By Matt Wickstrom
Old Crow Medicine Show returned to the Bluegrass on Wednesday night, marking their first trip to Lexington in over a decade for the first of their two-night run at UK’s Singletary Center for the Arts. The visit to central Kentucky also marked the start of their spring tour. The six-piece outfit from down the road in Nashville was supported by rising 23-year-old phenom Parker Millsap.
Millsap took the stage immediately captivated the audience with his astoundingly rangey voice, one which could be expected from someone with decades of experience and a wealth of stories under their belt, but not someone with such an abundance of charisma and youth. The twisting, turning voice of Millsap weaved in and out of the elegant baselines of Michael Rose and subtle fiddle strokes of Daniel Foulks beautifully, never more evident than during Millsap’s rendition of “Morning Blues,” a track off his latest album “The Very Last Day,” which released last week on March 25.
Old Crow got started shortly after, and laid their feet down to the floor from the first song, “Tell it to Me” off of their hit 2004 album “O.C.M.S.,” The fast-paced string music and foot stomping continued into the popular “Alabama High Test” before the pace slowed, albeit briefly, for a rendition of “Caroline.”
All six members of Old Crow Medicine Show were rotating instruments after nearly every song like some new weird, literal twist to musical chairs. The jostling for instruments kept its trend going for the group’s performance of “Sweet Amarillo,” for which fellow Kentuckian Chris “Critter” Fuqua pulled out an accordion. Later in the set, banjoist Kevin Hayes navigated from his platform near the back left corner of the stage’s setup to front and center to take the lead on “Humdinger,” a rootsy, twangy tune off the group’s 2008 record “Tennessee Pusher.”
Fiddler and harmonica master for Old Crow Ketch Secor then welcomed Millsaps and company back to the stage for a jarring cover of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” which saw Millsap’s powerful, demanding voice backed by fully-equipped string armada. Secor and his band mates later paid homage to the man who gave them their big break, Doc Watson, who discovered the group in 1999 with the help of his daughter outside of a North Carolina drug store with “Doc’s Day.”
Perhaps the night’s most intimate moment came during a two-song stretch playing caboose to “Listen to Doc,” when Secor and Fuqua were joined center stage by guitarist Chance McCoy and mandolinist Cory Younts for a vocal-centric cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Stealin’” and stripped down version of their own “I Hear them All.” The lacking presence of instrumentals allowed the foursome’s harmonies to take the spotlight and radiate throughout the near-capacity crowd like a sun rising over the mountain tops.
Later on after the fast paced jig of “Tear it Down,” the crowd began to get up out of their chairs and move around. One fan in the crowd could be heard yelling “Freebird,” and next thing you know Old Crow was delving into the country version of “Freebird” they helped popularize, “Wagon Wheel.” Once the tune hit it’s chorus, the entire crowd stood up and began dancing and singing along. They even took over the chorus the final time through in the song, uniting as one behind the binding power of music.
The rowdy outburst of “Show Cocaine Habit” closed out Old Crow’s set, to rousing applause from the appreciative fans in attendance. After a standing ovation, Ketch, Critter and company stormed back onto the stage for a three-song encore that included “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” “Tiger Rag” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just like a Woman,” whom Old Crow has partnered with several times before, including on platinum hit “Wagon Wheel.”
Old Crow will perform in the Bluegrass on April 14 in Louisville, April 28 in Prestonsburg and June 25 at ROMP Festival in Owensboro.
For more coverage of Old Crow Medicine Show’s return to Lexington, including photos, visit kykernel.com.