Old Crow Medicine Show should not play at a sit down venue. Ever. There just isn’t enough room for fans to dance, jump, hoot and holler between those tiny rows of seats. This was all evident from the get go when they opened last night with “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” which is the first track on their new album Remedy.
As quickly as Critter Fuqua’s (doubtful that’s his real first name) banjo strings were plucked and Ketch Secor’s harmonica spewed notes laced with passionate country love, the crowd was on its feet dancing as if it was barefoot at an outdoor music festival. Suddenly, any hint of Minnesota passive aggressive niceness was gone, replaced by a sweaty, gritty, twirling, hee-haw screaming frenzy mirroring the seven-man band on the stage before them.
Ferocious in their playing style and polished and refined in their showmanship, OCMS balances their performance quite well by bringing hard-charging bluegrass and alt-country with songs such as “Alabama High Test” and “Bootlegger’s Boy,” but calms the mood with old-timey and somber sadness pieces such as “Dearly Departed Friend” and “The Warden.”
When introducing “Tell That Woman” (Willie Dixon cover), which was followed by “The Warden,” Secor told the crowd, “We’re gonna do it like they originally did with one microphone.”
A four-part harmony simply accompanied by an occasional single strum of the guitar by Chance McCoy and snapping by Secor, Fuqua, and Cory Younts, “Tell That Woman” displayed how well connected OCMS are as musicians. Younts led the four with his baritone voice, turning the blues tune into a stripped-down, harmony-rich version.
They kept the somber simplicity going with the gospel-esque “The Warden,” but immediately livened things up by following with “Carry Me Back To Virginia.”
All the musicians in OCMS exude talent, and the majority plays multiple instruments. Younts was impressive with his drumming, mandolin and piano playing, singing, and clog dancing (with a little twerking thrown in). Secor leads them all with taking his turn on fiddle, banjo, guitar, harmonica, steel resonator mandolin, and twangy vocals that keep the crowd moving.
Steel slide guitarist Gill Landry impressively led and sang “Mary’s Kitchen,” while at a different point in the set banjoist Kevin Hayes stepped forward to deliver “Humdinger,” which describes the party of the century and Hayes’ disheveled appearance made him look as though he just came from the party he sings about, making the song quite fun.
With many songs focusing on the violence of modern life and our need for simple love, compassion, kindness, and the occasional shot of moonshine, OCMS brings such immense kinetic energy to the world of Americana music. They of course played their well-known “Wagon Wheel,” as well as gave a nod to Bob Dylan by playing “Sweet Amarillo” which Secor described as the first Dylan/OCMS collaboration (which is really the second if you consider how “Wagon Wheel” came about).
For the encore, they began with “Hard To Love/Brave Boys” and then brought out opener country-soul band The Delondes to join for “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” (Huey “Piano” Smith cover) and ended the night with The Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line.”
Old Crow Medicine Show has come a long ways since its busking days and being discovered by Doc Watson in North Carolina in 2000. They’ve sparked a revival in banjo-picking string bands by playing with the vitality of a punk rock band and were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry just last year. So strap your dancing shoes on, for if you go to see them you won’t sit still other than while waiting for them to take the stage.
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