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Carrboro Town News

Posted on: March 1, 2023

Music Maker Foundation's Ninth Annual "Freight Train Blues" Coming to Carrboro

Fan Front Side FTB 2023

CARRBORO, N.C. -- The Town of Carrboro, N.C., proudly presents the Music Maker Foundation’s Freight Train Blues series of live concerts every Friday evening between May 5 and June 23, 2023, at the Carrboro Town Commons, 301 W. Main St. The series is a collaboration among  Music Maker Foundation; the Town of Carrboro; WUNC 91.5 FM; and The Forests at Duke.

An annual event, the concert series honors GRAMMY-winning folk and blues artist and North Carolina Music Hall of Famer Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, born in Carrboro, N.C. in 1893. Cotten’s soulful voice and unique guitar style have rendered her a legend in the world of blues, leading her to receive National Heritage Fellowship in 1984 and a GRAMMY award in 1985. She lived to be 104 years old and died in 1987. Her songs, like the iconic “Freight Train,” have been reimagined by artists like The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. In 2022, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Music Maker Foundation honors Cotten’s legacy in the world of roots music by emphasizing the cultural diversity, complexity, and vitality of her music and the music of many other artists local to her community and all over the country. 

Bring your picnic, lawn chairs and blankets for an evening of live music on the lawn. Public parking is available and free in downtown Carrboro.

More information:

Freight Train Blues Concert Series 2023 Lineup:

May 5 - Gail Ceasar, Lil’ Jimmy Reed
Gail Ceasar floats somewhere between bluegrass and the blues. Her music has roots that run deep in Virginia soil. Taught the blues by her uncle, Pete Witcher, Gail’s Piedmont style is “reminiscent of Etta Baker and Elizabeth Cotten” (Bluegrass Situation). Losing her home to a fire in 2022 didn’t stop her from releasing her debut album, Guitar Woman Blues. The album, produced by Music Maker, has been called “sweet and captivating” and “gritty and raw as the high lonesome wind” (Americana Highways). She performed with Music Maker at the National Gallery of Art in February 2023. 

Lil’ Jimmy Reed began writing his own music the moment he picked up a guitar. Since then he has played across the world, from London to Jerusalem. Though not related to his famous namesake, he was once booked by a promoter as Lil’ Jimmy Reed and kept the moniker, as he is a master of the elder Reed’s style and repertoire on guitar and harmonica. In addition to being a triple threat, he is also a military veteran, who served our country for 20 years. As the last of the early Baton Rouge bluesmen, Lil' Jimmy Reed embodies the down-home Louisiana blues tradition. Recently signed by NOLA Blue Records, the octogenarian has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

May 12 - David Childers, Thomas Rhyant
Born and raised in Mt. Holly, N.C., David Childers has written hundreds of songs and recorded nearly 20 albums on various record labels. David and his band, The Serpents, have played extensively in N.C., V.A., and T.N. for more than 20 years. They have played numerous festivals such as MerleFest, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, AmericanaFest, Albino Skunk Fest, McMenamins Great Northwest Music Tour, Avetts at the Beach, Mountain Stage, and more. Childers, who has collaborated with members of The Avett Brothers for years, joined the band on stage at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, to sing his song, “The Prettiest Thing,” which they have covered since 2011.

After decades of touring in gospel quartets, Thomas Rhyant launched a solo career. His prowess for vocals and nimble acoustic guitar work are clearly felt in his touring tribute to Sam Cooke, whom he claims as his greatest influence. Rhyant uses music to tell the stories of those who came before him, allowing people to not only understand but emotionally connect with history. Rhyant’s 2022 album, Love Lifted Me, brought Rhyant to the Newport Folk Festival.

May 19 - Music Maker Blues Revue feat. Aretta Woodruff, Sugar Harp, Hermon Hitson, Albert White and Ardie Dean (Electric Blues & R&B)
The Music Maker Blues Revue is an all-star band and a thriving musical institution. It was born in the early 1990s as a backing band for Guitar Gabriel, and quickly became a power cell of Music Maker Foundation’s live presence. Featuring dozens of different Music Maker artists over the years—from Etta Baker and Macavine Hayes to Robert Lee Coleman and Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen—the Revue has played all over the world in every kind of venue. They’ve busked on the sidewalks of High Point, N.C., and received standing ovations at Carnegie Hall. From Argentina to Australia, Europe to Guatemala, and across the U.S., the Revue pleases all types of fans; “the boogiers and the bookworms,” as drummer Ardie Dean puts it.

With her powerhouse vocals and an indefatigable spirit, Aretta Woodruff is taking charge of the Birmingham blues music scene. 20-plus years into her solo career, Aretta has been inducted into the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame by the Alabama Blues Society (2018), in addition to being elected the Blues Female Artist of the Year by the Alabama Music Awards in 2020. She has opened for artists including Denise LaSalle, Betty Wright, the Love Doctor, T.K. Soul, and many more. 

