For what seems like forever, Chapel Hill has plucked
popular music talents out of the student body, then sat back
and watched them help each other succeed.
by Kathleen Kearns
n a warm April
evening in 2009, in
the roomy, plywood-
floored cabaret tent at the
Shakori Hills Grassroots Fes-
tival near Silk Hope, something was hap-
pening that happens a lot around here.
Partway through a bluesy set, Greg
Humphreys ’ 90 — who in the mid-’80s
founded the Chapel Hill pop band Dillon
Fence and later the funky soul group
Hobex — invited local bluegrass band Big
Fat Gap to join him on stage for a few
tunes. They in turn brought up two young
musicians, fiddler-singer Emily Frantz ’09
and mandolin player Andrew Marlin, who
together form the duo Mandolin Orange.
“Here’s somebody you’re going to hear
a lot more from,” Humphreys said as he
introduced Marlin. Later, Big Fat Gap’s fid-
dler, Bobby Britt, grinned and offered his
violin to Frantz, who laughed and
declined. Bluegrass musicians everywhere
tend to step back and give each other a
chance to shine, but the moment had a
flavor distinctive to this area. Few regions
mix musical genres, cross generations and
support up-and-comers with the ease and
good humor that this one does.