by Julian Spivey
Old Crow Medicine Show brought their terrific brand of roots music to the capital of Arkansas on Thursday, June 7 performing on the lawn of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
Celebrating their 20th year as a group the show was filled with terrific performances throughout their career, as well as traditional numbers and many tracks off their newest release Volunteer, which came out in April. It was noticeable that the group was down two members – Critter Fuqua and Kevin Hayes – on Thursday night with no reason given for the absence. Hopefully it’s nothing to worry about.
O.C.M.S. got off to a raucous start on the evening with “Tell It to Me,” one of their oldest numbers and a sure crowd pleaser. They would follow with many strong tracks off Volunteer, which is going to be one of the strongest releases of the year within the Americana genre. The band played a rip-roaring performance of “Shout Mountain Music” from the album, before a trio of fiddles played by Ketch Secor, Chance McCoy and a roadie, who’s name I unfortunately didn’t catch, joining in for the traditional instrumental “Elzick’s Farewell,” which led into “Child of the Mississippi.” This talented roadie also played drums throughout the show when Cory Younts was playing mandolin or keyboards.
My two favorite performances of songs off Volunteer were “Old Hickory” and “Look Away,” which have the stellar songwriting plus musicianship that we’ve come to know from O.C.M.S. over the years.
The band had fans of all ages at the show ranging from teens to people likely in their 80s and it’s easy to see why playing a show that includes traditional and historical fare like “In the Jailhouse Now” and “C.C. Rider” along with more rocking modern day tribulation songs like “Methamphetamine” and partiers like “Alabama High-Test.”
One of my favorite performances of the evening was “Levi,” which was my favorite track off the group’s 2012 release Carry Me Back and the band dedicated to military members everywhere. The track tells the story of a Southern boy gone overseas to the Middle East to fight and ultimately die in a war he didn’t have much business being in.
Another highlight of the show was the group’s “I Hear Them All” with a bit of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” mixed in making for a truly special performance. The group was highly influenced by the music of Guthrie and “I Hear Them All” is likely their most Guthrie-sounding song in their repertoire. It’s also essentially the band’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the Bob Dylan classic that they also covered on Thursday night.
One of the band’s best tributes of the night was when they invited opener Joshua Hedley back to the stage to perform a cover of Arkansas legend Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” which Hedley absolutely aced vocally.
The group would end their performance with a fantastic one-two punch of “Wagon Wheel,” their biggest song, and “8 Dogs, 8 Banjos” off their 2014 release Remedy. “Wagon Wheel,” though not even quite 15 years old yet, is one of the 100 or so essential songs in the history of both country music and roots music and frankly doesn’t get old no matter how many times you hear it, especially seeing it performed live by one of the world’s most talented groups.
As many know the song was taken to the top of the Billboard country music charts in 2014 when covered by Darius Rucker. That leads to this little bit that’s kind of a side-note to the concert review.
To the Jackass That Yelled “Fuck Darius Rucker” at the Old Crow Medicine Show concert:
I don’t believe there are many people with prior knowledge of O.C.M.S.’s version of “Wagon Wheel” who wouldn’t say that it’s better than Rucker’s cover. Both performances are good, but the musicianship of the O.C.M.S. version simply sets it apart. However, O.C.M.S. has to be incredibly thankful to Rucker, whom they’ve performed the song with before on the Grand Ole Opry (which they’re both members of). The Rucker performance earned O.C.M.S. more money and fans than they would currently have without it. There’s no way they don’t love him and his take on their modern classic for that. I hope they didn’t hear your ignorance.
Back to the review …
After a brief period off the stage O.C.M.S. returned for an incredible cover of Norman Greenbaum’s one-hit wonder “Spirit in the Sky” from 1969 which frontman Ketch Secor referred to as a “gospel song” and showed off his talented harmonica skills during.
Opener Joshua Hedley, who’s debut album Mr. Jukebox was released on the same day in April as Volunteer, has been hailed by many for his traditionalist sound that harkens back to the days of ‘60s countrypolitan. The album seemed a little too schticky for me, but I did really enjoy a few tracks and seeing his and his band perform them live gives the songs more life than listening to them via headphones. His opener “These Walls” sounded as good as if you’d seen someone like Jim Reeves or Faron Young in their heydays and the title track and “Weird Thought Thinker,” the two stand out tracks for me from his debut, were great to see live.