Old Crow Medicine Show returns
CHARLESTON (AP) — Despite what the singer says from the stage, not every concert is special.
It might be great for the band to be there, but it was probably great for them to be wherever they were the night before.
Saying they’re excited to be coming to play anywhere is often just part of the script, part of what’s expected by the audience. But real enthusiasm is hard to maintain riding on a bus during a three-month tour, playing five or six nights a week.
Often, the band only gets to town a few hours before they’re scheduled to play, and they’re on the road to their next stop by midnight.
Sometimes, they might stick around as long as breakfast the next day. When you don’t see much of a place beyond a hotel room and don’t talk to anyone besides the local stagehands, it’s hard to feel much of a connection to a place.
It can all look the same, but Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor swears his band is looking forward to playing Charleston.
In fact, he can’t see why anybody who plays Old Crow Medicine Show’s kind of music wouldn’t be over the moon about Charleston.
The singer/songwriter said, “If you can’t get excited about playing music in the Mountain State, you shouldn’t be a playing a fiddle. You don’t deserve a banjo.”
Old Crow Medicine Show were to be at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston Wednesday night, playing hard and wild, doing their darnedest to keep people from checking their phones.
“We want you to bear witness to Old Crow. So, no multitasking,” he said, adding, “Unless you count drinking.”
Secor and Old Crow Medicine Show go way back in West Virginia.
As teenage musicians, Secor and guitarist Critter Fuqua began coming to the West Virginia in the early 1990s. They spent time during their summers at Old-Time Music Week at Davis & Elkins College, where they attended old-time music workshops and played jam sessions.
It’s not what Secor remembers best, though.
“I remember making out with a clogger,” the singer said with a laugh.
Secor would have been 16, long before there was an Old Crow Medicine Show — or really much of any band — to speak of.
To him, the trip to Davis & Elkins was about a first brush with freedom. His parents let him drive himself to the college.
“I had a carton of Doral cigarettes and a Volvo station wagon. Look out, cloggers!” Secor laughed.
Really, he wasn’t that big of a menace.
Secor said, “I was living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but I played the banjo and the fiddle.”
He remembered the drive from Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he grew up, to Davis & Elkins.
It was the open road, he said, but Highway 33 wasn’t particularly open.
He cruised through beautiful country, past Seneca Rocks and through the Monongahela National Forest, but the road wound around and around like a labyrinth.
“You couldn’t drive a lot of it more than 33 miles an hour,” Secor said.
Just the same, the songwriter has a lot of affection for the music of the state, which he considers part of Old Crow Medicine Show’s roots.
“I don’t actually play a lot of West Virginia old-time music, but I’ve certainly heard a bunch of the greatest old-time music on earth,” he said.
Some of that was probably played by Chance McCoy from Harpers Ferry, who taught at Davis & Elkins College and joined the band in 2012.
People from West Virginia have been good to Old Crow Medicine Show, too. Secor said he and the band were friends of country music legend Little Jimmy Dickens from Raleigh County.
“We went to his birthday party. We hung out. We befriended his wife,” Secor said.
Dickens, who died in 2015 at the age of 94, is still missed and an inspiration.
“He was a shining light,” Secor said. “Not just for us but for a lot of people.”
Secor described the diminutive country star as an ambassador of West Virginia music.
“He got out on the radio and promoted a brand of West Virginia that could be purchased by people in the Canadian provinces and Europe,” he said. “Everywhere he went, he talked about West Virginia music.”
That’s an ideology Old Crow has tried to embrace, though Secor said they’re not specific to any one state, precisely.
“We’re not from West Virginia, but we claim it,” he said. “We’re here to promote the music of the Appalachian regions, and it has been satisfying to my soul to share that powerful music.”
The band’s latest record, “Volunteer,” is Appalachian Americana with an edge. Produced by “it” producer Dave Cobb — who has produced albums for Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, to name a few — the record is a rowdy mix of string band with some rock influences.
The first single, “Flicker & Shine,” has been out since mid-January, not that Secor cares that much about the song as a radio single.
“The concept of a single is laughable for guys like us,” he said.
Old Crow Medicine Show doesn’t get played on the radio, Secor said. They don’t fit the mold of what is supposed to be pop music.
Their best-known song, “Wagon Wheel” — an incomplete and forgotten Bob Dylan tune Secor finished — is an enduring favorite with fans, but the song didn’t chart for the band and later became a hit for pop-star-turned-country-star Darius Rucker.
“Radio is just for the hot new country,” he said. “They wouldn’t put Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio now.”
But that’s OK with them.
“In our hearts, at our core, we play live music,” Secor said. “That’s what we do. The record, which we do hope you will go out and buy, is an approximation.”
Secor is excited about coming to play West Virginia again. It’s not coming home so much as coming back to a source. The images here are rich in his mind.
“I picture myself walking down the main street of Charleston, just down from that wonderful independent bookstore you have,” he said. “I’m headed away from the river, toward this square, and I can see the old hotels.”
It’s not hard for him to picture. The last time Old Crow Medicine Show was in town, they were spotted on the streets of Charleston.
Secor remembered the people he saw on the sidewalk — a couple of police officers, a drunk and another shifty character or two off to the side.
That could be any day, but he said he could close his eyes and imagine the streets choked with old Model A cars. He could imagine the history; see strikers marching and speeches given by great men.
“Can’t you see the civil rights in action or being denied?” He asked. “Can’t you see the thumb of the government coming down to squash the people in West Virginia?”
Secor said he could.
“The landscape of Charleston, West Virginia, is the landscape of country music,” he said.
For a band that plays fiddles and banjos, coming back this way wasn’t like coming home, but it was almost heaven. Why wouldn’t they be excited?