Old Crow Medicine Show Finds a Home in Central ParkAugust 7th, 2012
Old Crow Medicine Show – SummerStage – August 6, 2012
In case you somehow forgot where Old Crow Medicine Show was in the midst of playing a marathon set of old school bluegrass last night, frontman Ketch Secor constantly reminded everyone that it was in Central Park in New York City. In what became a running thread, Secor would mention this every chance he got, expanding with a litany of facts and numbers and then name-dropping boroughs, neighborhoods and most of the outlying suburbs. It became clear that it was partly tongue-in-cheek. Only partly, though, because it was also clear as the band churned through material from most of its albums of the last decade, that location is very important to Old Crow. The group mentioned a couple dozen Southern states and backwoods towns, both real and imagined, throughout the night: from the Virginia of the opening “Carry Me Back to Virginia” to the Alabama in “Alabama High Test” to the “Mountain City” of “Bootlegger’s Boy.” For these guys, where you are is as important as where you’re from and where you’re going.
The show began beneath a beautiful orange-and-blue sunset as Old Crow rotated easily among banjos, fiddles, harmonicas and guitars. The show was sold out, quite amazingly to a mostly younger crowd that didn’t quite have the look of folk who’d spent any time at a bluegrass festival. It took a while for the audience to settle in, but once the sun set, the chitchat died away and everyone focused on the music. Things turned more interesting right around the same time with a string of songs that started with “Methamphetamine” and “James River Blues.” With plenty of fiddle breakdowns and multipart harmonies, the crowd started to really move. This reached a head with “Wagon Wheel,” which drew the biggest reaction of the night, with everyone singing along. It may have been Central Park, but it suddenly felt like the band’s home.
The set was a strong 80-plus minutes of music, but the encore deserves its own paragraph. After a nice version of “Hard to Love,” Old Crow Medicine Show brought out the first openers, the Milk Carton Kids, for “I Hear Them All” with an appropriate “This Land Is Your Land” squeezed in the middle. Then they brought out the second openers, the Lumineers, for an awesome everyone-onstage take on “Sweet Virginia,” which seemed appropriate considering the opening number. Again it was location, location, location as the whole ensemble rocked an appropriately big version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” At this point there were more than twelve musicians onstage comprising just about every string instrument you could imagine. The laws of live music (The Last Waltz Act of 1976) state that when that many people assemble for an encore, they must finish with an everyone-gets-some take on “I Shall Be Released,” and so that’s how they ended a wonderful night in Central Park in New York City. —A. Stein