Preview from the Vault: Old Crow Medicine Show

This brief article/interview appeared in the August 16, 2007 Chico News & Review.

Old School
Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor takes on modern times

It’s been quite a journey for the members of Old Crow Medicine Show. The band coalesced in 1998 during a legendary trek across Canada, where the members busked and barnstormed for gas money and food whenever they could. Such a tour has destroyed many a lesser band, but once they got back to the States, the boys in Old Crow holed up together in a mountaintop farmhouse in North Carolina, where they worked the farm, brewed corn liquor and learned traditionals from the locals. It was there that they were discovered by bluegrass legend Doc Watson and his daughter Nancy, which led to gigs at Watson’s annual MerleFest, the Grand Ole Opry, and an appearance on A Prairie Home Companion. The CN&R recently talked with Ketch Secor (vocals, fiddle, harmonica), who considered himself an odd kid (“I had an early appreciation for things much older than myself”), about the past, present and future of Old Crow Medicine Show.

How has the band changed since the days of the Canada barnstorming tour?

We definitely became a working band pretty shortly after that, and our whole ideology changed. Our fire became focused. We directed it toward the audience; because they wanted us to—they’ve been calling for it all along. They’re looking for a great time … for some answers. The music is very much about the listeners and the appreciation of it. There wouldn’t be any of this if it weren’t for [them]; we’d still be on the street corner.

What do you think of the current state of the music industry?

Presently, I think it’s just a torrent of lackluster artistry. Everybody’s got a record, everybody’s a pro, everybody’s got a show on Friday night, and everybody’s got a link to tell you about it … I think you can look at the computer and the “interweb” as being a very liberating force, but if it isn’t leading to live music being performed then it’s doing nothing. It’s all about selling something. I’m more [for] digging the ferocity of instrumentation, being real, and being present and linked to the artists. There it is, all happening before you. It’s the genuine article with all of its history and all of its bastard children standing around the cabin. There it is! Look at it! Go up to it, knock on the door—it’ll scare the hell out of you, but do it just to feel something.

How would you describe your show for someone who hasn’t seen it?

It’s a high-energy atmosphere and oftentimes it feels like a revival—but not like a folk revival, like a tent revival. Like a snake-handlin’, venom-spittin’, strychnine-drinkin’ tent revival. There’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of fire, there’s a lot of emotion. So it’s all those things, but it’s also important to recognize that it’s an acoustic show and a rockin’ show.

Where would you like to be in another 10 years?

Oh, disappeared in Oregon somewhere, up some logging road.

Still playing though?

[Laughs] Ten years from now? I don’t know what’s going to be where. I don’t really feel that I can trust 10 years from now in the way that people from before could. I just think that the rate of change and growth and destruction is spiraling out of control, and I fear for 10 years.

Speaking of which, this show is going to be a benefit for a sustainability fund. What are your thoughts on sustainability?

You couldn’t pick a better band to represent the value of sustainability: Here we are, playing the music that has been played on this continent for 200 years. We’re also adding to it to make it appropriate to the present; we’re enriching it. When you think about sustainability, it’s using the environment you’ve been given, and finding the natural resources that exist freely within it and harnessing them instead of extracting them, destroying them and burning them. The thing about Old Crow is that we have this ability to sing the old songs for people; the songs are healing and the songs are part of who we all are. They’re voices that have strength today and have resonance today. So singing them, it’s a very natural thing.