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Freight Train Blues concert series celebrates Carrboro music legend Elizabeth Cotten

Trombonist Evan Ringel plays with band Conjunto Breve during their performance at Music Maker's Freight Train Blues concert series on Friday, June 9, 2023.

Freight Train Blues, a concert series celebrating the life of blues legend and Carrboro native Elizabeth Cotten, is back for its ninth year this summer. 

The concert series focuses on traditional folk music, bringing various folk artists to the Carrboro Town Commons every Friday night at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. from May 5 to June 23.

The concert series is sponsored by the Town of Carrboro Cultural Resources, Recreation and Parks Department, Tourism and Development Authority, the Music Maker Foundation and WUNC.

Cotten was an influential Black folk and blues singer from Carrboro. She was known for her guitar and banjo style.

Her most famous song "Freight Train" has been covered by a number of artists, including Bob Dylan. On Nov. 5 of last year, she was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

“She is truly a titan of folk music, and deserves all the attention beyond what we can even try to get for her,” Aaron Greenhood, the producer and curator of Freight Train Blues, said.

He said that because the contributions of Black women are often overlooked, it is important to keep the legacy of Cotten alive through the concert series.  

Each concert is free to the public. Greenhood said this is important because of the type of music being showcased.

“It’s the music of the people, so why should it be restricted?” he said. 

This summer, the series has hosted artists like Gail Ceasar, Lil’ Jimmy Reed, David Childers, Faith & Harmony and Magnum & Company. 

Concertgoers can see performances of Conjunto Breve, Dedicated Men of Zion, Shelton Powe and Pat "Mother Blues" Cohen during the rest of the series, among others.

Tim Duffy, the president and co-founder of the Music Maker Foundation, said the artists chosen for the show are chosen by the quality of their music rather than their name recognition or popularity. 

“What defines all of them?" he said. "They speak the truth. Their lyrics speak the truth. The music is heartfelt and it's something extremely real.” 

Duffy said that the Friday night concerts are bringing anywhere between 500 and 800 people to the Carrboro Town Commons. 

“I think this community itself has a strong affinity for folk music,” he said. 

While the concerts bring out the local Orange County community, they also bring attendees from all over North Carolina and even neighboring states,  Michelle Blume, Carrboro Recreation and Park Department’s recreation supervisor, said.

She also said that many families are able to attend the concert and expose their children to the traditional music played.

“Families bring out their kids as well and they're getting involved dancing, singing coming on stage,” she said. “So it's a really beautiful thing to see when the whole family is able to come out and enjoy this music series.”

David Childers, a Mount Holly, N.C.-based artist who performed at the concert series on May 12, said the crowd at the show left him with a great feeling.

“The experience we had up there recently was just beautiful," he said. "I floated home."

@DTHCityState | 

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