Old Crow Medicine Show has cure for what ails you 

click to enlarge ANDREA BEHRENDS
  • Andrea Behrends

Though they travel by bus and not horse-drawn wagons, Old Crow Medicine Show offers an elixir much like the medicine shows of old. However, the group’s tincture isn’t Snake Oil Liniment or Kickapoo Indian Sagwa; its solution is old-time music, and when consumed live, it’s potent enough to soothe any ailment — or at least make you want to stomp and holler.

The band will play a mixture of old tunes and songs from its latest album — fittingly titled Remedy — Friday at the Rose State College Performing Arts Theatre.

While the original traveling medicine shows had to rely on gimmicks and tricks as technology engulfed them in obsolescence during the early 20th century, Old Crow Medicine Show is no novelty act. The raucous musicians inhabit and embrace the old-time music moniker, but they deliver it with the ferocity of sparking train wheels that are inches away from barreling off the tracks.

“With Old Crow, it’s more like a magic trick. I mean, how can we come that close to the edge and not tumble to our death?” frontman Ketch Secor said. “When you go see an Old Crow show, it’s a mess, and sometimes it looks like it’s going to fall apart right then and there. And oftentimes, one of the things that’s the most exciting is how we can actually keep it together.”

Secor, the band’s cofounder, is a fiddle player. He has been performing with the instrument since he fell in love with it as an adolescent. However, the seven members of the band often switch instruments during their set — from a fiddle to a banjo, with guitars, mandolins and harmonicas as well. The band’s musicianship is almost as staggering as its shows are fervent — like a punk rock show, but with a guitjo and talent.

Last year, the band all but cemented its place in country music lore when it became the newest act featured at the Grand Ole Opry. From busking in their early days, touring with and commanding respect from contemporaries like Mumford and Sons and collaborating with legends like Bob Dylan, Old Crow’s long-term relevance in American music history is basically guaranteed at this point.

“There’s been tremendous growth all along, since the beginning. Because when you start on the street corner, there’s nowhere to go but up,” Secor said. “For us to get good was just a matter of time and commitment. It didn’t take long to do better than the curve.”

Lyrically, the band delivers a modern twist on the American narrative, focusing on the thrills and ills of real life that the band and many of its fans have experienced firsthand. The members of Old Crow Medicine Show are no strangers to the hard work and corn whiskey-distilling lives they sing about, but their trips to the wrong side of town — and even the wrong side of the law — are behind them now.

“When you make country music, you’re singing the songs of the people,” Secor said. “In order to gather information to distill into songs, you have to live around those people and do the hard work yourself. I’ve worked in a factory. I’ve worked in assembly lines. But I was always really trying to work at being a fiddle player. So hard work has always been an important way to get in touch with who you’re singing about.”

The music speaks for itself. It’s anachronistic old-time music played with the ferocity of rock and roll and the showmanship of those old medicine shows. On one hand, Old Crow’s music is an iconoclastic answer to the mainstream country music genre, a genre that Secor feels is currently deficient in many aspects — underserving to its fans and self-serving to the music industry. On the other, Secor is content without the level of fame as, say, Toby Keith or Darius Rucker. Being members of the Grand Ole Opry is as mainstream as he wants to get.

“Country music is ever-changing stuff, so I’d like to think that Old Crow can be a part of the change that I believe country music needs to make,” he said. “It needs to be more reflective of a wider group of listeners, and I think that kind of change is in the wind.”

It is quite possible that its new album, Remedy, will be the zephyr for that change. The record is a continuation of the band’s sensible songwriting, a reaping of the production gold that they struck with their last album, Carry Me Back. With Remedy, Old Crow sounds bigger and smoother while still retaining the edge and rawness that warms the listener like a pull of the corn whiskey the band often sings about.

Whether you get a taste of Old Crow through its albums or its live performance, it will certainly be the fix you need, no matter what your ailment.

Old Crow Medicine Show with The Deslondes

8 p.m. Friday

Rose State College Performing Arts Theatre

6000 Trosper Road, Midwest City




Print headline:

Medicine men

Old Crow Medicine Show has the cure for whatever ails you — and it probably involves a banjo.

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