Old Crow's medicinal compound goes down a treat
Local references aplenty will pepper their high-octane performance at Vicar Street, writes SIOBHAN LONG
It’s a long and winding road that leads a band from busking on street corners in upstate New York to co-writes with Bob Dylan and a Grammy nomination for their recent concert DVD, Big Easy Express. Old Crow Medicine Show are a bluegrass band with undeniable punk sensibilities who have notches on their collective belt that’d put manners on a swarm of Johnny-Come-Latelies. They’ve built a reputation for high-octane live performances, and one of their quirkier calling cards is their penchant for morphing their set list to fit the topology of whichever city they happen to be visiting.
So, it will be no surprise if references to the Liffey, the Spire, Joyce and Behan are peppered throughout their repertoire when they pay a visit to Dublin on Wednesday night.
“Critter” (Chris) Fuqua is OCMS’s slide guitarist and banjo player and regularly sidles up alongside his five fellow band members on vocals, too.
Fuqua is adamant that making a tangible connection with audiences locally is an essential feature of Old Crow’s live shows.
“Part of the fun about playing this kind of music is that we’ll do a little historical research and find out what’s going on in a city, what its specific landmarks and rivers are, and then we’ll change songs around to include those details. You know, this kind of music is regional. It comes from all parts of the US and the world, and it’s fun to make that connection.”
Critter’s Irish bloodlines get due mention (on his mother’s side: she’s an O’Day), but he’s got far more to say about the perils of the road, and of the music industry generally, than about any far-flung ancestry.
“I left the band for four or five years and I quit drinking and went back to school,” Fuqua says, “and I’m back now, feeling really rejuvenated. I’ve learned that we’ve got to take care of our health and our psyche and our spiritual life. Sometimes we forget that, especially in this music business. Once you get some success, the ball keeps rolling, and it’s hard to get off.
“I think people take their careers and themselves very seriously to a point where it can be detrimental to their sanity. I’ve learned that it’s okay to step back and take a look at things and try new things. We don’t need to run ourselves into the ground. After all, we’re only here for a short time.”
Now, more than ever, Critter reckons, bluegrass music in all its hoedown, ragged -edged beauty has a place in the world.
“It’s almost recession proof in a sense”, he says. “When they got a lot of money, people love to listen to music; when they got no money, people love to listen to music. Recession or not, music will always be here. It’s not like the dot.combubble.”
Dave Rawlings has produced two of Old Crow Medicine Show’s albums, and Fuqua knows full well the value of a dispassionate voice in the midst of a loud honking band full of musicians with wayward opinions.
“He’s got that ear that’s not too involved, emotionally,” says Critter. “Naturally, every musician has got some sort of ego attached to what they’ve written so you’ve got to have an editor who you’ve got to listen to. I remember Dave Rawlings telling me to take out two whole verses from a song I wrote and at first I didn’t like that idea, but we did it anyway, and he was right. That’s what made the song.
“He knows when the story’s told. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Old Crow Medicine Show play Vicar Street on Wednesday