If you wanted to write a movie script about an old school Americana/bluegrass band, born outside of its own time from the vestigial folk traditions of Virginia and northward into Canada, you’d be hard-pressed to dream up a more ideal (or unlikely) tale than the real life history of Old Crow Medicine Show. The foundations of the band were first laid back in the early 1990s, when, in the seventh grade, Critter Fuqua crossed paths with Ketch Secor (how ‘bout those for old time hero names). The duo played a few tiny gigs and open mics together not too long after meeting, but the band (currently a six-piece, but given to shifts and additions) took a few years to coalesce around Fuqua and Secor.
Consider, if you will, the musical milieu of the 90s: Not exactly a hotbed of banjo, harmonica, fiddle and upright bass activity. Both Fuqua and Secor have often noted that they didn’t exactly grow up in the middle of a bunch of folk or bluegrass influences, instead cherishing acts like Guns N' Roses and Nirvana, before eventually, separately and together, falling hard for the behemoth that is Bob Dylan’s catalog. Through the words and tunes of the American bard of record, the two discovered the kind of music they wanted to make, connected to a lineage of masters who shaped this nation and its music with their folk, blues, country and bluegrass stylings.
Like Dylan had used Woody Guthrie before him, Fuqua and Secor used Dylan’s music as a gateway into the peculiar and historically rich (knottily so) traditions of pre-World War I American music. At once mystical and grounded in the daily lives and struggles (especially the struggles) of everyday people, the songs they picked up, like the ones they were soon to write (especially Secor), looked into the past as a crystal ball, as a map to a reimagined tomorrow.
Eventually, the dudes formed a full band, recorded a cassette demo and took to busking in New York, in Canada and really wherever the wind took them. They released the rough demo tape Trans:mission in 1998 and honed their chops on street corners working for sweaty dollar bills.
Then: The big break (there’s always a big break in these type of tales). In 2000, while busking outside of a pharmacy in Boone, North Carolina, the group drew the avid attention of singer/songwriter and Americana music legend Doc Watson, who quickly took them under his wing (you can’t make this shit up) and invited them to play his MerleFest music festival. It wasn’t long after that when things started really happening for Old Crow Medicine Show: National gigs, spots at The Grand Ole Opry (which the band was inducted into in 2013), and eventually a proper debut album (Old Crow Medicine Show) in 2004.
The band has since released four more solid Americana albums, ever more populated with original songs rather than retooled traditional fare. The group’s best and most successful song “Wagon Wheel,” a finished version of an old Bob Dylan cast-off sketch from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid era, eventually became a number one on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs list when Darius Rucker (aka Hootie of the Blowfish fame) covered it in 2013.
2014’s Remedy, the band’s most recent album (and I would argue its best and most complete), won the outfit a Grammy (2015, Best Folk Album) and solidified its status as a genuine, old time, up-by-the-bootstraps tale, set to music that felt (gloriously) anachronistic from the get go.
Old Crow Medicine Show feat. Margo Price
$24-$30, 7pm Sat, June 18, John T. Floore’s Country Store, 14492 Old Bandera Road, (210) 695-8827