A decade ago, a bunch of geographically distant friends met in the upstate New York Dead haven of Watkins Glen and put together a band that tossed caffeinated versions of Folk, Gospel, Bluegrass and Country into the collection plate and halleleujahed their way into the rootsy revival as Old Crow Medicine Show. Discovered by iconic Bluegrass picker Doc Watson, who invited them to his highly regarded Merlefest, OCMS eventually established their base in Nashville, and while they began attracting big crowds and industry buzz, they never compromised their artistic integrity.
After self-releasing a handful of albums, they signed with indie Nettwerk and continued on a fascinating course of making old time music with the lyrical relevance of tomorrow’s headlines. Along the way, they became Music City faves (they sold out the legendary Ryman Auditorium las year) and semi-regulars on A Prairie Home Companion.
OCMS had one flirtation with commercial success with the track “Wagon Wheel” from the band’s eponymous 2004 debut album; the song was an incomplete Bob Dylan demo that OCMS fiddler/vocalist Keith Secor fleshed out in his senior year of high school. OCMS’s first two albums were produced by Gillian Welch guitarist David Rawlings, but for their latest, the acclaimed Tennessee Pusher, the band chose to work with veteran oddball Don Was, who had a clear affinity for the band’s twisted contemporary take on string band classicism.
The semi-conceptual Tennessee Pusher offers up cautionary tales of the Southern party life — “Methamphetamine,” “Alabama High-Test,” the title track — as well as detailing the poverty and hypocrisy of Tennessee’s other music city (“Motel in Memphis”).
And while Old Crow Medicine Show is currently drawing large audiences, they still like to hit street corners and busk for spare change and perspective. If you hear old time music on a city sidewalk this week, you may just be enjoying a stiff shot of Old Crow.
Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.