Charles “Sugar Harp” Burroughs plays the “down in the gutter, back-alley, storytelling” blues. When Charles Burroughs was eight years old his great-grandfather would simultaneously blow harp and strum a handmade guitar formed from an orange crate and broomsticks. Sitting on his lap, Charles said, “Grandaddy, I need to do that.” In the 65 years since he first picked up the harmonica, he has more than earned his moniker. The Birmingham veteran released his debut album Sugar is My Name at the age of 75. Sugar Harp’s songwriting and performing are comedic and “full of innuendo but always clever” (American Blues Scene).

Hermon Hitson boasts an impressive 50-year career, blending psychedelic rock, blues, R&B, and soul influences into an eclectic music style. The artist has worked closely with a number of notable artists, including Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Joe Tex, Bobby Womack, and Wilson Pickett. He released Let the Gods Sing in 2022 with Big Legal Mess and Music Maker, and has been called, “the most consequential, influential guitarist you’ve never heard of” (Premier Guitar), and “The guitar whisperer” (Americana Highways).

As a teenager, Albert White began playing with his uncle, the legendary R&B performer Piano Red. Since then, the Atlanta-based guitarist has performed with Joe Tex, Ray Charles, and many other artists during his half-century as a blues and R&B musician. And for the last two decades, Albert White has been, in many ways, the glue that holds the Revue together. He’s a killer rhythm guitarist — and a great soloist when asked to be. He makes everyone around him sound good.

Ardie Dean has been keeping blues time since 1969. He started out playing drums with Homesick James and then paid his dues on the Chitlin’ Circuit leading the band for R&B singer Chuck Strong. Dean has performed at Carnegie Hall and played with legendary artists including Ernie K-Doe, Bo Diddley, Greg Allman, and Taj Mahal. Ardie has been the rock of the Music Maker Blues Revue for more than 20 years, providing the rhythms through his drum playing and serving as musical director of the whole ensemble. Music Maker’s Producer and Artist Liaison, Dean has worked with artists such as Guitar Gabriel, Big Ron Hunter, Jerry McCain, Sweet Betty, Alabama Slim, Little Freddie King, and many more.

May 26 - The Blue Ridge Opry hosted by Kelley Breiding
The Blue Ridge Opry is a nostalgic country music variety show inspired by the early days of the Grand Old Opry and the heyday of classic country stars like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Uncle Dave Macon, The Carter Family, Loretta Lynn, and the like. The program is hosted and produced by singer and multi-instrumentalist Kelley Breiding and features a variety of musical guest stars including Martha Bassett, Jim Lloyd, Larry Sigmon, Wayne Dye, Asa Nelson, and Kelley and The Cowboys as well as comedy and dancers from the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

June 2 - Faith & Harmony, Mangum & Co. Gospel Brass Choir of the United House of Prayer for All People
Faith & Harmony comprises two sets of three sisters — all of them first cousins — who carry on a gospel singing tradition that runs deep in rural eastern North Carolina. Like their great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents before them, harmony and song have been part of the very essence of their existence. When they officially formed the group in 2012, they solidified their commitment to carrying on the family’s musical legacy. “You know how they pass the baton in a marathon?” asks member KeAmber Daniels, “Now it’s our turn to carry it as far as we can. Hopefully, we’ll be able to leave a legacy for our kids. And the future generations to come.” The group was featured in Sacred Soul of North Carolina, a documentary produced by Bible & Tire and Music Maker, which has aired on PBS and the NC Channel.

Led by soaring trombones with their slides pointed heavenward, Mangum & Company is a group of outstanding musicians representing many of Charlotte, N.C.’s United House of Prayer congregations. Shout bands are all-brass, gospel-based trombone choirs that represent a sacred musical tradition unique to United House of Prayer churches. They are central to worship services, inspiring congregants with joyous sounds of praise. “Our music feeds the soul,” says bandleader Charles Mangum, “It’s designed for the soul, and that’s what draws the people.”

June 9 - Conjunto Breve (Salsa)
Multinational Salsa Band Conjunto Breve was founded by renowned percussionist Brevan Hampden in 2012. Conjunto Breve’s members hail from across the Americas. They have played with and supported legendary Salsa innovators including Celia Cruz, La India, Tito Rojas, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, Paquito Guzman, Tito Gomez, Luis Enrique, N’Klabe, and many others. Their music is a blend of New York Style Salsa and Cuban Salsa, incorporating and refining traditions reaching back generations in the sounds of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.  Expect jubilant horns and woodwinds over dizzying rhythms that dissolve inhibitions and loosen up those hips!

