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Robust Records keeps pulse of local music in the Triangle

Photo courtesy of Mitch Collman of Robust Records.

Within the Chapel Hill music scene, a practicing cardiologist is maintaining the punchy, soulful heartbeat of North Carolina rhythms. 

With a passion for the heart and for music, Dr. Mitch Collman moved to Chapel Hill in 1983 for medical training and made himself at home with the area's music scene, stumbling upon a diverse amalgam of roots-style tunes. With this discovery, he set out to create a resource for local artists to share their music with the world and founded Robust Records in 2008. The label, which distributes artists such as Grand Shores and Chatham Rabbits, focuses on helping beginning artists gain their footing in the industry.

“During the first few decades, I was busy training in cardiology and establishing a practice and raising a family," Collman said.  "But, about 15 years ago, I decided I wanted to get involved in the music scene."

Since starting Robust Records, he’s released a total of twenty-five albums with a growing list of bands and singers.

“We worked with them on our very first record, which was back in 2018,” Sarah McCombie, member of the folk band Chatham Rabbits, said.

Chatham Rabbits' first album, "All I Want From You," came out in 2019 through Robust Records. McCombie said the experience was positive because of Collman's passion for helping artists and connecting them with the roots music industry. 

Collman leaves creative control to the artist, Will Ridenour, a member of Grand Shores, said. He cares about the success of each artist he works with and about helping them get the resources they need.

“It's like having children and seeing them grow and succeed and thrive ultimately on their own,” Collman said.

Hank Smith is a UNC music professor and member of Hank, Pattie & The Current, another of Robust Records' bands. He said Collman is focused on authenticity. Smith's band combines a traditional North Carolina bluegrass sound with other genres like classical and Motown, according to their website. 

Since signing with Robust Records in 2015, they’ve written, recorded and released multiple albums. Smith said Collman allows the artists he works with to have their own creative freedoms while giving them the helping hand of production, recording equipment and all the resources needed to find success in today’s music world while playing a genre like bluegrass.

Collman has made it his mission to increase exposure for his artists, expanding the horizons of Robust Records to big events like the International Bluegrass Music Association Bluegrass Live festival.

IBMA is a non-profit association and conference focused on highlighting bluegrass artists worldwide. They hold yearly showcases in Raleigh, bringing together the folk and roots musicians of North Carolina.

Grand Shores performed at the last IBMA conference. The duo come together as a mix of West African folk and plucky Americana, creating a sound that Collman said he found extraordinary.

Gabriel Pelli and Will Ridenour, the make-up of Grand Shores, have been with Robust Records since 2020.

“[Mitch] is really a music fan who just loves to promote music that he likes,” Pelli said. “And so if he likes something, he will — in our case, he approached us and asked if we might be interested in releasing any music through his label.” 

For Collman, good music is made of rich lyricism and an overall uniqueness he said is only present in a fraction of artists. 

“There are a lot of good bands in the world making a lot of good music," Collman said. "But I try to figure out who has the potential to go further based on those qualities and where they currently are."

He hopes to continue his work this year with three more albums; one with Hank, Pattie & The Current, another with folk artist Jesse Fox and another with pop-noir group The Old Ceremony.

“I'm a parent, I have four kids — I feel that my kids are a reflection of me, and I feel the same way about the bands that I work with,” Collman said. “They are a reflection of me.”

@dthlifestyle |

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