But fans of Old Crow Medicine Show, many of whom are Wakarusa-attending, hula-hooping neo-hippies, are twirling in the direction of real, rooted, substantial sound. Old Crow is a Johnny Cash finger to the face of the lite-rock reality of "new country," and the band brings it straight out of its Nashville, Tennessee, home.
The five-piece string band has recorded four albums, sometimes with the help of friend and fellow musician Gillian Welch. Old Crow revels in playing traditional songs stamped with its own signature and songs the members have written themselves that just sound old. Hell, even the names of the various 20-somethings in the band (including a guy named "Critter" on slide guitar and a singer and guitarist named Willie Watson) sound like throwbacks from a sepia-tinged era.
Ketch Secor, who plays harmonica and guitar in the band, thinks that his fans are looking for something when they find Old Crow.
"That's the search for authenticity in this increasingly sterile world," he says. "I was born in the '70s, so I was lucky to see some of that cinemascopic kind of color that once was everything, before everything became like the hot white light of an interstate exit, off-ramp-world kind of thing.... You know, everything has gotten so Redi-Whipped."
Secor and his band cater to On the Road-style romanticism. Old Crow's most popular song, "Wagon Wheel," spins a tale of a hitchhiker making his way back to his lover. The song was 80 years in the making, vaulted into the spotlight as a practice ditty that Bob Dylan came up with during the filming of the 1973 movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Dylan said he got it from a Mississippi-born bluesman named Arthur Crudup (who wrote Elvis' "That's All Right, Mama"), who said he got it from a musician named Big Bill Brimsey. On Old Crow's version, Secor fills in the narrative, which he says echoes the kind of lyrics sung by Janis Joplin: Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train ...
It's too perfect for Old Crow to be touring the country fueled by an 80-year-old hit. Their verging-on-yodel vocals will make you want to order up a whiskey and spit on your shoes.
"There's a kind of truth to be told, and we're living it," Secor says. "We're not acting it out because we saw it and someone told us it was cool. We really are excited about the act of performance. It's true, it's rooted, it's old, older than the performance itself or older than any given night.... When you go back and read the Odyssey, well, you're reading every odyssey. If you read the first, then you read the last."
Old Crow Medicine Show. Thursday, November 16, at Liberty Hall.