June 16 - Dedicated Men of Zion, Jr. Weaver Gospel Singers
The Dedicated Men of Zion formed in Greenville, N.C. in 2014. The four singers—Anthony Daniels, Antoine Daniels, Marcus Sugg, and Dexter Weaver—are all related by blood or marriage. They grew up steeped in the gospel of Eastern North Carolina with families that took singing and church seriously. “Music and the church, it’s like a sandwich,” says Anthony, the leader of the group. “You got to have two pieces of bread to have a sandwich. The singing and the church, it just goes together.” While this church background infuses the group’s music, they’re not confined to the church walls. Their 2020 release, Can’t Turn Me Around, was critically acclaimed and celebrated by sacred and secular audiences alike, and followed it with 2022’s The Devil Don’t Like It, which brought them to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

Surviving members of the Weaver Gospel Singers — in song and with oral history – will pay tribute to group leader Susie Weaver, who passed away in 1984. Mrs. Weaver’s original song “Freedom Comes To Chapel Hill” was recorded live at First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. by JCP Records during the Civil Rights era. In addition to singing, Mrs. Weaver owned a funeral parlor and was active in the Civil Rights movement. The music will be accompanied by praise dancer Joshua Weaver, Mrs. Weaver’s grandson. This set is presented in partnership with the Marian Cheek Jackson Center.

June 23 - Shelton Powe, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen
Shelton Powe plays in the Piedmont finger-style guitar tradition of his parents and elders, but it took him a long time to get back to that music. Powe was born in 1957 in Charlotte, N.C., into a family of gifted instrumentalists, singers and dancers. His mother gave him harmonicas and guitars at Christmas, hoping to awaken a dormant musical aptitude, to no avail.

It wasn’t until the deaths of his mother and father in the late 1980s that Shelton became reacquainted with the rhythms and melodies of the old songs his parents used to sing. Picking up the guitar as a tribute to his deceased mother, Shelton set out to learn old-time blues and gospel the way he remembered it from his childhood. Living in Georgia, he immersed himself in the blues scene of Atlanta and soon found what he was looking for. Today, listening to him play and sing, you find yourself back at the wellspring of the Carolina Blues tradition. 

Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen shares the mettle, pathos and ocean-deep compassion of the blues singers she idolizes — Billie Holiday, Koko Taylor and Etta James. Despite losing her home twice, she keeps taking her talent and heart to the world. Pat’s performances have always unfurled the tapestry of her life experiences to her audience in soulful words and music. That compassion began to flow from Pat in brand new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. As her scheduled gigs disappeared, she began playing one-woman shows at nursing homes. She even made phone calls to individual people and sang to them. These works of compassion wound up making her the subject of touching stories on PBS Newshour and in Rolling Stone Magazine.

About WUNC
North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC creates, acquires, and distributes programming that enhances and reflects the diverse communities it serves. Through a blend of newscasts, feature radio, and digital reports, WUNC provides balanced information in a manner designed to help listeners make informed decisions as citizens. WUNC also produces culturally rich music programming that celebrates the diverse musical community in North Carolina. As an NPR affiliate, the station provides a 24 hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week news and public affairs service to listeners each week throughout the state of North Carolina. WUNC serves a wide geographic area with broadcasts that reach into more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

The broadcast license of North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC is held by the Board of WUNC Public Radio, LLC. More than 90 percent of WUNC’s annual budget comes from the support of individual donors, businesses, and foundations.

For more information about the station, please visit

About Carrboro 
Carrboro, N.C. is located just west of Chapel Hill equidistant to the mountains and the coast, and nestled in the rolling, wooded Piedmont. Home to a thriving local arts scene, Carrboro was named one of the country’s Top 5 Small Arts Towns by 24/7 Tempo. In addition to the Freight Train Blues Concert Series, the town also sponsors a variety of other signature events including the Carrboro Music Festival, Carrboro Film Fest, and the West End Poetry Festival. Carrboro is the place to visit for locally owned coffee shops, brewpubs, and award-winning restaurants; natural and organic foods at Weaver Street Market and the Carrboro Farmers Market; local arts and music venues like the Cat’s Cradle and The ArtsCenter; bikeable streets, and parks and walking trails—most of which you can find in the less than 1 square mile of Carrboro's downtown, where the parking is free. 

About The Forests at Duke
“The Forest at Duke is honored to partner with Music Maker this year. As an organization, we believe that music, creativity, and human connection are invaluable, and we are grateful for the opportunity to support Music Maker’s commitment to senior artists and their work.”

Internationally accredited by CARF/CCAC, Fitch rated, and neighbor to the Duke University campus and medical center, The Forest at Duke is a vibrant, nonprofit 501(c)(3) continuing care retirement community that has welcomed residents from numerous states and other parts of the world since its opening in 1992. Today, more than 400 people enjoy life at The Forest, and 275 team members are an integral part of their lives. Residents are professors, gardeners, authors, CEOs, community volunteers, opera buffs, engineers, librarians, homemakers, and artists—people from all walks of life who continue to learn, grow, mingle, and care. Along with growth and rejuvenation, they find security and peace of mind here as well. 


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