their careers. Eight albums, seven of which were released on the indie-minded record label Yep Roc. Appearances at some of the most respected bluegrass festivals nationwide. Recognition here in the States for their brand of bluegrass and acoustic music and perhaps even more recognition in Europe. This summer, they’ll scratch playing the Red Rocks stage off the milestone list when they open for The Avett Brothers. It’s been a career-climbing trajectory that has been working for Chatham County Line, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based band that will pull back into Durango next week, playing at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday May 10.
“We’ve always been on this slightly upward arc, where we just keep getting better gigs year after year. New people keep discovering us; the same people keep coming back. Going to Europe and being successful, doing the Jools Holland show over there, getting to play Merlefest the first time, and we checked Telluride off our list,” said banjo player Chandler Holt. “All these things are not lost on us, just the fact that I’m married, have a kid, own a house, and other guys can say that, too. We’ve always been more long-term and career-focused, and not trying to just strive to do anything to claw our way to the top. We do this one thing, and there’s a certain amount of people that just recognize it and want us to keep doing it. They give us flexibility to try what we want to do, but maintain this same kind of feel with the music with it still changing. I think for us artistically, professionally, monetarily, it’s largely worked as a long-game kind of plan.”
For Holt, it all started over a decade ago at North Carolina State University. He had been friends with mandolin and fiddle player John Teer, and a tape of J.D. Crowe and Tony Rice started his love of bluegrass. He had been a fan of classic rock in the roots vain, digging on The Grateful Dead and The Band, but it was that tape that was likely cranked in a moving vehicle that pushed him to pursue the banjo and bluegrass. He met bass player Greg Readling and guitar player Dave Wilson at a party, and was taken with Wilson’s songwriting. The band came soon after.
They may be the least bluegrass band playing in the bluegrass world, a quartet with the approach and mindset of bluegrass and its traditions, but also leaning into acoustic rock steered by the stellar songwriting of Wilson. It’s tales of history, homages to musical heroes, ballads, and laid-back numbers that are bubbling over with hooks. They do the single-microphone thing and the delicate and fun-to-watch dance around the microphone, all while showcasing the songs and musicianship.
“We’ve never tried to be a hardcore traditional band. There was a day where we asked, ‘Can we just be more like the Del McCoury band?’ because that’s probably one of our favorite bluegrass bands ever, and it was early on,” said Holt. “But we said, we don’t excel at playing this type of music so we said we’ll leave that with them and do our thing.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.