Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tom Hanchett review of my NC Musicians book, from MHA Dandelion newsletter

North Carolina Musicians: Photographs and Conversations 
Daniel Coston with forward by Meg Freeman Whalen 
(Jefferson, NC & London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2013) 

He's always there.  Go to almost any type of music event anywhere within 
driving distance of Charlotte and Daniel Coston will be shooting photos. 
 Musicians love his deep knowledge of Southern music traditions – and his 
uncanny ability to zoom in on rising stars who are reshaping music today.  

All of that makes Daniel Coston's new book, North Carolina Musicians, a 
lively historical document of Carolina culture in our lifetimes.  From the 
region's grassroots recording studios, to the stages of nightclubs and 
bluegrass festivals, to quiet moments at musicians' homes, Daniel gives 
glimpses of the creativity that has made this corner of the South famous. 

A forward by Meg Freeman Whelan, longtime writer for the Charlotte 
Symphony and now UNCC, brings us up to speed on North Carolina's deep 
and varied musical history. Asheville's Mountain Dance and Folk Festival 
turned young Pete Seeger on to the banjo and set the template for outdoor 
events worldwide.  Charlotte's WBT radio became a magnet for top 
performers who forged the sound that became bluegrass, including Bill 
Monroe and homegrown guitar star Arthur Smith.  Durham Dollar Store 
proprietor J.B. Long arranged recording sessions that made Sonny Terry and 
Blind Boy Fuller into lasting legends of the blues. 

Then Daniel Coston takes the book's reins and we're off!  Visit backstage with National Heritage Award winner 
Doc Watson.  Hang out at the Winston Salem studio of indy-rock pioneer Mitch Easter – a house where every 
room is wired for sound.  Spend time with the WBT Briarhoppers stringband, who Daniel credits for kindling his 
love of music during a visit to his 5th grade class. Get to know the circle of players in the Chapel Hill area – alt- 
country singers Tift Merritt and Caitlin Cary, newgrass band Chatham County Line and more – who have brought 
Southern music traditions to a new generation of audiences nationwide. 

In fact, that bridging / reinventing of roots-based music for today’s ears is perhaps the most important underlying 
theme of Daniel Coston’s book.  He gives an up-close look at the Avett Brothers from Concord, who have become 
unlikely arena-rock superstars in the past decade, playing banjos and acoustic guitars with a punk-rock intensity.  
And he devotes a place of honor to Rhiannon Giddens of Greensboro and her Carolina Chocolate Drops band, who 
have re-connected young African Americans with an almost lost heritage of stringband virtuosity, playing to 
capacity audiences of every race at major venues across the U.S. and Europe. 

Hard to believe, if you grew up with rock or disco or hip-hop, but it’s now cool on America’s college campuses to 
pick a banjo or strum a ukulele or sing harmony.   

That national trend has deep roots in North Carolina.  And you can read about it and see the photos in North 
Carolina Musicians – because Daniel Coston was there. 
 Tom Hanchett, Levine Museum of the New South 

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