by Julian Spivey
Old Crow Medicine Show, the old-timey folk, bluegrass, country, Americana string-band out of Nashville, might very well be the single-most talented band in all of America and proved as much on Thursday, July 16 during their show on the lawn of the President Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark.
Old Crow Medicine Show put on one helluva performance over two hours at the Clinton Presidential Library, the first such concert to be performed on the lawn there (something that should continue in the future) going through much of their discography from their 10-plus years in the music business.
The band, fresh off of winning a Grammy Award earlier this year for Best Folk Album for their 2014 release Remedy, features an old timey sound equipped with fiddle, mandolin, banjo and upright bass. The group is so in sync with each other that it’s almost as if every member of the six-piece band shares the same brain.
It’s truly remarkable how talented Old Crow Medicine Show is with most of the members taking turns at the microphone and nearly every one of them proficient in multiple instruments. The group is also among the most exciting you’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing on stage with a high energy that few other groups can even come close to equaling.
O.C.M.S. kicked off their fantastic set with their latest single “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” one of their patented rip-roaring bluegrass tunes. The high energy performances just kept coming one after another with “Alabama High-Test,” “Bootlegger’s Boy,” “Mississippi Saturday Night” and “Carry Me Back to Virginia” with the jam-packed crowd on the small Clinton Presidential Library lawn attempting to keep up with Ketch Secor’s fast-paced lyrics and screaming their voices hoarse on every chorus.
The great thing about an O.C.M.S. show is seeing the multi-talented instrumentalists of the group also get a chance to take the mic for a song or two. Banjo, slide guitar and drummer Critter Fuqua gets the most vocals of the group behind Secor, who fronts most of the songs, with fantastic lead performances on stuff like “Take ‘em Away” and “Big Time in the Jungle.” Guitarist and second fiddle player (behind Secor) Chance McCoy entertained the audience with “Down Home Girl” and guitjo (the rare combination of a guitar and banjo) player Kevin Hayes truly enthralled the audience with fan-favorite “Humdinger,” as well as “Country Gal.”
Drummer, mandolin and keyboardist Cory Younts was a big hit among the audience as he’s a local Arkansan who performed in an Arkansas Razorbacks T-shirt, as well as occasionally a rubber Razorbacks head. Despite being a first-class musician the thing he particularly amazed the packed audience with was his buckdancing (or clogging, if you will).
Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor said onstage that the group always likes to perform some local songs when going from town-to-town and rehearsed some before the show to perform on the night: the choices were a modernized version of “Arkansas Traveler” and a cover of the little known Johnny Cash song “Arkansas Lovin’ Man.” O.C.M.S. also proved to be proficient in the blues with a cover of the standard “C.C. Rider.”
Opening act Robert Ellis, one of the best young singer-songwriters today in the Americana genre, joined O.C.M.S. on stage a couple of times throughout their set. Ellis took lead on their song “Genevieve,” as well as taking part with Secor and Fuqua on the modern version of “Arkansas Traveler.” He would later rejoin the band on stage during their encore for a fantastic cover of the George Jones classic “White Lightning.”
Ellis’ opening set was brilliant and perfectly showcased both his talented songwriting and his terrific voice on stuff like “Good Intentions” and “Sing Along” from his incredible 2014 album The Lights from the Chemical Plant. He also debuted some new songs like “Couples Skate” and “Perfect Strangers” that will surely highlight an upcoming album.
My only complaint of the entire night of perfect music was that the crowd didn’t seem to give a damn about Ellis, despite the fact he’s truly a special singer-songwriter. This is something you’ll see frequently for opening acts and is always irritating. How are people supposed to find great, new music if they won’t actually pay attention to it?
Back to the main attraction, though. Old Crow Medicine Show’s biggest hit and most well-known song is “Wagon Wheel” and their performance was truly magical with every single person in the audience singing along and filling the humid Arkansas night with their voices.
O.C.M.S. finished their set with yet another one of their amazing fast-paced jams “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” that had much of the audience clapping their hands and stomping their feet along to the tune.
After an incredible ovation from the crowd the band returned to the stage for a wonderful three song encore that began with another crowd favorite in “Tell It To Me,” Ellis’ cover of “White Lightning” and then finished with an epic cover of my personal favorite Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ song “American Girl,” with Fuqua on lead vocals and one of Secor’s very best fiddle solos of the night, which truly adds to the sound of the song in place of electric guitar.
Old Crow Medicine Show is truly a must-see act for anybody who loves great and especially traditional music. The group brings more energy to the stage than the highest selling acts in any genre from country to rock to pop and hip hop. If they come to your town you better not miss the opportunity. It’ll likely end up as one of the very best concerts you’ll ever see.