The annual John Lennon/Imagine No Handguns Benefit was particularly good in Nashville this year. There were a half dozen standout performances among the many performers, but the most arresting and memorable for me was the string band rebels of town, The Old Crow Medicine Show, rocking the house with sinewy versions of "Crippled Inside" and "Bungalow Bill."
Before rock and roll, before bluegrass, string bands and jug bands were two of the main mediums for people, especially in more rural areas, to get together and dance, drink, and let off some steam. Like a lot of blues music was rediscovered, string bands and related music were researched, revitalized, and re-popularized by groups like the New Lost City Ramblers and many others in and around the folk music revolution of the 1960s.
Old Time or old timey music has existed side by side with bluegrass since the folk boom--never as big, but it certainly has enjoyed a wide enough following to have its own festivals and devoted crowds of listeners and players, legions of them. As suburban PA youngsters, certainly my crowd of friends was collecting old country blues as well as string band music and bluegrass. It was all part of finding out where the music we liked, like the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield and Bob Dylan, came from.
Bluegrass got an incredible bump from the O Brother phenomenon, but Old Time and String Band music received one as well. (First of all, lots of folks out there wouldn't know how to tell one from the other, if they both had a banjo involved. And it's really not important--if it's good, it's good, right?) But, like Nickel Creek or Allison Krauss and Union Station, it really needed one good looking great sounding group to step up to the mic and kick everybody's ass. And here they are. The Old Crow Medicine Show.
Along with fiddler and vocalist Ketch Secor, OCMS is made up of Morgan Jahnig on upright bass, Kevin Hayes on guit-jo (a six string hybrid of guitar and banjo), Willie Watson on guitar and excellent vocals, and Critter Fuqua singing and playing banjo, guitar, and bottleneck guitar.
They're more than a string band, because they're singing and playing original songs, not just playing hillbilly instrumental standards for people to square dance to or something. It's like the name says, it's a show, there's a snake oil factor and a hip twist to the elixir.
I was very taken with their fiddler Ketch Secor, who's extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the music that OCMS is playing, and he speaks about it very eloquently with no trace of purist diatribe. I never thought I'd see a string band with a hot label, hip management, and a big time booking agency like Monterey, about to take off and make a real living. In the age of Nashville Star, American Idol, and "reality" TV, it's very encouraging.
pleasure, we introduce you now to Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine