Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, interpreter – Rhiannon Giddens does it all on her acclaimed solo debut Tomorrow is My Turn. We were thrilled to host the Carolina Chocolate Drops member for her livestreamed debut ACL taping, and the NC native didn’t disappoint.
A barefoot Giddens and her seven-piece Americana orchestra took the stage to already enthusiastic applause. Donning her banjo, she and the band launched into the dramatic “Spanish Mary,” a Bob Dylan song Giddens finished for the all-star New Basement Tapes project. An accidentally muted fiddle meant an immediate retake – “Here’s a tune you may have heard before,” Giddens quipped – but the eager crowd clearly didn’t mind, and was rewarded with a tougher, grittier performance. She then moved to Tomorrow for the jaunty, fiddle-heavy “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” from the catalog of the great Dolly Parton, “one of the most feminist writers out there.” She stayed with classic country for a stirring take on Hank Cochran’s sad and beautiful “She’s Got You,” made famous by the iconic Patsy Cline, before turning to the catalog of folk singer Odetta for the African-American work song “Waterboy,” a powerful showcase for her classically-trained vocal chops. She closed out the Tomorrow portion of the evening with a rumbling version of the Geeshie Wiley blues “Last Kind Words” that spotlighted her Drops bandmate Hubby Jenkins on mandolin.
Giddens then dug into her own growing catalog of originals for “Julie.” Inspired by a book of slave narratives, the tune recounts a conversation between a slave and her mistress, a performance stripped down to Dirk Powell’s fiddle and her own banjo, which is a replica of a 19th-century instrument. The rest of the band rejoined them as Giddens switched to fiddle and Powell (a folk and traditional music star in his own right) picked up his accordion for the Creole tune “Dimanche Apres-Midi” (“Sunday Afternoon Waltz”). Giddens and the band rocked up the folk for “Louisiana Man,” a snarling romantic putdown from Giddens’ own pen that bore down thanks to the circle of her banjo, Powell’s fiddle, Jason Sypher’s bass and Chance McCoy’s electric guitar. Jenkins then stepped forward to join Giddens on vocals for the gospel song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” which he brought to the Drops’ repertoire.
Giddens went back to her own catalog for the chilling “At the Purchaser’s Option,” a dark tune inspired by a 19th century advertisement for a slave and her baby and frosted by Malcolm Parson’s scraping cello. After ten songs chronicling American folk, she crossed the ocean for one of the musical strains at its root, closing the set with a stunning performance of traditional Gaelic “Mouth Music” that brought the house down. A standing ovation brought Giddens and the band back, wherein she explained that this was the band’s last show of the year and how thankful she was for her band and the paths on which her music has taken her. Following hugs all around for the musicians, Gidden and friends launched into a medley of “That Lonesome Road” and “Up Above My Head” from the catalog of pioneering gospel singer/proto rock & roll guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe – a rollicking call-and-response closer with solos all around. The crowd sent the band out with wild cheers and applause, all well-deserved. It was a rousing closer to a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.