A few weeks ago my wife and I journeyed the 1,000 miles down to King’s Mountain, North Carolina, to attend the seventh annual Darin & Brooke Aldridge Holiday Concert at the Joy Performance Center there. We attended both the afternoon and the evening shows, enjoying each immensely. But our journey with Darin and Brooke is much longer and more interesting than a 2,000 mile weekend road trip in early winter.
We first met Darin Aldridge and his then-new fiancée Brooke Justice at the (almost) legendary Bomb Shelter in the very small village of Cherryville, North Carolina, a little over a decade ago. Cherryville (population just over 5,000 and located less than an hour west of Charlotte) was once the home of trucking company Carolina Freight. The Bomb Shelter, owned by local business and social leaders Jack and Judy Bingham, is pretty hard to find. Matter of fact, you can’t find it without a local bluegrasser’s willingness to take you there. But there’s are jams year round. In chilly winter and spring the jam is down in the old, buried cinderblock bomb shelter. In fine weather, the jam moves outside to a bonfire and small stage set next to a cottage Jack has turned into a living museum of music and local culture. One evening, we were introduced to Darin and Brooke there by the late Dr. Bobby Jones, also known online as Dr. Tom Bibey, whose virtual acquaintance you should be sure to make through his blog and his book, The Mandolin Case. But I digress ...
In 2009, the recently married Darin and Brooke Aldridge were a struggling young couple seeking to fulfill their dream of a career in gospel and bluegrass music. We spent a four-day weekend traveling with them as they moved through a variety of churches spread from Cherryville to the hollows of Ashe County, North Carolina, in the depths of Appalachia. Here’s the story of that weekend. Visiting the small, rural churches, filled with the Spirit as well as deeply engaged in worship through music, provided a revelation and insights for us we could never have otherwise achieved. The warmth of the welcome from Brooke’s family and her home church remain with us.
During his career, Darin Aldridge, while living and teaching multiple instruments in and near his hometown of Cherryville, has played with significant bands across the range of bluegrass, from deeply traditional to wildly progressive. He first appeared with Acoustic Syndicate while still in high school. Here’s a 2017 reunion video including Darin:
Soon after completing high school, Darin toured for five years with The Country Gentlemen, often serving in a support role for founder Charlie Waller, who was often ill. Here’s a 2001 performance:
Quick cut to a decade later, the present day, and Brooke has recently won her second International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year award. The band, like all bands these days, is still working hard to spread its reputation, but they recently scored a huge triumph when they signed a recording agreement with the venerable Rounder Records, at various times the home label of Alison Krauss, the SteelDrivers, George Thorogood, and Steve Martin. In the last few months, Darin & Brooke Aldridge have been featured several times on the Grand Old Opry, They have recently been touring with John Cowan (New Grass Revival, Doobie Brothers) as well as Jimmy Fortune (The Statler Brothers). Their vocal contributions as well as Darin’s outstanding and versatile instrumentals have made them a strong catch for other bands. Darin is currently on tour with the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, including Herb Peterson, a member of the historic Desert Rose Band, seen here in a recent concert in Nevada:
And here’s a video of Darin performing with The Harris Brothers, a versatile duo from Lenoir, North Carolina, and one of the best bands you may not have heard about.
What propels a band to this sort of success? Is ten years a long time, or just a moment? They would credit their faith and hard work. Darin’s musical vision, broadened through his deep and wide experience, contributes a level of versatility that may seem surprising to many. Through the years, Darin has worked tirelessly to add musicians to the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band whose talents and experience complement the vision that’s been developing in his head since his earliest performing days. Meanwhile, Brooke returns from triumphs on the road each week to her full-time job as a teacher’s aide working with special needs students.
Each change in the band has seemed a fine fit, while building a full sound composed of creative musicians who bring passion and spirit to their work. Furthermore, the breadth of music they select, from country standards to surprising finds, and new songs chosen from contemporary songwriters provides an astonishingly broad palette for their musical interpretation. Young discoveries combined with deeply experienced musicians characterize the band. Young Carley Arrowood on fiddle and harmony vocals continues to grow while bringing a refreshing enthusiasm. Banjo player Matt Menefee, formerly with Cadillac Sky ,is one of the finest banjo stylists around. Billy Gee on bass has been a reliable trooper for a generation.
After ten years and five CDs, their catalog has become long and deep enough so that no performance can possibly satisfy all the requests from their broad range of fans. That’s a good thing! There’s no telling what honors, awards, and opportunities the future will bring for this remarkable, and still young, duo who find expression for their remarkable love story and steadfast faith in the music they give to all of us.