Old Crow Medicine Show brought their tour to Austin on Wednesday night for a show at the Moody Theater. Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys opened. Review by Neil Ferguson. Photos by Arthur VanRooy.
Long before the fellows in Mumford & Sons ever picked up a banjo, Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) were hauling ass around the country playing their own style of what can only be described as old-time folksy bluegrass Americana…or something like that. It is also because of those bands that OCMS have been able to connect with younger fans through the Railroad Revival Tour and other collaborations, keeping their fanbase strong and their sound fresh on the recently released Carry Me Back.
However, what sets OCMS apart is their unbelievable talent as players. They do not simply use a banjo as a novelty rhythm; they play the hell out of their instruments, making for a powerful live show. And on Wednesday night they showed the audience at the Moody Theater that, after 14 years of playing and touring together, they can still deliver a nearly impeccable performance.
OCMS may fulfill every musically stereotype associated with bluegrass and old-timey music, and this is what makes them enjoyable to middle class sneaker-stompers like myself. Lyrics about rambling across the American South, drinking moonshine, and getting in to trouble with the law make their music feel straight out of a Ken Burns documentary. Add to this each member’s ability to play just about every instrument in the bluegrass repertoire, and you have a rollicking good time. Throughout the set each member of the band grabbed whatever instrument suited his fancy, jumping from banjo to harmonica to fiddle, all within the span of a few songs.
Most casual fans know OCMS for their song “Wagon Wheel,” a catchy country-infused sing-along that has taken on the status of “Free Bird” in that it has become a bar room staple that drunks love to loudly request at every show, regardless of who the band is. Yet, while many bands would shelf a song that has reached the point of creating obnoxious fans, OCMS embraces “Wagon Wheel” because they know how satisfying it is to the audience. And as they played the opening riffs to cheers and whoops, it was clear that the band still enjoys the experience of playing such a well-loved tune.
Like much of their set at the Moody Theater, OCMS tailored their performance to Austin, incorporating geographical references like Travis County and Pflugerville in to songs, and changing “Caroline” around so that it was about a red-haired girl from Austin. While sometimes this can take on a novelty feel, OCMS play it off well, showing their chameleon-like ability to incorporate their surroundings in to their live shows. The Austin (or Travis County) love culminated during the encore, when the band brought out none other than local legends Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel) and Dale Watson to take part in a couple songs along with Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys. It may have seemed out of character, but Ray Benson enjoyed the hell out of singing along to “Quinn the Eskimo.”
After years of touring, OCMS are able to take the stage and put on a well-polished show. The members of the band don’t hold back, putting their musical talents on full display as they leap across the stage swapping instruments with one another. They dabble in many different styles and genres, making them hard to pin down. But what they do best is play sanctified hillbilly music that makes us average sneaker-stompers feel like we’re dancing with the bootlegger’s daughter at a shotgun wedding. And that ain’t bad. -Neil Ferguson