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Chatham County Line makes the strings hum with electricity

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You're always hearing about bands going "unplugged." Well, when it comes to Chatham County Line, they're doing the exact opposite — they're plugging in.

For 13 years, this Raleigh, N.C., string band has been performing bluegrass the old fashioned way: crowded around a single mike. But once a year, they go back to their fun-loving rock roots, and they always do it around the holidays.

"Before we were in this bluegrass band, we were rock 'n' rollers, so this is deeper in my blood than five-string banjos," says Dave Wilson. "It's just a good time."

Over the years, the tradition's spilled over from Raleigh to several Christmas shows around the region. Chatham County Line will be joined by a group of old touring buddies — Columbia, S.C.-born guitarist Johnny Irion, drummer Zeke Hutchins (Portastatic, Sharon Van Etten), and bassist Jay Brown (who plays with Zeke's wife, Tift Merritt).

The set's a loose, lively affair mixing rocked-up Chatham County originals and covers, including the Corvettes' classic "Beware of Time," Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," and the Kinks' "Complicated Life." The novelty's refreshing and the fun-loving spirit's infectious.

"It's great to play with a backbeat," Wilson says. "It's much more relaxing. Not that it's stressful to do the shows we do, but it's much more relaxing to kick back and let the music happen."

The band will likely play several tracks off their last studio release, 2010's Wildwood. It's Chatham County Line's fifth album, but the first to feature drums. (Hutchins joins them on a few tracks.) Wilson can't say what direction the band might take from here.

"It's really a natural progression that follows with all the stuff we're doing, but whether I could call it bluegrass, pop, or rock, I don't know. There are still lots of stories and still stuff that resonates with people that have liked what we've done so far. I don't know. We shall see," he says. "We're trying to work on new material in the downtime, but we've been playing so much there hasn't been much. Hopefully, we'll get a new record together this coming year and put it out toward the end of the year."

Chatham County Line, Thurs. Dec. 13, 8 p.m., at the Pour House. Tickets are $11/advance and $13/door. For more information, call (843) 571-4343 or visit charlestonpourhouse.com.

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