Friday, August 13, 2004 ... 9:25 AM

Suburban Hilltop Tent Revival: Old Crow Medicine Show at Newport Folk

I saw Old Crow's first set on Sunday, at the Borders stage. They were the act of the day. Of the weekend. And I mean I saw Steve Earle, Lucinda, Rufus, Wilco, Doc fucking Watson -- and each of them was brilliant -- but Old Crow were the trophy of the festival.

It was not a soul under that pavilion not wholly converted inside of thirty seconds. They shook it like to make it break. Watching them stomp and holler their way through songs and styles 80 or 100 years old or older -- ironically enough (and doubly ironically, since the same thing was happening at the same festival 45 years ago), there is no way not to believe that you are looking at the Next Big Thing. You believe that these kids are bound for glory.

Well, but then you sort of realize: this is old-timey string band music, dude. You're telling me they're gonna wrench the hiphop out the hands of the record companies and replace it with: an open-back 5-string banjo? O Brother was big, but. Plus, you know, we've seen what compny money does to country music. It's a sausage-maker that turns raw twangy meat into Oscar Meyer Music weiners. You put Hank Williams in, and Garth Brooks slides out. Loretta in, Shania out. Bill Monroe in ... Nickel fucking Creek out.

But at the same time, you hear Old Crow, and you want people to know about them. And then you also want to keep them a secret. And you think, Can they be kept secret? And you think, if the word is going to get out, then I wanna be the one who gets it the fuck out. So that later on when I see Old Crow t-shirts on 14-yr-old girls at the mall I can say to my friends, "I fucking told you."

So listen: every night they've got an audience and you're not in it, you're missing something special. See them in little bars and sweaty tents, friends, while you still can.



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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


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