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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

New energy, new music: Old Crow Medicine Show founder discusses latest albums, tour

From left Morgan Jahnig, Mason Via, Ketch Secor, Jerry Pentecost, Cory Younts and Mike Harris of Old Crow Medicine Show, which performs at Live Oak Bank Pavilion during Azalea Festival. (Photo by Kit Wood)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — There wasn’t a shortage of topics to discuss when Old Crow Medicine Show founding member Ketch Secor phoned in for an interview during a stop in Tulsa in late March. 

The tour was just starting, a new Old Crow album is on the way and a pair of new band members have joined in time to hit the road. The band will stop in downtown Wilmington at Live Oak Bank Pavilion during next week’s Azalea Festival.

READ MORE: Coming through the fire: Lukas Nelson talks latest album ahead of Wilmington concerts

Perhaps most top of mind for Secor was the tragic shooting that took place in Nashville’s Covenant School on March 27. It left three 9-year-old children and three adults dead.

“Right now, I’m just thinking so much about my beloved Nashville, where I have two school-age children,” he said. “My kids are the same age as the three children who were murdered.”

He further explained his kids had undergone an active shooter training earlier that week at school. He asked his daughter how it went; the answer was chilling.

“She said, ‘Well, it was pretty scary, especially because when I got behind the desk, my butt was sticking out. So there wasn’t enough room for me. I just got an unlucky number. I probably would have been killed.'”

Secor called out the adults, specifically legislators, doing nothing in the face of the tragedies. He called it a “black mark on society.”

“I am never not going to talk about it,” Secord added, “and I’m never going to stop saying that the state of Tennessee must make these weapons of mass destruction unavailable to American citizens. They are meant for the military. These are weapons of war.”

The lead singer, fiddle and banjo player, and chief songwriter in Old Crow has been performing for 25 years. Secor has seen Old Crow Medicine Show become an influential force in roots music and a leader in the resurgence of string bands on the music scene.

The band returned from the pandemic with a reshuffled lineup — Mike Harris (banjo/guitar), Mason Via (guitar) and drummer Jerry Pentecost replaced Chance McCoy, Joe Andrews and Charlie Worsham. They also have a newly outfitted studio located just north of Nashville. That’s where the latest edition of Old Crow made their critically acclaimed 2022 album, “Paint This Town,” and have also completed a new album ready for release.

It has re-energized the band.

“I just think [the new energy] had more to do with COVID and being able to work again,” Secor said. “And then the new lineup, a new producer, Matt Ross-Spang, the studio we were in, that we’re working out of now that’s something that we own, that’s been a big factor in the kind of collective spirit of the band. There’s a lot of renewal that happened out of the COVID experience.”

Secor said the new blood reminded him of Old Crow’s earliest days busking and hustling for a show.

“Not knowing what lay in store behind the city limits sign, that unknown quality of ‘Well, what’s next, boys? I guess we’ll find out,’” he said.

Secor and the band members cut their teeth and began shaping their sound on the streets. Playing to communities nationwide solidified their blend of old-time string-band folk, bluegrass, country and other traditional roots sounds mixed with rock.

It was during one of these impromptu performances in Boone, North Carolina, that folk/bluegrass legend Doc Watson saw Old Crow and invited the group to play Merlefest. The popular Wilkesboro, North Carolina, music festival named for his late son, Merle Watson, takes place every spring, (the 2023 event is slated to take place the last weekend this month).

That appearance gave Old Crow the momentum to start building a touring base, to later on get a record deal and in 2004 release their debut “O.C.M.S.” That album contained the song “Wagon Wheel,” a song Bob Dylan started writing for the soundtrack of the 1973 film “Pat Garrett and Bill the Kid.” Dylan never finished it though.

Secor heard the tune on Dylan bootlegs and decided to take a stab at it, eventually getting Dylan’s blessing to release it on “O.C.M.S.”

“Wagon Wheel” has become Old Crow’s signature song, gradually amassing sales and downloads on the way to topping the one millionth mark in 2013. That was the year Darius Rucker covered the tune and turned it into a chart-topping country hit that further raised awareness of Old Crow Medicine Show, while providing the band with a welcome income infusion.

Six albums have followed since “O.C.M.S.”

“Paint This Town” topped the Americana and bluegrass charts, and leans strongly toward frisky and catchy material; “Bombs Away” and “Deford Rides Again” lean bluegrass, while “Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” and the title song show the band’s rock influence. It has been lauded as the band’s best effort yet.

Now Old Crow has another album set for release in August or September. Secor said the sound envelops Old Crow finding their current stride.

“’Paint This Town’ was kind of a get-your-sea legs and let’s figure out what this is like,” Secor said of the new band’s iteration.

The upcoming release was written together.

“Mike and Mason and Jerry are all writers on the new album in ways they weren’t as much on the first,” he said. “And it’s, again, produced by ourselves, along with Matt Ross-Spang. So it is a little bit more acoustic, a little less of a rocking record for Old Crow, a few more banjos on it.”

Yet, Old Crow has gone through yet another rejiggering of the band lineup since recording the newest album. Pentecost has moved on and been replaced by Dante Pope, while multi-instrumentalist P.J. George III has joined to create a seven-man lineup that also includes Secor, Morgan Jahnig (bass), Cory Younts (keyboards), Harris and Via.

Live, the band maintains the same sound, same energy. On their latest tour, the group plans to stock the shows with new and old original material alike. And fans can expect to hear covers, sometimes even a song or two related to whatever city the band is playing in on any given night.

“As long as the canon of song is Old Crow music and I’m up there to continue the through line for the past 25 years, it’s Old Crow Medicine Show,” Secor said. “Whatever it is, as long as there are fiddles and banjos and I’m up there and Morgan’s up there, and whoever else is in the Old Crow Medicine Show is up there, and (if) there’s bones playing and there are mandolins and harmony singing and a whole bunch of smiling faces in front of you, then you’ve got yourself a Medicine show.”

Old Crow Medicine Show performs in downtown Wilmington’s Riverfornt Park on Friday, April 14. The show includes opener Jamestown Revival; tickets are $40 to $110 available here.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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