Chatham County plays outside traditional lines

Life isn’t all about bluegrass.

It may seem so this weekend for ticket holders and musicians coming to the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, but not all of the performing bands are traditionally steeped in the music to which Bill Monroe would give his stamp of approval. One of the weekend’s headliners is one such crossover band.

Festival appearances and onstage instrumentation keep North Carolina’s Chatham County Line in bluegrass circles, yet the band remains capable of drifting into a world of roots rock and folk. The band members remain lovers of Monroe’s version of bluegrass, even though at times he most likely would have been a harsh critic of them and, for that matter, anyone who strayed from the music he’s credited with inventing.

But they know exactly what they’re doing. The quartet that formed in Raleigh eight years ago started gaining fans immediately in the West as winners of the band competition at the 2004 Rockygrass festival. They’ve since toured the world, achieved gold record sales in Europe and consistently have released great records in the states.

They’ll play two Meltdown sets Saturday at the Henry Strater Theatre and the Durango Arts Center, finishing with a closing set Sunday at the Arts Center.

Chatham County Line includes Dave Wilson on guitar and vocals, John Teer on mandolin and fiddle, Chandler Holt on banjo and Greg Readling on bass.

Band members sees themselves as a group that plays American music while being lovers of bluegrass and so much more.

“We’re happy to say we’re a bluegrass band for the simplicity of it,” said banjo player Holt last week on the phone from his home in North Carolina. “But I think the Americana tag fits more with what we do in that we don’t play any traditional tunes. That’s the biggest thing that separates us from any other band in this genre.”

It’s a sound refreshingly familiar, similar to long-established bluegrass bands while pushing a recognizable sound in a different direction.

“We tried to be a traditional band early on, and it kind of didn’t work,” Holt said.

Other visitors to this year’s Meltdown will include Charlie Sizemore, The Lost Pines and The Freighthoppers.

Sizemore did time as one of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys as a teenager and remains a respected songwriter and vocalist.

The Freighthoppers are returning after stellar sets of old-time music at last year’s Meltdown. The North Carolina-based quartet is all rock solid, with the driving fiddle of David Bass signifying their sound.

The Lost Pines are an Austin, Texas-based bluegrass band with a sound reminiscent of any of the heavy hitters who find a loyal audience at Southwest Colorado festivals – expect them to be one of many crowd favorites.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.