Rhiannon Giddens brings new meaning to the phrase over-programmed.
The past month or so has found her working on a commissioned score for the National Ballet; putting on multiple performances and workshops at the North Carolina Folk Festival in her native Greensboro; and recording her next album in Dublin, Ireland, with super-producer Joe Henry. Meanwhile, another half-dozen projects await, all simmering on the back burner.
“You just do what’s in front of you,” Giddens said, calling from Greensboro. “I’m not good at planning ahead because it’s just too much. I plan, set it up and then don’t think about it again until it’s almost time. That’s just how it goes. So I was just working on a ballet for three days and then, bam, right into the folk festival. It just takes super-focus. But yeah, I’m tired all the time.
A year after giving a dynamic keynote speech at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s conference, Giddens is back in Raleigh — this time to perform. She’ll play Sept. 28 at Wide Open Bluegrass at Red Hat Amphitheater alongside the First Ladies of Bluegrass.
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The all-female collaboration brings together acts who have won IBMA’s player of the year — Alison Brown on banjo, Missy Raines on bass, Becky Buller on fiddle, Sierra Hull playing mandolin and Molly Tuttle on guitar. Giddens and Gillian Welch will lend the program additional star power by serving as special guests.
As with gigs such as this and the North Carolina Folk Festival, most of the heavy-lifting happens on the front end with advance planning. The time onstage is almost a relief.
“Just playing is the thing I’m least worried about,” Giddens said. “With the folk festival, it was a very innovative program with jazz piano, jazz tap, spoken word, voice, and it was great. But there was stress leading up to it because it takes time and effort. There were awesome amazing people and a beautiful energy at everything. I was amazed at how many people showed up for a Saturday-morning workshop of papers and Power Point.”
A mammoth amount of work is also going into one of Giddens’ more ambitious projects. It’s a musical along the lines of “Hamilton” about the Wilmington racial massacre of 1898, in which a white mob overthrew local government in a fit of mayhem that involved murder and torching black-owned businesses.
The Wilmington uprising has often been called a race riot. Giddens, who was named a 2017 “Genius Grant” winner by the MacArthur Foundation last year, said says that’s the sort of glossing-over she is committed to exposing.
“People seem ready for a more in-depth idea of folk music, culture and history,” she said. “We have been fed so many false narratives, many of them racialized to deliberately feed a racist agenda. It’s important to address and dig into that wherever you can. The truth, the real history, is way more interesting and representative of what America actually is.”
What: Wide Open Bluegrass Special Collaboration with Alison Brown, Becky Buller, Sierra Hull, Missy Raines, Molly Tuttle and guest appearances by Gillian Welch and Rhiannon Giddens. The program also features Earls of Leicester, “The Trust,” Flatt Lonesome, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper and others.
When: 2 p.m. Friday, with the Special Collaboration at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, downtown Raleigh
Tickets: The set is part of the ticketed Wide Open Bluegrass. Shows are Friday and Saturday. Single-day tickets start at $50 for IBMA members, $60 for the general public. Two-day passes start at $80 for IBMA members and $100 for nonmembers. Children 12 and younger free with paying adults (general admission.)