Old Crow Medicine Show, Annapolis, MD- 3/11
There has been a long tradition in American music to go back in time, to delve into the roots and see what you can find. The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and hundreds of other artists have all done this; in many cases taking existing works and putting their own spin on them. Early Dylan albums are full of songs he reworked and made his own. It is no surprise then, to find another group of artists unearthing the past and making it their own. The sign tacked to the wall read The Old Crowe Medicine Show, indicating the venue's unfamiliarity with the band. The venue was the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, and the boys in the band came prepared to make sure no one would forget their name anytime soon.
The Ram's Head Tavern is as weird a venue as they come. It's an enormous series of bars and dining rooms. The stage is tucked back into a corner of the building with dinner theater style seating in an upside down L shape, with the stage in the middle of the L, facing the smaller section of the room. It was clear upon sitting down that many in the crowd did not know who the band was. The best tables, those right in the front, appeared occupied by season ticket holders, who come out night after night, no matter who is up on the stage. The people sitting in those seats, certainly didn't know any of the words to any songs the band would sing. The band later acknowledged this when they noted their fans were sitting in the worst seats, facing the side of the stage. On stage the band set up, left to right, like this: Kevin Hayes on guit-jo, Ketch Secor on fiddle, Morgan Jahnig on upright bass, Willie Watson on guitar and Critter Fuqua on banjo.
It was clear from the opening notes of "Hard to Tell" that the band would do its best to make fans of those that hadn't heard of them with upbeat bluegrass music designed to get people up and out of their seat and dancing. The band said they had driven up from Nashville that morning, but they were showing more signs of life then the audience. The first set was peppered with old timey songs like "Gospel Plow," "My Bones Gonna Rise Again," songs from their albums, including, "Trials and Troubles," the set closing "Tear It Down" and a new song called, "I Hear Them All." The "Tear It Down" was a good time seventy five mile per hour romp that finally got some of the crowd up and out of their seats, with the bass going boom boom boom the whole while.
The band promised more of the same when they came out and told the crowd to get ready for "A fiery ferocious start." The second set opener and current single, "Tell It To Me" delivered on all accounts. Ketch Secor traded his fiddle for a harmonica and blew it to kingdom come as the band rocked out behind him. Following "Greasy Coke" the band slowed things down with a "song with learned from Huddy Leadbetter." The song was "CC Rider" and has been covered by everyone from Elvis to the Grateful Dead. The version Old Crow Medicine Show offered up was longer and impossibly slower than the version on their self-titled album until it suddenly turned into a fireball of foot stomping music that had the audience singing along, "CC Rider see what you gone done. Hey hey hey hey hey see what you gone done." All night long the band would alternate vocals between Ketch Secor and Willie Watson, who would also share backing vocals with Critter Fuqua, who was given a chance to shine during the second set during "Big Time in the Jungle" and "Take em Away." "Big Time in the Jungle" featured Watson trading his guitar for a banjo, Fuqua trading his banjo for a guitar and the scorching lyrics, "I know that Uncle Sam needs me to fight for an idea I know nothing about." The song was written by Fuqua about Vietnam, but its relevance was very clear in this day and age. "Down South Blues" combined familiar lyrics about "Going where the weather suits my clothes" and "My momma told me, poppa told me too" into a song that was part "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" and "Big Railroad Blues" but still able to stand on its on two legs, thanks to the fine playing by the band. After raucous applause for "Johnny Get Your Gun" the band slowed things down, "because we have to" for the set ending "We're All in This Together" which featured Secor on banjo instead of fiddle or harmonica and Fuqua on bottleneck guitar with Jahnig and Hayes providing a solid foundation for the others to build off.
The encore opened with a mellow "Poor Man" before the inevitable "Wagon Wheel." The song is built around an obscure Bob Dylan song that has never been released, with Old Crow Medicine Show retaining the chorus of "Rock me mama like the wind and the rain. Rock me mama like a south bound train." chorus of the original and building around it a powerful song more ambitious and captivating than the original. An a capella comedy number "Take Me Back To My Shack" morphed into band introductions, with each member introduced as a baseball Hall of Famer, be it Harmon Killebrew or Reggie Jackson. Without pausing the band kept right going into a reprise of "Tell It To Me" that had the crowd clapping to the end. The group may not be Hall of Fame material quite yet but when they walked off stage for the final time, there was no doubt that the audience had been won over, and those in the audience who hadn't heard of the band wouldn't soon be forgetting them.