With a box office gross of over $400 million worldwide, a chart-topping soundtrack, and roughly 20 million copies of the book in print, people just can’t get enough of “The Hunger Games.” Teenage and adult fans alike have rallied around the film, with countless mass media outlets constantly finding new ways to cash in on the cultural phenomenon.
Despite the constant publicity, not everybody is caught up in the whirlwind of the “Games.” Having just been woken up by an early-morning phone call, Carolina Chocolate Drops member Dom Flemons is not shy about letting loose the occasional yawn between his many musical anecdotes. He is currently back in his hometown of Phoenix while the band is on break, and fully intends on resting up before hitting the road once again.
It is on the road where the Chocolate Drops can finally gauge just how much their popularity may have grown since being featured on “The Hunger Games” companion soundtrack. After receiving an email asking them to write new material for the album, this old-time folk band found it impossible to say “no” to such a great opportunity.
“None of us had ever heard of the books, ‘The Hunger Games,’ so we picked up copies and started reading them,” Flemons said. “Aside from it being a great book, with the talk of it being a good-sized movie we said, ‘Sure, let’s do that.’ (Band member) Rhiannon (Giddens) was particularly inspired by the books to write some songs for it.”
A former Central High School student himself, Flemons has been playing the drums since fifth grade, but did not become interested in folk music until about 13 years ago when he started playing guitar.
He first got together with Giddens in 2005 when they played in a group together for a few months in cities like Phoenix and Flagstaff. They moved to North Carolina soon after, where they met fiddler Justin Robinson and decided to form a band.
The band name was inspired by the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, a 1920s country blues group that Flemons lists as one of their major influences. Although they mainly stick with their old-fashioned fiddle and banjo sound, the band enjoys delving into a wide array of genres such as jazz, hip-hop and even Haitian folk.
“There’s been such a vast musical landscape in America over the past several hundred years so there’s a lot of space that we haven’t gotten into like ragtime or traditional R&B,” Flemons said. “We’ve been touring a lot this year, so there hasn’t been a ton of time to really sit down, work and experiment with the different instruments that are available to us.”
In 2011, the Chocolate Drops won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for their fourth record “Genuine Negro Jig.” They have since lent their time to a variety of projects including their latest album “Leaving Eden” and various tribute compilations alongside artists such as The Civil Wars, The Low Anthem and The Decemberists.
“It’s been funny to see how that all kind of works out — how we’re in this circuit of people that are New Americana and making some waves,” Flemons said. “It’s fun to do one-off track songs on different projects because you get to jump out of your normal ground. Also, there’s less pressure to make one album around the same idea. You just have to do one idea and that’s the end of that.”
Chris Serino, their tour manager, sound engineer and self-described “general taker carer of things,” says the Chocolate Drops are laid-back and easygoing people. At the same time, he believes they are extremely driven and have a deeper motivation to expose their genre of music to the public.
“They are doing something that no else is,” Serino said. “There are old-time bands, but no one that really pulls the music into the modern age. They really love what they do, and that’s the essence that shines through and what moves people so much.”
The group will get the chance to entertain a whole new crowd while opening for the Dave Matthews Band on tour this summer, but not before they make a stop in Flemons’ former stomping grounds. The band will be performing at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix on Sunday, which marks the first time the Chocolate Drops have performed together in the area.
Festival founder John Largay has been trying to book the group for the past few years, and was glad they were able to work it into their schedule this spring. Now in its ninth year, Largay believes the Chocolate Drops’ porch-style music is a perfect fit for the event.
“We like a diverse genre style of music and they fit that bill,” Largay said. “I think they got pure entertainment value, and I think people that are coming are going to see a style in the Chocolate Drops that they’ve never seen before.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops will play the McDowell Mountain Music Festival on the grounds of The Compound Grill, 7000 E. Mayo Blvd., Suite 21, in Phoenix at noon on April 15.
For more information about the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, visit www.mmmf.net.
To learn more about the Carolina Chocolate Drops, go to www.carolinachocolatedrops.com.
• Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.