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Painting a Portrait of 23 Years With Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show plays a surprise acoustic set on the grounds of MerleFest 04/30/22
Martin Anderson
Old Crow Medicine Show plays a surprise acoustic set on the grounds of MerleFest 04/30/22

Fiddler, vocalist and founding member of roots music powerhouse Old Crow Medicine Show

How long is the average lifespan for a band? That could be hard to pin down, but it is surely a lot shorter than the time we have witnessed Old Crow Medicine Show do their thing. Starting out as strict revivalists of old-time string band traditions, they did not even believe in writing original songs. To Ketch Secor’s thinking back at Old Crow’s inception, all the great songs had already been written, so any attempts to add to that canon would be futile. Fortunately for all of us, Ketch and the band changed their minds on that point, and almost immediately discovered how much impact they could have with originals (and one whale of a co-write). Like any group starting out, they had no way of knowing how far they would go or how much they would change in time. If you had told them that they were going to sell millions of records and win multiple Grammy awards back in 1999, they would likely have laughed. If you had pointed out that a future member of their group (Mason Via) had just been born, my bet is that they would have looked at you as if you had come from another planet. But all of this would come to pass.

Fast forward to spring 2022, when Old Crow Medicine Show returned to the place that a generation before had served, as Ketch said in our interview, a lily pad, a springboard for their success. There at MerleFest, I sat with Ketch in the library at Wilkes Community College ahead of their two shows that day — the first a surprise acoustic performance off stage on the festival grounds, the second their main stage performance hours later. A documentary crew was on hand filming our conversation, which covered a wide range of topics, including the current lineup of Old Crow Medicine Show, his time living off the land in Avery County, North Carolina when the band first formed, his recent fascination with music from Equatorial Africa and Texas border country, how he always wants to be, as he puts it, a mockingbird, and more. There is plenty of music from their latest album Paint This Town featured as well.

Joe Kendrick grew up far off in the woods in rural Stanfield, NC, where he acquired his first Sony Walkman, listened to both AM and FM radio from Charlotte, went to Nascar races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, attended a small Baptist church, read Rolling Stone, subscribed to cassette clubs, and played one very forgettable season of high school football. From there, Joe studied Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was able to fulfill his dream of being a disc jockey at WXYC. He volunteered at WNCW soon after graduation.