Husband-wife duo Chatham Rabbits bring a traditional folk sound with a clawhammer banjo, sweet harmonies and a renovated 1986 Winnebago. Sarah and Austin McCombie have been playing music since they were children. Sarah was also a former member of folk group the South Carolina Broadcasters. Now, both are pursuing their music careers full time as Chatham Rabbits. When they’re not in Chapel Hill working on their debut album, they’re at home in Bynum, Chatham County, spending time with pets Ruby and Biscuit, and renovating their “Minnie Winnie.”

You get to know each other really well playing music, because it’s a pretty vulnerable thing to do.

Austin McCombie, Chatham Rabbits

Folk music brings together a duo

Sarah and Austin McCombie met in 2013 at a Mandolin Orange concert. Sarah was in the opening act as a member of The South Carolina Broadcasters.

“As soon as Sarah walked out with her banjo. . . I was like, whoa—that’s pretty cool,” Austin said. One year later they went on their first date. And the rest is history in the making.

Their love for folk music brought them together. And after pursuing other careers—Sarah, a Montessori music teacher and Austin, a financial advisor—they’ve turned their focus back to music. They quit their day jobs and formed their duo, Chatham Rabbits. Sarah plays on clawhammer banjo, Austin plays on guitar and both are on vocals.

“Some couples may play a sport together, enjoy traveling—our thing just happens to be music,” Sarah said.

The story behind the name “Chatham Rabbits”

Their name, “Chatham Rabbits,” is inspired by a century-old stringband of the same name. The stringband was sponsored by the old mill in Bynum. And the connection gets even more personal. A mill worker and guitar player for the original Chatham Rabbits had lived in the house where the McCombie’s live now.

“The people of Bynum sort of elected that name for us,” Austin said. “We felt really honored to be able to carry on that name in the tradition of string music.”

The Chatham Rabbits’ debut album

Chatham Rabbits’ are working on their own sound in traditional folk music with their debut album “All I Want from You.”

They’re recording the album in Chapel Hill’s The Rubber Room with owner and engineer Jerry Brown. Brown has worked with several big names in folk music, like Doc Watson, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Steep Canyon Rangers and Mandolin Orange as well.

Working on the album has brought the Chatham Rabbits duo closer.

“You get to know each other really well playing music, because it’s a pretty vulnerable thing to do,” said Austin.

Chatham Rabbits have an existing fan base, which the duo hopes to build further.

What the future holds

“In my opinion, one of the biggest achievements as a young band, or any band for that matter, is to build fans that will come out and see us and enjoy our music,” said Austin.

When they’re not working on their album, the couple enjoys spending time at home. They have a dog and a cat named Ruby and Biscuit, and they’re also renovating a 1986 Winnebago they found on Craig’s List. Their goal is to transform their “Minnie Winnie” into a tour bus—a revamped, old school ride fitting for their vintage folk sound.

Sarah and Austin’s passion for music is at the heart of it all.

“If I could look into a crystal ball and envision what our future would be like 20, 30+ years from now, that’s the ultimate dream/goal for me,” Sarah said, “to make a living and a life out of playing music.”

 


Want more homegrown stories and My Home, NC news delivered to your inbox?
Sign Up for the My Home, NC Email Newsletter! »