In my experience, y’all, there is no kind of lost, like Durham lost. I love Durham, I really really do, but what is it about this town that guarantees that I’ll get entirely ensnared in transportation difficulties here, more often than not? In a particularly notorious incident last year, we were heading back to Raleigh in three separate cars, all of which were involved in a traffic jam stretching to infinity, one of which was sandwiched in a bumper-to-bumper fender bender, one of which ran out of gas, and one of which temporarily lost its keys in the madcap roadside adventure. Each loop around to rescue someone involved 20 minutes of navigating traffic. We were pretty sure it would have been easier to move to Durham than get back to Raleigh that night.
Last night was actually worse. I was with my mom, en route from Watt’s Grocery to Page Auditorium. GPS failure. Map failure. Lead-driver failure. Shoe failure. Pedestrian failure. Punctuality failure. Patience failure. Optimism failure. Christmas Cheer failure. It was full-on Mercury in Retrograde. It was the high-school stress dream I still have sometimes, in which I sit down to take an exam, and my pencil breaks. I excuse myself to go to my locker, and the hallways telescope and go labyrinthine, and I am hopelessly lost, and I stumble back to my desk just as the bell rings and my blank exam is due. Shudder.
At any rate, we made it. We parked approximately twenty-five miles from Page Auditorium, with eight minutes till showtime. Eight minutes after showtime, my mother was hobbling and wearing one shoe on some dark winding godforsaken path in the faux-gothic dorm parking lots behind Duke Chapel, but was recalcitrant and refused to sit down long enough and recover the feeling in her foot. I, having purchased these tickets for my mother as a birthday present months ago, was pretty sure I was heading directly to that special place in hell reserved for those who get lost and make their mothers hobble through dark deserted parking lots as a birthday present. The mood was low.
We slunk into Page Auditorium in the dark, fifteen minutes late. Fortunately for us, a full quarter of the audience arrived after we did, also cursing and looking frazzled. The opening band was cheerful. Nobody glared at the latecomers. There was gypsy music. There were dueling fiddles. We sat still. We regrouped. We tried to forget the last hour. We tried to find some Christmas cheer.
Cheer returned, people, in the form of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. There is nothing these people can’t do. They take traditional music, and make it their own, and then make it our own, which is quite something to experience. I haven’t seen them perform since the Grammy win last spring; I was as proud of that as if I’d won it myself. Way to represent Carolina, y’all. They’ve evolved since I saw them last year at Lincoln Theater; they’ve brought in some new musicians, and done some collaborating, and done quite a bit of traveling. They’ve worked in some new, and kept the faith with the old, just like they do in their music. The only hard part of the evening, after getting there, was sitting still in a non-dancing crowd. I challenge you to try and sit still when the Carolina Chocolate Drops are around.
If I could, right this second, get to be anyone else for one day, I think it would be Rhiannon Giddens. What do you suppose it feels like to be the girl with that much talent? That much joy? That much style? That much ease at being in your own skin? When she did the Irish lilting, accompanied by Brooklyn beatboxing, she got her own personal standing O. She can also rock a kazoo. She is badass.
I wound my may back to the car while my Mom was watching the encore, through the dark, deserted parking lots. I, who am not a fear-based kind of person, had the fleeting thought of, “So this is how I’m going to go. Attacked by wild creature out of Duke Forest, alone in a faux-gothic parking lot, on a wintry night.” It didn’t happen. Mercury or otherwise, we made it out of Durham again without incident.
And it was all totally worth it.