Dom Flemons w/ Grace & Tony
An evening of great music all rooted in our folk history.
September 30, 2014 · 8:00pm
Dom Flemons is the “American Songster,” pulling from traditions of old-time folk music to create new sounds. Having performed music professionally since 2005, he has played live for over one million people just within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry.
Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Dom’s involvement with music began by playing percussion in his high school band. After picking up the guitar and harmonica as a teenager, he began to play in local coffee houses and became a regular performer on the Arizona folk music scene. Dom wrote his own songs and produced 25 albums of singer-songwriters and slam poets in the Phoenix area, including six albums of his own, during this time. He took a brief break from playing music in order to pursue slam poetry (he majored in English at Northern Arizona University) and performed in two national poetry slams in 2002 and 2003. Aside from exploring slam poetry, he spent his early adulthood listening to records and discovering a love of folk music, blues, jazz, jug band music, country music and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. Dom became interested in folk musicians such as Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk and Mike Seeger, as well as musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. After stepping away from the slam poetry scene, he rekindled his interest in music, this time focusing on the old-time blues music of the pre-WWII era.
A multi-instrumentalist, Dom plays banjo, guitar, harmonica, fife, bones, bass drum, snare drum and quills, in addition to singing. He says that he incorporates his background in percussion to his banjo playing. Dom’s banjo repertoire includes not only clawhammer but also tenor and three-finger styles of playing. He first picked up the instrument when he borrowed a five-string banjo from a friend who had removed the instrument’s fifth string. As a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band, Dom was able to explore his interest in bringing traditional music to new audiences. The band won a GRAMMY for its 2011 album Genuine Negro Jig and was nominated for its most recent album, Leaving Eden, in 2012.
Dom says he would like to use the traditional forms of music he has heard and immersed himself in over the years to create new soundscapes that generate interest in old-time folk music. Focusing very much on creating music that is rooted in history but taking a contemporary approach, Dom hopes to reexamine what traditional music can become.
In July 2014, Dom released his third solo record with Music Maker Relief Foundation, and his first since leaving the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Prospect Hill finds Flemons digging deeply into ragtime, Piedmont blues, spirituals, southern folk music, string band music, jug band music, fife and drum music, and ballads idioms with showmanship and humor, reinterpreting the music to suit 21st century audiences. He was featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Grossand his new album has received praise from The Boston Globe, Paste Magazine, Living Blues Magazine, and more.
Grace & Tony
She played bluegrass. He played punk… When Grace and Tony White met, they fell in love and the music just followed after.
“I had seen Grace play years ago and, not only was I impressed, I developed a serious secret crush,” Tony reminisced. “When I found out that she was learning mandolin and banjo, I took a shot and asked her to jam with me. The rest is history.”
Exposed to music early on in their lives by family (Grace’s liked the Southern styles from gospel all the way to rock, while Tony learned from his brother, John Paul White of The Civil Wars fame), Grace & Tony experimented with an unlikely blend of genres by mixing punk, folk, bluegrass, and Texas swing, to create something new. What resulted was a blend of music for those searching for what’s beyond the norm: “Punkgrass” was born.
“Punkgrass is simply a natural fusion of my punk rock background, and Grace’s southern gospel and bluegrass upbringing,” stated Tony. “It isn’t forced, it’s very organic and it stands out because it’s a real fusion of what’s new and old. We play whatever pops into our heads; from classic rock to southern gospel, we scratch every itch. It’s dark, yet happy; silly, yet serious. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun to play.”
Crafting and singing lyrical tales of murder, addiction, and lost love that are wrapped in a happy twist, Grace & Tony honed their newfound brand of music on the sidewalks of downtown Nashville with no idea where their music might lead them. Showcasing an ability to create emotionally connective music, they built a solid fan base of dedicated listeners the old-fashioned way… one by one.
“We made ourselves available,” said Grace. “We appreciated every single one of our fans, and set out to answer every single question they had. We are making music that isn’t for everyone so we had to pick them off one at a time to build our audience. It worked and they began asking for more music!”
Working with Lloyd Aur Norman and Stephen D. Jones of Villain Place in Nashville, Grace & Tony released the acoustic EP, Inside A 7-Track Mind, in 2011. Since then, doors have opened and they have succeeded in their goal to be heard by bigger audiences by headlining the historic Crockett Theater (Lawrenceburg, TN), appearing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and performing twice on the legendary “Daytrotter Sessions,” as well as performances for Balcony TV, “Jimmy Lloyd’s Songwriter Showcase,” and Knoxville’s “Blue Plate Special” programs. In addition, two of their videos (“Let You Down,” “November”) are being played in regular rotation on The Country Network. They’ve also scored airplay on CMT Edge and GAC.
In anticipation of a full-length release, the young couple launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and the resulting November was released on November 11, 2013. Accompanied by a full band to fill out their unique sound, this album answers the most common question the couple is asked, “What do you call this music?” You see, for Grace & Tony, November defines the sound “Grassphemy,” a progression of the style “Punkgrass.”
“This album is the next chapter for us, it’s a new set of stories we need to tell,” said Tony. “This music is more mature and shows our natural progression as songwriters. We battle tested the songs and chose the ones that would represent our growth as a duo.”
A lover of English literature and old-style murder mysteries, Grace’s influence on the album is stamped like an antique wax seal; it’s no accident that the album listen is like an epic musical storybook filled with engaging superhero-like characters struggling with love, loneliness, and the identity of self. November is 11 haunting and elegant chapters featuring heroic protagonists in a variety of settings taking on evil mastermind kidnappers, electromagnetic bombs, schizophrenia, and, perhaps the trickiest of all, their own minds. Those looking for that breathtaking happy ending won’t be disappointed either — as the stories come to a close, and an imaginary “The End” is heard, Grace & Tony live happily ever after.
More opportunities for Grace & Tony wait on the horizon; their dance card is filling up quickly as shows are added to their schedule on a regular basis (recently, they’ve shared the stage with folks like the Lone Bellow, Billy Joe Shaver, Dom Flemons, and Carolina Chocolate Drops, as well as hitting the high seas on the Cayamo music cruise, playing alongside the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Ricky Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby, and Lyle Lovett). To further the excitement, they got married in July 2013. Matrimony will no doubt provide more stories and be an influence as they solidify their union and create more music together.
So, as they continue to gain fans and industry acclaim, we can’t help but ask: What’s next for this amazing, super duo?
Well, we certainly can’t wait for the sequel.