The Freight Hoppers, led by the distinctive vocals of Cary Fridley (who is also a solo artist), came together in the mid-'90s, inspired by 1920s and 1930s old-time music. The group's roots lie in the early '90s, when banjo player and Atlanta native Frank Lee was playing for the Great Smokey Mountain Railway in Bryson City, NC. He called upon his friend, fiddler David Bass, a Cleveland native who had been busking in N.Y.C. and New Orleans, to come to Bryson City to help him entertain disembarking passengers. Vocalist/guitarist Cary Fridley, a Kentucky native, was teaching school in Mocksville, NC, and had met Lee at a party. She soon gave up teaching to join the group. Acoustic bass player Jim O'Keefe (from upstate NY) met the group at Merlefest in North Carolina.
Now a full-fledged group, the Freight Hoppers played Bryson City railway from Memorial Day through October. In March 1996, they received national exposure when they played Garrison Keillor's acclaimed National Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion, having won the Talent From Towns Under 2,000 contest out of nearly 500 entrants. Drawing on traditional standards from the 1920s and 1930s, the group released its debut, Where'd You Come From, Where'd You Go?, in 1996 on Rounder Records. The similarly minded Waiting on the Gravy Train emerged in 1998. Fridley released a solo album, Neighbor Girl, in 2001.