Chatham County Line – The Carolinian

In honor of my impending move (later this summer) to the North Carolina mountains, today we have a bluegrass song about the Tarheel state. As far as genres are concerned, bluegrass may be one of the most train-friendly. Listening to a Doc Watson greatest hits album is almost like listening to my train songs playlist, so this will certainly not be the last time some bluegrass shows up here. Along with Trampled by Turtles, The Fox Hunt, and Old Crow Medicine Show, Chatham County Line are one my favorite new bluegrass groups out there. Their Carolina roots run deep, both in the band name, and the subject matter of their songs.

Just as Chatham County Line offers up a modernized take on bluegrass, The Carolinian is twist on one of the oldest train song tropes – the lover leaving on a train.  In this case, the romance starts on the train itself, when the singer falls for a woman on the southbound Carolinian train, heading from DC to NC.  But she is bound for Richmond and the narrator is on the way to Raleigh, where he already has a woman about to bear him a son.  Before she leaves she asks him to come to Richmond and start a new life.He declines, but the decision always lingers in his mind, and every time he sees the north bound Carolinian, his heart stops. He even brings his son (now grown up) to the tracks to watch trains roll by.  The Carolinian is a still-active Amtrak route, though I must say, my experience riding Amtrak, while pleasant enough, had none of the glamor of the song.  My seat partner was a dude bound for a bachelor party in Miami, who woke up hungover after drinking too much in the snack car, and the only hints of a rail-bound romance was when an older man aggressively (and unsuccessfully) hit on a younger woman a few seats behind me. But the song tells a great story, and it presents an entirely new way in which trains can inflict emotional carnage.


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