Music Maker Foundation is holding a series of free concerts at Carrboro Town Commons every Friday evening from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. from May 13 to June 10.
The concert series, called Freight Train Blues, is named after the eponymous song by Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, a folk and blues artist born in Carrboro in 1893. Her folk revival music went on to inspire artists like Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cotten was inducted into the hall of fame on May 4.
Freight Train Blues honors Cotten’s legacy and highlights other Southern artists making folk, soul, bluegrass, gospel and blues music. The series is sponsored by WUNC and the Town of Carrboro.
Music Maker founder Tim Duffy said that most of the artists that the foundation works with are 55 and older, and many of them have a yearly income of less than $25,000.
"Our mission is to help the pioneers of Southern musical traditions through our programs," he said.
Music Maker Foundation is a nonprofit based in Hillsborough. The foundation has assisted with the professional and personal needs of Southern musical artists for nearly 30 years.
The foundation's sustenance program helps these artists with living costs, and their professional development program works to document the artists and release their music.
“A lot of the point of what we're doing is creating what we like to call cultural equity," Duffy said. "In the music business, only the rich and powerful labels get on the radio stations, or the most powerful artists get into museum exhibitions. But by documenting these artists and presenting them in such a way, they can be seen and celebrated."
Performing tomorrow night is Hermon Hitson, an American guitarist who has been making music for over 60 years. He has collaborated with artists like Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters and Jimi Hendrix.
Hitson said he was inspired to play guitar by the artists that he was listening to in his youth, like Sam Cooke and James Brown. He began recording music in Atlanta, which helped him make contacts in the industry.
“By the time I got to Atlanta, that's when I began to meet all the people I was hearing on the radio," Hitson said. "And that influenced me real great.”
Hitson continues to make music and said he is planning to release a new album in July or August with Music Maker Foundation.
“Hopefully, that’ll do a lot and give me another new audience, and I am so excited about that,” he said.
Other artists performing at Freight Train Blues include Lil’ Jimmy Reed, who calls himself “the last of the original Louisiana bluesmen"; Hard Drive, a millennial bluegrass collective; La Banda de Los Guanajuatenses, a group of 13 musicians from Guanajuato, Mexico; and many more.
This will be the eighth annual Freight Train Blues series. There will be a total of five free shows in the series. Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said he is happy to see the event fully in person.
“I think people are eager to be back at these kinds of events and enjoying being with their neighbors in a way that feels comfortable and safe and that celebrates this great community,” he said.
Seils said Carrboro’s local culture and economy are built around the arts and live music, and Freight Train Blues symbolizes what the town is all about. He said Cotten has become a "hometown hero" in Carrboro, and he is looking forward to celebrating her legacy.
“We get to enter Spring with a bang here in Carrboro, while also celebrating one of our own," Seils said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.