I spent the first 19 years of my life north of the Mason-Dixon, but I didn't feel at home until I moved to Southwestern Virginia. My family are Northerners through and through — my blood runs Hershey's chocolate and Heinz ketchup. Something about that Appalachian-infused music, culture and spirit, however, felt warm, welcoming and right. Which is why the performance by Old Crow Medicine Show
last Friday at Jannus Live
felt like a homecoming of sorts — a raucous, rocking homecoming. [Words by Shae, photos by Tracy.]
The show kicked off at 8 p.m. sharp. Normally I would appreciate this — standing around, checking Facebook or my phone for the nth time and sighing, “When's it going to start
?” is never fun. This time, however, I arrived at 10 minutes til, and while I was caught in a snafu at the ticket booth, opening act The Black Lillies
began their set. Jannus staff kindly resolved my issue by bumping me up into the Party Deck with an All-Access pass, but by that time, I'd already missed a song and a half. How could I complain, though? Up on the Party Deck — a roofed veranda running the length of the venue with its own bar and bathrooms — I had a clear view of the stage. Had I been on the ground in the GA crowd, I wouldn't have been able to see a thing: the place was packed
I hadn't listened to The Black Lillies before. Call it a quirk or maybe a bad habit but I like coming into concerts with as blank a slate as possible. Adding that element of surprise heightens the experience. Hailing from Knoxville, the quintet started out playing your typical Americana music: twangy vocals from founder and leader Cruz Contreras, a shuffling rhythm section via drummer Bowman Townsend and bassist Robert Richard, a sighing slide guitar thanks to multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor and harmonies and tambourine by Trisha Gene Brady.
Between sips of rum and coke, the woman standing next to me leaned over and informed me that Contreras had studied jazz piano in college. Sure enough, halfway through the set he put aside his hollow-body guitar and took a seat behind the keyboard off to the side of the stage. When he started playing, what had been sturdy Americana took on a ragtime flair and everyone in the venue, including me, started bopping and dancing.
By the time Old Crow Medicine Show took the stage, Jannus vibrated with anticipation. A man on my other side exclaimed he'd never seen such a packed Jannus, as even more people had somehow managed to wedge themselves into the hooting and hollering crowd below us. It was OCMS's first time in St. Pete and we wanted to make them feel welcome. From the start of their set, the cowboy-hatted and booted septet — Nashville-based and recent inductees to the Grand Ol Oprey — fed the audience's energy. Neither they, nor we, were slowing down any time soon.
Ketch Secor, Chris “Critter” Fuqua, Kevin Hayes, Morgan Jahnig. Gill Landry, Chance McCoy and Cory Younts all took turns doing a little bit of everything — they sang and played various stringed instruments including guitar, bantar (or guitjo, if you prefer), dobro, fiddle and upright bass. They also threw harmonica, accordion, piano and drums into the mix, all while boot-stomping, harmonizing and clog-dancing their way through crowd-pleasers like “Methamphetamine,” “Caroline,” “Cocaine Habit” and “Alabama High-Test.”
TraWhile OCMS gets my vote for band with the most collective talent, one person put Old Crow's skills to shame: their guitar tech/stage hand. At the end of each song — and the band played for a two full hours — the tech juggled an armful of instruments. Those needed for the next tune were exchanged for the ones previously used and at one point I saw him lugging three guitars and a fiddle. His most impressive feat occurred during the middle of a song. He ran up behind Secor, who had been singing and playing fiddle, and without letting a note drop, the tech slipped the violin from the frontman's hands and replaced it with a harmonica. He quickly shot back to the side of the stage with no fanfare. Kudos to him.
The verve on stage dropped once during their set for “Wagon Wheel” and it's no wonder. Played at every open mic or karaoke night, it's the band's undeniable hit (certified platinum in 2013). I'd wager they've been playing it faithfully for their cheering fans since its release in 2004. I applaud them for pushing through a song they must've delivered a thousand times or more, and easily forgave them for a single stagnant moment out of a night full to bursting with high-octane exuberance.