–by David Menconi
For the past two years, Music Maker’s Freight Train Blues concert season in Orange County has been a strictly virtual experience with performances available online-only due to concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. But the series is back to being a live event in 2022 with its eighth edition, kicking off May 13 at Carrboro Town Commons. And this time around, it’s in-person only.
“We’re not filming this at all,” says Tim Duffy, founding president of Hillsborough-based Music Maker Foundation. “We looked into that but decided all the gear would not make for a good experience for attendees. So this time, you’ve got to show up.”
Sponsored by WUNC and the Town of Carrboro, the free five-show series will run from mid-May to mid-June on five consecutive Friday evenings, with shows starting at 6:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Commons. And the schedule breaks down like this:
May 13 – Hermon Hitson and Harvey Dalton Arnold. A long-time journeyman on the Southern chitlin circuit, Hitson is a powerful psychedelic-blues guitarist who has played alongside Joe Tex, Wilson Picket, Jimi Hendrix and other luminaries. Arnold played bass in Southern-rock superstars The Outlaws during their 1970s prime, but nowadays plays the sort of blues he grew up with in rural North Carolina.
May 20 – Sacred Soul of North Carolina Revue with Weaver Gospel Singers, Bishop Albert Harrison, Johnsonaires, Glorifying Vines Sisters. A great gospel lineup top to bottom, featuring bona fide legends of North Carolina sacred music.
May 27 – Hard Drive and The Branchettes. The Freight Train series gets into bluegrass-leaning traditional music with Hard Drive, a group featuring the rising young old-time fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves. The Branchettes, who are subject of the documentary film “Stay Prayed Up,” fall in more of a hymn-like vein. https://spiritualhelpline.com/stay-prayed-up
June 3 — La Banda de los Guanajuatenses and Joe Troop with Larry Bellorín. North Carolina’s status as a top immigration destination for people from Latin America is evident in the regional popularity of La Banda de los Guanajuatenses, an upbeat dance band that formed in the Mexican town of San Pedro Tenango more than two decades ago. Grammy-nominated “Latingrass” banjo player Joe Troop also appears, sharing the stage with Venezuelan master musician Larry Bellorin.
June 10 – Gail Caesar, Tad Walters, Lil’ Jimmy Reed. For its final 2022 show, the Freight Train series closes with a Music Maker Blues Revue bill that features some of its top regular performers.
Overall, this year’s Freight Train series features an eclectic lineup of mostly local acts, spanning a stylistic palette that goes well beyond the traditional blues usually associated with Music Maker. Duffy sees that as appropriate, given the series’ inspirational namesake roots – the late great Piedmont blueswoman Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, who was born in what is now Carrboro in 1893 and wrote her oft-covered signature composition “Freight Train” before she was even a teenager. Murals of her decorate various walls around Carrboro.
“We’re trying to represent more of the Triangle and North Carolina, which is a great musical state,” says Duffy. “And we’re honoring Libba Cotten, who to us represents North Carolina at its best. It’s in the spirit of trying to introduce these wonderful musicians from our community as the national treasures they are. North Carolina is not a state that jumps up and down saying, ‘We’re the greatest!’ But these are musicians who could be onstage at Carnegie Hall, they’re that good. And it’s free!”