Carolina Clearwater’s joint-stock co.

by Jordan Green

The three musicians are lounging in the nook that houses the foosball table at Elliott’s Revue, when a young woman named Julie appears. Notwithstanding her short stature, she demands attention with her pixie cut, pool cue and sass.

“What’s going on?” she asks.

Andrew Lazare, a beefy guy with a lumberjack beard and lazy smile who plucks thunder broom for the band, mentions that there’s a show happening across the street at the Garage and she should come check it out. Later, Julie will reappear and try to finagle a spot on the guest list, helpfully suggesting that if they had been from out of town they could explain that they were staying with her. For now, she breaks the ice with a joke.

“What are the two most sexual farm animals?” she asks. “A brown chicken and a brown cow,” in boom-chicka-bow-wow cadence.

That’s more or less the way things go with the band Carolina Clearwater, a Piedmont trio of Carolina boys in love with funk, British blues, Zappaesque weirdness and ecstatic gospel hauling their gear into the mountains to light afire small barrooms and resorts. The band’s live shows feature a rotating cast of guests, top talent and otherwise. During one of their extended two-and-a-half hour jams at Canyons – a Blowing Rock establishment that, according to legend, has formerly served as a brothel, speakeasy and grocery – they spotted a dude hovering around the stage with a chromatic harp, an instrument whose sliding bar gives it the tonal breadth to play jazz and classical music.

“I was like, ‘Man, people don’t just carry around chromatic harps; you want to play that thing,'” Lazare recalls. “He’s sitting there playing the same note. I was like, ‘Maybe he’s just sitting on the G… maybe he’s waiting.’ I pointed at him to take a solo, and he just started playing the same note louder and faster. He had a huge smile on his face.”

“He must have been on drugs,” guitarist Sam Robinson says.

Other periodic guests include Mike “Wezo” Wezolowski of Blues World Order, a player whose advanced musicianship has earned him an endorsement from harmonica maker Hohner. Tonight, Bill Stevens from the SoloS Unit is sitting in on organ. It’s an instrument the gospel flavor of which the three Carolina Clearwater players love, and they hope to eventually find a permanent member to fill the seat.

Lazare soon receives a call on his cell phone, and the band hustles across the street for their sound check. The Piedmont is getting a heavy drenching, a small hazard for Lazare and a friend who are planning to drive to Boone after the show for a friend’s birthday the following day.

The weather seems to have hardly dampened the turnout. Lazare’s girl shows up and gives him two light kisses on the mouth. Friends crowd into the sidelong booths. It’s an unpretentious, unhurried crowd, mostly content to sit and watch as the band gets its set underway.

They start without ceremony or introduction. Mat Elliott, the drummer, establishes a tight, in-the-pocket, percussive roll and Lazare joins, dispatching a sequence of fat, kinetic bass notes, already in a funk trance, squinting and smiling as the inaugural number, “Georgia Women” takes off. The room is already electrified when Robinson begins to make his axe sing in muscular, joyous voicings.

He plays a lot of slide, often times reaching into the sacred steel tradition, or referencing the utopian side of the Allman Brothers Band. For the instrumental “Memoria,” he samples “When the Saints Go Marching In” and, during the band’s lone cover of the set, “Voodoo Chile,” he plays the guitar behind his back.

On this first song, Stevens massages the keys of the organ, summoning a strain of sound beneath the rhythm section that gradually creeps above the clamor like saltwater backing up the Cape Fear.

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