Robbie Fulks with Shad Cobb and Todd Phillips
Motorco, Durham
Thursday, June 16, 2016

“Durham, North Carolina … top of the world” were the first words from Robbie Fulks as he kicked off his show last week at Motorco. Fulks is an alumni of the Carolina Friends School, so many former classmates sat close-by. Fulks’s new Bloodshot release, Upland Stories, contains a number of autobiographical songs involving his time in the area.

He told the story of his Aunt Peg, who lived around Galax, Virginia. She was a banjo traditionalist who did not care for his three-finger Scruggs style of playing, while Fulks didn’t like her traditional clawhammer style. After they traded insults, Fulks put down the banjo for many years until visiting Wendell’s ZEPP Country Music. Despite their contentious relationship, Fulks dedicates a song on the album to his mentor, “Aunt Peg’s New Old Man.”

Before playing “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Girls,” Fulks admitted to being a bit embarrassed to discuss the stories behind the song, as many of its subjects were sitting in the audience. “This is a verbal picture of life here in the seventies, going back and forth between a person who stayed and someone who left,” he said. The song’s somber tone suggests Fulks may have some regrets about moving away many years ago. Still, it combines humor with poignancy, with lines about “sniffing glue in the Northgate Mall” and “Chapel Hill hasn’t done me wrong/it was fine until it wasn’t.”

Fulks was Joined by Shad Cobb and Todd Phillips, and the trio combined for bluegrass-style pickin’ and well-written songs, making me wonder why they haven’t been drafted for any of Raleigh’s International Bluegrass Music Association‘s festivities. Regardless, Fulks finished the evening with a song synonymous with North Carolina: “Cigarette State.”

Below are clips from the evening’s performance.

Robbie Fulks, “Sometimes The Grass Is Really Greener”

YouTube video