Young Revivalists

Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union ’til the day I die.

The crowd yelling Woody Guthrie’s defiant words to “Union Maid” is mostly college-age, joined by a number of elders like me—a gray-beard in a clerical collar. They dance in the aisles of the beautiful old art-deco Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee, singing about solidarity at the top of their lungs. The first performance of Old Crow Medicine Show’s spring tour sounds like a labor rally.

The five-member band is a phenomarguably the most popular old-time string band in a long time. The Crows have been packing houses for the past couple of years, thanks to the Internet and appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. Their eponymous record, released in 2004, rose to first place on some bluegrass charts, “which is pretty good, since we’re not even a bluegrass band,” says fiddler, vocalist, and band spokesperson Ketch Secor, who, like his bandmates, is in his mid-20s.

Indeed, the band’s music is delightfully hard to categorize. Sure, it’s got a bluegrass feel and an old-time sensibility, but it isn’t exactly either. The basic ingredients of OCMS—banjo, fiddle, harmonica, guitjo (a guitar/banjo hybrid), guitar, upright bass, and vocals—are recognizable as the time-honored sound of the band’s great-grandparents, but it’s really a brand-new formula, an irresistible and addictive mix.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2006
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