Old Crow Medicine Show
On Friday evening, Aug. 1, Old Crow Medicine Show took the
stage of the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio, not knowing that soon it would be one of the best nights
of its musical career.
Country and bluegrass music star Marty Stuart was in town, as well, although the members of Old Crow Medicine Show did not know he was in the Buckeye State, much less in the building.
As the concert progressed, Stuart unexpectedly stormed the stage to deliver a message from the powers that be at the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. With the band looking at him like a calf staring at a new gate, Stuart issued a coveted invitation to the OCMS to become official members of country music’s most beloved institution.
“Man, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on,” said Ketch Secor, founding member of OCMS. “I didn’t know at all. It was an utter surprise to me. I just figured Marty was coming up onstage. I wouldn’t put it past Marty to just appear. He’s always had that role with Old Crow, that certainly he could just appear. I’ve known him for more than a decade, and Marty is the first person that ever brought us onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Marty is one of the first people in Nashville that took a shine to this band. It’s been a great friendship. He’s been a real supporter of us through the years, including back when we were spreading Vienna sausages onto crackers on the side of the highway.”
When Stuart took the stage, the members of OCMS figured he was there for more reasons than to just jam with them on a Friday evening.
“Marty walked out and said, ‘Hello,’ and I gave him a big hug and said, ‘What are you doing here?’” Secor said. “I said it real innocently, but genuinely wanting to know. And then, suddenly, a stagehand brought out a big WSM-AM Grand Ole Opry microphone, and that’s when I knew. It’s a very iconic microphone stand that is always in use at the Grand Ole Opry. As soon as it came out, it all made sense.
“Then, he posed this question to the audience and whispered a few things to us. Mostly, he talked about the history of the Opry and asked if we would like to be a part of it as members. We were all in disbelief. It was just a real powerful moment in time. It’s like a dream that I’ve had before. It’s funny how country music continues to do those things, to be so darn country in its curtain call. It reminded me of the times that we would drive our Cadillac limousine to Nashville. It felt like this country music career that I’ve been building up with Old Crow. It’s been one that has followed such a classic country music pathway, like the same road that Hank (Williams) took to get to Nashville. The same road that Kris Kristofferson took.”
The story of OCMS, however, goes back to the 1990s, when the band lived through hard times as it tried to make its mark in the music world. It was a period when the group made a fateful decision to come to Boone to live and play.
“We moved to Boone, N.C., around 1999,” Secor said. “We knew we wanted to live somewhere in North Carolina because we figured we could work there. We ended up in Boone mostly because we didn’t jive with Asheville. We looked for a place in Asheville because we figured that was where we would go, but it just felt really crowded. So then, I went up to Boone, and I slept at the homeless shelter because there was a berth open because there was a woman who was doing a night prison sentence. She would vacate the place at about 6 p.m. in the evening and go to jail, and I’d get her bed. She would come back at 6 a.m. in the morning, and I would have to go back out on the street. I stayed in Boone like that for about two weeks, trying to figure out where we were going to live.
“Finally, we found a place for rent out in Avery County on Flat Springs Road. It was as close to Boone as it was to Newland. We lived where all of the locals called the ‘Backside of Beech Mountain.’ They really took us in, and we’re still friends with a lot of Trivettes and Presnells and Harmons.”
Then, one afternoon, OCMS was performing on a sidewalk in Boone when the right person walked by, and it changed the group’s career path almost instantly.
“We’d go down to Boone every couple of days to play on the street corner because there wasn’t a lot of work you could do in Avery County, although we did some fencing, and we cut hay and then we worked tobacco,” Secor said. “Playing in Boone was easy money, so we would busk down on King Street at the corner of Cherry, oftentimes in front of the drug store. There’d always be somebody from Charlotte walking out that had just spent $300 on a suit of clothes, then they’d come over to us and drop their tithe into our case.
“Then Doc Watson’s daughter, Nancy, heard us playing on the corner in front of the drug store on the fifth of July in 1999. She came up to us and threw us a buck. She is a sweet person. She said, ‘If you all are going to be here for a while, I want to go and get my daddy. He loves this kind of music. We had never met her, so we didn’t know who she was, so we said, ‘Well, maybe we’ll be here and maybe we won’t.’”
As fate would have it, OCMS was still on the corner when Nancy and Doc Watson pulled up.
“It is a good thing that we stayed because she came back about an hour later in a red Jeep Cherokee, and she walked her dad across the street, and he gave us a gig right on the spot,” Secor said. “We knew right away that it was him when we saw him get out of his car and saw him reach for Nancy’s arm. He asked us if we wanted to play MerleFest. It was the same kind of feeling that I had onstage with Marty the other night, as in something pre-ordained, something like the stars were all lined up over the High Country that day.”
For more information on Old Crow Medicine Show and the Grand Ole Opry, visit http://www.crowmedicine.com and http://www.opry.com, respectively.