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Old Crow Medicine Show puts on a humdinger

| Sunday, April 3, 2016

OldCrowMedShow_WEBLauren Weldon | The Observer

“Wine, whiskey, women and guns”: They may not all be necessary to qualify the ruckus that Old Crow Medicine Show raised at the Morris Performing Arts Center on Friday.

Emerging Americana musician Parker Millsap warmed up the stage in a trio consisting of fiddle, upright bass and guitar, with the occasional harmonica. The crowd howled back at his chilling wails, even as some audience members still found their seats.

In an interview with the Observer, Millsap commented that Old Crow draws a great crowd. His claim that “people come ready to listen to music” was proven before the end of his first song.

The fun of the show was not without trickery. The audience at the April 1 show was told that there had been an altercation at the Burger King and the band was in jail: an appropriate scene for the artists of a litany of songs about old-time outlaws like “Bootlegger’s Boy.”

The band’s appearance onstage was like a jailbreak, and with “O Cumberland River,” the string band quickly set the scene of “the heart of a guitar town” and were soon pulling heartstrings with the idealistic original “I Hear Them All,” which sounds more like a classic folk song.

Frontman Ketch Secor showed off his research, mentioning every nearby city the audience may have traveled from, even making a nod to the St. Joseph River. The knowledge fit the band’s persona: it’s important to a band of traveling vagabonds to learn the roads they travel.

A capella around a single microphone, the group sang “Barrett’s Privateers,” a song in the style of an old sea shanty, saying “This one’s for the fightin’ Irish.”

American music icon Doc Watson — who gave OCMS their start in Boone, North Carolina — was not forgotten even at this performance 17 years later, when they played the bluesy tribute “Doc’s Day.”

In the show’s apex, Old Crow proved the claim of Secor, “We love to play hillbilly music!” Fiddle-and-banjo-heavy romps filled the ornate amphitheater, demanding hands to clap and feet to stomp. Quick, energetic melodies overlaid smooth guitar rhythms in aggressive yet harmonious layered dimensions.

The musical dynamism of Old Crow Medicine Show was matched by their physical movement. Musicians passed around instruments fluidly. Each time bow went to fiddle, Secor was inclined to jump in a circle on one leg. Multi-instrumentalist Cory Younts set down his mandolin to steal the show with an energizing dance: clogging, high-kicking and nearly even twerking across the stage.

Introductions were give during hard-strumming bluegrass romp “8 Dogs 8 Banjos,” which avoided a single dull moment but made following the descriptions of the six-piece group difficult.

The set culminated in a uniting sing-along of Old Crow’s adaptation of an old Bob Dylan piece “Wagon Wheel,” leading many an arm to embrace a neighbor.

Returning with playful cautionary ditty “Tell It To Me,” OCMS concluded the night in a stirring encore. Parker Millsap returned to the stage to join OCMS in an affecting rendition of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” which fit his crooning vocals perfectly. Bringing it home with Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” Old Crow Medicine Show left their audience teary-eyed and speechless as they emerged from their country trek into the brisk downtown South Bend night.

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