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Dom Flemons Headlines Classic City American Music Festival

Despite the change in the venue’s name earlier this year, The Foundry will continue with its Fourth of July tradition by hosting the seventh annual Classic City American Music Festival on Saturday. This year’s festival includes a formidable list of folk and bluegrass performers, including Dom Flemons, a founding (and now former) member of acclaimed proto-folk outfit Carolina Chocolate Drops.

After a successful show at The Foundry earlier this year, Flemons was invited back for the festivities on the Fourth. He says his set won’t change all that much for the holiday celebration and will include “elements of old-timey music, but expanded out a bit more: a lot of old-time rock and roll and country music.”

With two solo releases under his belt since leaving the Chocolate Drops (including this year’s What Got Over EP, released on Record Store Day), Flemons is well on his way toward charting his own path as a solo artist.

“With the Carolina Chocolate Drops, I was pretty much the engine that made that thing run,” he says. “As anyone that can see what they’re doing now [knows], it’s not what it was before.”

Flemons says his solo endeavor has allowed him to explore musical terrain on his own terms. A student of American folk music, he admits that it has taken him years to develop “a very strong musical identity.”

The performer is known for incorporating a rather unusual instrument into his music: percussive bones. “I have my own personal connection to the bones,” says Flemons, who admits he didn’t initially feel that connection when a friend introduced him to the instrument at a fiddlers’ convention.

Bones were incorporated into the blackface minstrel shows of yesteryear, explains Flemons, but there is a history of black use, as well. He says he wants to honor the instrument: “I don’t make it a kitschy thing.”

Saturday’s festival reflects the growing popularity of so-called “Americana” music over the past several years. Flemons notes parallels between the folk revival in the ‘60s and today’s renewed interest in acoustic music. For starters, he says, a post-war society often feels sentimentality for cultural artifacts that have been long associated with the homeland.

“[There’s] a lot of discontent in American identity… You read about how people were discontent with popular music in the ‘60s… Now, the pop music that we have in the States is even more watered down. I think that acoustic music, Americana music and history-based music with actual depth to it is very exciting to people.”  

Technology also plays a factor, Flemons says. While the world has gotten flatter, audiences still find regionally-based music compelling. “[With globalization], it seems only natural that people would want to move into something that is a little closer to them,” he says.

Although Flemons finds comfort in certain musical traditions, he is equally fond of innovation. Still, “I find that we’re in a weird spot with music,” he says. “Everyone is so used to pushing the envelope with music that there’s no envelope to push; there’s nothing to push off from.

“It’s good to push away from the standards. It just seems as though there aren’t any standards for anything anymore. Things have gotten so confusing,” he adds.

Flemons views the uptick of streaming services and the downslide of music sales as part and parcel of those eroding standards. He says artists have ceded control over royalties to streaming services in a way that laborers in other industries would not tolerate.

Despite all this uncertainty, Flemons doesn’t show any signs of changing course in terms of his own aesthetic, adding, “I just go out there and show people what I do.”

WHAT: Classic City American Music Festival
WHERE: The Foundry
WHEN: Saturday, July 4, 2 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $10 (adv.), $15 (door)