By Michael Sudhalter
It’s rare for an opening act to receive a crowd reaction that’s usually reserved for a headliner, but the Old Crow Medicine Show isn’t your average opening band.
Despite receiving little-to-no mainstream airplay, Old Crow Medicine Show has built up a strong following of fans. They’ve been around since 1998, but the Grand Ole Opry finally took notice 15 years later when it decided to induct them as members.
I’d heard Old Crow before, but never in-person, until I attended their Houston-area performance last Friday when they opened for the Avett Brothers, a fellow Americana band with more of a modern vibe.
An Old Crow concert performance includes banjos, accordions, harmonicas, harps and much more. What’s amazing is that the band’s seven members have no problem playing different instruments or sharing lead vocalist duties.
I started listening to country music at an odd time – 1996. Shania Twain and Faith Hill, and later, Keith Urban, were just beginning to shift the genre toward pop music.
The days of traditional country seemed to be numbered, despite the best efforts of George Strait and Alan Jackson to keep it going.
The music of the Dixie Chicks and Brad Paisley appeared to show that Nashville was turning the tide. But it wasn’t long-lasting.
The Dixie Chicks became embroiled in a political scandal, and their country music popularity was never the same. Paisley had an eye on tradition early in his career, but his more recent albums have seemed to be more formulaic than many fans would like to admit.
But I learned something important a few years ago – don’t depend on the radio to define where the genre is headed. Sure, in the 1970s and 1980s that was the easiest and most obvious barometer.
However, these days we have many different ways of discovering and maintaining interest in music.
That’s where Old Crow Medicine Show comes in. You won’t hear them on the radio dial, unless it’s a specialized program highlighting old time music.
But listening to their music, and especially their live show is like putting a museum inside your eardrums.
It’s rare to find a band whose music could be enjoyed in 1860, 1960, and hopefully, 2060. But Old Crow is the band that can pull it off.
The band gave a nod to Hank Williams Sr. with “Country Gal”…at first, I thought it would be a cover of “Hey Good Lookin” until they put their own spin on it, and they gave some respect to Texas with “Sweet Amarillo,” a song they co-wrote with folk legend Bob Dylan.
Their most popular mainstream song is “Wagon Wheel”, and granted, some of its popularity may come from the fact that modern country artists such as Darius Rucker and Jeremy McComb have recorded it (and had it played on country radio).
Hopefully, some listeners heard the versions on country radio, searched it on YouTube and come across Old Crow.
When it comes to country radio, fads and phases like Urban Cowboy, Bro-Country and outright pop-sounding stuff. It’s good to know there are some acts that will stand the test of time.
Speaking of which, I’m counting the days until country traditionalist Daryle Singletary visits the Fort Bend County Fair on Oct. 4.