Though Chatham County Line's typical live shows find the players gathered with acoustic instruments around a single microphone, they're not just a bluegrass band. No, their roots are in rock 'n' roll. Their bond was forged while playing with the folk-rock outfit Stillhouse, most of whose members were also in early backing band for songstress Tift Merritt. Chatham County Line found bluegrass almost by accident; the group's catchy, pop-inflected take on the genre is testament to that fact.
The band's annual holiday tour of the Southeast—expanded to seven dates this year—allows CCL to indulge other muses. Though the gigs feature an acoustic set, the main attraction is a rock 'n' roll supergroup filled out with the band's musical friends.
"It's really a present for us more than anything," confesses guitarist and songwriter Dave Wilson. "We get to do our acoustic show, and then we get to get our buddies out on stage and rock out. That's the reason it keeps getting longer. We used to just do it one night in Raleigh. The next thing you know it was four or five days last year."
It doesn't hurt that CCL's buddies include talented songwriter Johnny Irion, bassist Jay Brown (still a member of Merritt's band) and drummer Zeke Hutchins, an in-demand player who currently tours with Sharon Van Etten. For revved-up originals and raucous covers, the collaborators infuse CCL's kinetic acoustic style with piano and pedal steel, along with electric guitar and bass. The results drive with an energy not far removed from the band's regular performances, revealing—and reveling in—rock 'n' roll foundations. —Jordan Lawrence