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Austin McCombie ’15 and his wife, Sarah, are gaining a following performing as Chatham Rabbits.

By David Menconi

Austin McCombie ’15 embarked on a career as a certified financial planner after graduating from NC State, but the work didn’t speak to him. He was more interested in music, so he and his wife, Sarah, quit their jobs to go full time with their Americana duo, Chatham Rabbits. It’s gone well enough for them to land a television series on PBS North Carolina, On the Road With Chatham Rabbits, which recently wrapped its first season.

“For Sarah, this is her childhood dream come true,” McCombie, 30, says with a laugh. “She’s extroverted, I’m not. But when I saw the first episode, it was all worth it even though it made me realize what a goofball I am.”

The duo’s three albums feature Austin on guitar and Sarah on clawhammer banjo and fiddle, playing music with an old-time stringband feel. They’ve appeared at every notable Southern music festival, recently cracking 15,000 Instagram followers while growing from 1,500 to 22,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

“We’ve always approached our career like a hot-air balloon instead of a rocket ship, building an audience one fan at a time.”
– Austin McCombie ’15

“We’ve always approached our career like a hot-air balloon instead of a rocket ship,” says McCombie, “building an audience one fan at a time.”

The couple met at a 2013 show by Chapel Hill-based duo Mandolin Orange (now Watchhouse), where Sarah’s previous group, South Carolina Broadcasters, was the opening act. She walked onstage with a banjo and it was love at first sight for McCombie. They were soon dating and playing music together, marrying in 2015. They took their new band’s name from the Chatham Rabbits Stringband, an old-time ensemble sponsored by the Bynum Mill nearly a century ago. The couple lives in Bynum, N.C.

“When we started Chatham Rabbits, we’d play anywhere we could,” says McCombie. “Our first-ever gig was at the general store in Saxapahaw (N.C.) for food and tips in front of maybe 20 people. Four years later, we sold out the Haw River Ballroom there, almost 600 people. It’s going in the right direction.” 

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