Fans of Old Crow Medicine Show and Sturgill Simpson are in for a treat at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, N.C. Simpson is opening for the group with North Carolina ties that just won best folk album from the Grammys for “Remedy.” And Simpson, the Kentucky singer-songwriter crossover artist, just wrapped up performances at Cali’s Coachella AND Stagecoach music festivals. Advance tickets are $35 for lawn seats and can be purchased online here.
Following is an interview I did with Old Crow’s Ketch Secor in 2009 that ran in Lynchburg, Va.’s News & Advance.
For the uninitiated, Old Crow Medicine Show is a self-described old-timey string band with roots in the Triad. With the release last fall of the band’s seventh studio album, “Tennessee Pusher,” the now Nashville-based band reached No. 7 on U.S. country music charts. OCMS’s most recognizable hit is a ditty called “Wagon Wheel,” which is based on the chorus of a Bob Dylan tune. But don’t try to peg this group that has been recording and performing for the past decade as “country.” Their music has been called bluegrass, Americana and alternative-country to name a few. Fans just call it a good time. Ketch Secor, who sings lead vocals and plays fiddle, harmonica and banjo, took some time out from preparing for the current tour that kicked off Jan. 28 in Prestonburg, Ky., to talk about why he loves coming back to perform in North Carolina and the Triad in particular, the new album, the economy, what it’s like to see yourself up on a Jumbotron and how OCMS’s success has been a long time coming.
Q: How does it feel to be performing in the Triad again?
KS: I’m real excited about Winston-Salem. We’re long overdue for performing in Forsyth County. We’ve sort of let the Triad fall by the wayside. We played Ziggys about five years ago and the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro a couple of years ago, but while we might do a show in Boone or Raleigh, we seem to miss the Triad. We’ll play a Charlie Poole song for the folks from Eden and I don’t want to leave out the folks in Stokesdale or Kernersville.
Q: What attracts you to the music scene in North Carolina?
KS: A couple of things. Roots music is alive and well in North Carolina. I think North Carolina is one of the places that has a really keen musical sense of itself. There are so many independent artists in your state making a career out of being artists and that’s a really positive thing. I’m always excited to pay my respects and contribute to that body of work. Having lived in Greensboro for a while and kicked around Winston-Salem and played coffee houses and little tiny joints there, I have walked the beat of Winston-Salem to know I really like that town.
Q: Who are some of your favorite North Carolina musicians?
KS: Carolina Chocolate Drops and Polecat Creek. I know and revere those bands. When I moved to Greensboro when I was 18 to play in band I got to know some great players in the old music scene. Riley Baugus, who lives in Walkertown, is a banjo maker, a producer and a great all around joyous dude. His band had a real effect on us, a group called the Red Hots.
Q: You played Merlefest last year for the first time since your first gig about 10 years ago. What was different this time?
KS: I love Merlefest. I’ve been to Deep Gap and I know that landscape because I lived up there before. I love being a part of the Watson family for a weekend a year. I think the success of Merlefest is indicative of the place North Carolina is for music. It has fostered so many artists along the way. For us to go from more or less raising hell at Merlefest to the Jumbotron is kind of funny. We’re just starting to show up on more Jumbotrons than street corners. You can reach a whole lot more people that way. But keep the alley in mind. If you don’t lose sight of where you came from I think it’s a great medium.
Q: You have performed on Grand Ole Opry, “Austin City Limits” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and OCMS is opening for the Dave Matthews Band at several shows in April. Has OCMS gone mainstream?
KS: “I think there’s a likelihood that we’ll always be on the fringe. They opened the door just a crack (in Nashville) and let a bunch of us yahoos sit around the camp fire. They are throwing us a bone and we’ve got to thank them for that. Thank God fiddles and banjos are what their big piles of money grew on. It’s taken us 10 years to get here. We have a very grassroots and cult-like following. It grows by word of mouth.”
Q: Has the downturn in the economy affected your shows?
KS: “We’re doing well. Beer sales are up and liquor sales are down. Speaking of cheap buzz, we tend to appeal to young people. That sector of the economy is the Old Crow fan base. Like our president says, there’s a lot of hope among young people. They aren’t losing stock options because they don’t have any and they don’t have a third home at beach so it’s not getting repossessed. I think the future is bright for a lot of people. But I’m also feeling for those who are hurting.”
Q: Some critics have called “Tennessee Pusher” a departure for OCMS. What do you think?
KS: I don’t think of it as a departure. It’s more of a growth spurt. We finally made a record of all original material and it sounds a little more accessible because of the drums. But we’re still the same frenetic string band that we’ve always been.