The only thing Americana act Old Crow Medicine Show likes better than working the stage is working the corner.
“It’s always been our heart and soul. Our performance comes out of all those years spent cutting our teeth on the street corner,” singer Ketch Secor said of the band’s humble beginnings busking on the streets in Virginia and North Carolina. “This kind of music we make just sounds good on the curb. Trying to get them to stop is the ultimate test. If someone reaches into their pocket and puts something in the bucket, it’s like they don’t even realize that they just bought a ticket to your show.”
The band got its big break when the daughter of folk legend Doc Watson caught an earful and brought her father back to get a listen; he subsequently booked the fledgling act to play his annual MerleFest music festival. The veteran six-piece string act likes to get back to its roots from time to time; in the lead-up to its latest album, Carry Me Back, Old Crow Medicine Show performed a number of impromptu shows on the streets of Nashville, even as it regularly sells out shows at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I like being back out there. It’s like politicians going out on the train and kissin’ babies: It’s nice to get out amongst your constituents,” Secor said. “So much of my industry is on a billboard or flat-screen television. It’s wholly unapproachable. It looks down on you. Old Crow’s not like that a bit.”
Released in July, Carry Me Back arrived as folk music reached a fever pitch, giving rise to breakout stars like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. Secor and company are more than happy to be a part of the ride.
“It’s an exciting time to play fiddles and banjos,” he said. “It’s grown to a level that it hasn’t been since I started playing music. The pendulum swings. There’s been folk revivals all along. This latest is just another one of those times where Americans re-calibrate their sense of themselves.”
Almost 15 years into its career, Old Crow Medicine Show welcomed the best sales of its career with Carry Me Back, as well as a healthy amount of glowing reviews.
“It takes a lot to figure out how to keep one foot in old time and one foot in all time. It’s a bit of a dance to be rooted and modern at the same time,” Secor said. “I think we’ve figured out how to write those songs that sound like they were sung by some campfire 85 years ago, but sound good blasted from the stereo of a Ford Ranchero in a Burger King parking lot somewhere outside of Enid.”
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