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Digging at the Roots 

Old Crow Medicine Show concocts a musical Remedy

String bands are experiencing an impressive resurgence, with groups like Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers enjoying crossover success. And Old Crow Medicine Show, a Grand Ole Opry inductee and force behind the song so many people love to hate, "Wagon Wheel," is largely to thank for that. But the strength of Americana music has yet to redeem its maligned cousin, mainstream country music. OCMS founding member Chris "Critter" Fuqua says he hopes the band's newest album, Remedy, can serve as an antidote to the lackluster state of the genre.

"I think country music today lacks a certain imagination. I think people don't realize that country music is something that is really for everybody, you know? It's not just a certain demographic," Fuqua explains from his Nashville home on a break between tours.

Though country music is often portrayed as the soundtrack to big rig driving, macro brew guzzling, Wrangler wearing rural folks, Fuqua insists that at its core, country music speaks to the diversity of American history and experience.

"Country music is really the foundation of this country," Fuqua insists. "I mean, country music is the African banjo rhythm with the Irish fiddle and these English ballads and it's really an American music form, and its too bad that it was marketed the way its been marketed."

But despite the specificity of this genealogy, he says roots music isn't about a particular instrumentation, style or form. It's about tracing the music back to its point of origin, and carrying that soul into the present.

"Roots music is something that's spiritual in nature more than that it has to be old, or played on the acoustic instruments," Fuqua says. That's why he draws inspiration from a variety of musicians, and not just the old timey ones. "People talk about roots music and how it's real and I mean, Nirvana is about as real as you can get. I grew up listening to hard rock and then when Nirvana came out there was something really special about that band. Nirvana is definitely roots music for me."

And the spirit of that musical coming of age is still alive in Old Crow Medicine Show's music. The band's new album includes a song written by band member Ketch Secor when he and longtime friend Fuqua were just teenagers.

"I think [the music is] mostly our 13-year-old selves," Fuqua says. "It's matured in some ways and it's still fun and like, '8 Dogs and 8 Banjos' on the new album, I think Ketch wrote when we were 15 or 16 and we just went back and grabbed it and retooled it a little bit, so that's 95 percent 13-year-old spirit right there."

But it's not just the songwriting that harkens back to days of yore, the band's performance style was also honed in its origins as a street act. The group got its first big break performing on the street corner in North Carolina where bluegrass legend "Doc" Watson got his start.

"What we do as a band on stage almost came directly from busking and the need to be heard and the need to put on a show," Fuqua says. "There are street musicians and then there are street musicians. Busking is a real art. It's like the difference between reading the gospel and preaching."

Old Crow Medicine Show

Tue., Sept. 23. 6 pm.

Century Center, 70 SW Century Dr. $35.

About The Author

Erin Rook

Erin is the Source Weekly's Associate Editor. Before moving to Bend in 2013, Erin worked as a writer and editor for publications in Portland including PQ Monthly and Just Out. He has also written for the Willamette Week, El Hispanic News, Travel Portland, OUT City, Boston magazine and the Taunton Daily Gazette...
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