I’d been to a handful of shows at the newly reopened Golden State Theatre in downtown Monterey in 2012, but they suddenly and unfortunately closed the doors in 2013. So, to hear they were trying this again, opening up to bring local music fans a wonderful place to see some incredible music, on a big stage, with grand lights and crisp sound. I was sitting at home, listening to the local radio station, KPIG 107.5 when the announcement came on that the Old Crow Medicine Show was coming to down. What? Wait, that’s in just over two weeks! How did I not hear about this???? Open interweb, seek out who to speak to on getting in on this party……
Let me say a little about the Golden State Theatre (GST). It is one pretty place, outside and in. Ornate and detailed, little nooks and crannies to find art, sculptures, or an intricately carved wooden chair…. tall ceilings, beautiful lighting, and great sound. First opening in 1926 as a movie palace and live performance theatre, it is gorgeous, at 15,000 square feet with about 1,000 pretty blue-plush seats. An opulent palace that has been beautifully restored after decades of deterioration. It’s had it’s financial woes, local music and art investors attempt to reopen it, only to see it close again and again. I caught Patti Smith, Bob Weir and Jackie Greene, John Prine, and a double-billed Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepard shows there and really liked the place and what it had to offer. So, I’m one happy camper to see it open again, thanks to some local investors in the Lochtefelds (Eric, Lori, and Charley – all a part of California’s Fox Theatre properties) and Nigel Permund of Live Nation. Yay!
And, well, since JBO hasn’t had the distinct pleasure of covering a full Old Crow Medicine Show, let me give ya a little background on the fellas. Getting their start in New York and Canada, playing street corners for passer-byes, they eventually headed to North Carolina, catching the ears and eyes of Doc Watson one day while playing in front of a pharmacy. So thanks to Doc and Merle Fest, their career was launched to the stars. Now calling Tennessee their home, OCMS are, in no particular order, Kevin Hayes on guitjo and vocals (sidebar: what the heck is a guitjo you say? According to the Wiki, it is a six-stringed banjo with the neck of a guitar, also known as a banjitar…. now that I’ve heard of… They also come in double necks, the guitar-world’s version of a doublewide), Cory Younts on mandolin/keyboards/drums and vocals (yes, he is all over that stage, and he can dance too!), Critter Fuqua playing slide guitar/banjo/guitar and vocals, Chance McCoy on guitar/fiddle/banjo and vocals, Ketch Secor on the fiddle/harmonica/banjo and vocals, Gill Landry on slide guitar/banjo and vocals,?and last but not least, Morgan Jahnig keeping it real on that upright bass. Talented fellas.
But, wait, there was an opening band ya see. I like to see the opening bands, because I figure there is a reason they were invited along, right? And these guys weren’t just there for the Golden State Theatre show, they’re on the whole fall tour. There must be a friendship, a kinship, or a musical tie in there somewhere, however loose or tight it is. A five-man gig, The Deslondes (sounds like, Dez-londs) are……. actually, formerly, used to be known as The Tumbleweeds, a name that has been taken up by other musical outfits, or has at least been included as a part of the name, tumblin’ somewhere in the title. So, just last year, in 2013, they renamed themselves The Deslondes, a street in a neighborhood where they first began writing, and where their bandleader [Doores] currently lays his hat. Hailing from the Holy Cross area of New Orleans, their southern soulful sound reminds you of good ‘ole Woody, a little Hank, and at times more of the influence of John Prine. The Deslondes include Sam Doores, Riley Downing, both of who are listed as the main songwriters in the crew, with Dan Cutler on bass, Cameron Snyder on percussion, and John James on pedal steel and fiddle. Each contributing to the musical arrangements, they all take the lead at different times in the set. They have an interesting story, should you choose to check ’em out online. And why not check ’em out – you can listen to some of their tunes, catch a video, and get a feel for this outfit, whose motto is, “Less Honkin’ more Tonkin’” – a bumper sticker I should’ve gotten……
They played for a good 45 minutes or so, treating us to their sound that ranged from the upbeat, toe-tappin’ end to some pretty deep feeling songs, heavy on the soul, especially with the vocals of Riley Downing, coming from way down deep, way-way down deep in the pit of your gut. Like “I Got Found”, which gave me visions of working on the chain gang, out in the hot sun, just trying to survive. Others, like “Throw Another Cap on the Fire” make me feel like I was listening to some real, old time, southern music, simple yet colorful, something that paints a picture or tells a story for you. I can see why they’ve been compared to the soulful sounds of Townes Van Zandt or Blaze Foley, and their upbeat numbers compare to the feel of John Prine. Go check ’em out. Their website offers up a good taste of who The Deslondes are and what they stand for, which apparently is more “tonkin’”.
With a short break between the two, the packed house (I hear just 30 some odd seats went unsold) was rested, had a chance to grab a drink, and a breath of fresh air outside before Old Crow Medicine Show hit the stage. OCMS has that sound that gets to ya, deep in your southern soul, with the rolling banjo, heavy fiddle, thumbin stand-up bass, and sweet, sweet harmonies. Ah, I love the harmonies. Opening on a high note, well, two in a row high energy, fast beat tunes, I look back and everyone is pleasantly sitting, listening intently. I’m running around grabbing shots, dancing a little – well, you know, I couldn’t help myself. I thought, oh please stand up people, show ’em how much you love this stuff! You could see the looks on some faces, just waiting for permission to boogie. I think sometimes it’s up to the front row. If they stand up, then the next row does, and so on and so on….. Just like at a wedding, right? It takes that one couple to say, “let’s do this” and get up on the dance floor, drawing the energy out of everyone else, driving everyone else to want to dance. After their two high energy openers, they go into a grooving and sweet “Caroline”, just one of my favorites of theirs. Again, it’s those harmonies – they just get me. Starting out with a soothing roll of the banjo, with the harmonica following suit, I notice the drummer has gone over to the organ for this one. I love an outfit that has multi-talented members, and Cory isn’t the only one (look above in the list of members and how they have multiple instruments listed next to their names).
I had my three in the pit – well, no pit really, I simply occupied the entire space in front of the stage, snapping away enjoying the fun. I then made my way up the isles to find another spot to snap some more, and I couldn’t help but notice most folks still sitting down. Um, no, that cannot be. I stop to take a few more pictures from that angle, and then I see just a handful of folks beginning to get up and dance to “Take ‘Em Away”, as if they just couldn’t stand it anymore, the music was taking over. This is a smooth song, something you want to tap your feet to, or pat your hand on your knee, or move back and forth a bit, letting your hair toss from side to side. Dedicated to the workers they saw out in the strawberry fields on their trip down the coast, “Take ’em away, take ’em away, oh take away these chains from me. My heart is broken ‘cuz my spirit’s not free. Lord, take away these chains from me….” After exclaiming their joy to be back in California, where they knew there were some hillbillies hidden amongst the redwood trees, Ketch says something like, “Well, I hope you’ll get out on the dance floor, there’s ample room up there….. so c’mon up and strut your stuff!” and ho-ly-cow, it was like he’d just permitted the flood gates to open and free the caged! I remember turning around to take a look at the energy I was feeling, the force gathering behind me, and thought to myself, wow, I was just up there alone and now I can’t even see the front of the stage! Yes, I love a crowd like this! This is a symbiotic relationship after all, musician and audience, we both need each other.
What a start to a raging party, as they go into a fast-pickin’, foot-stompin’, good-time havin’ “Bootleggers> 8 Dogs”, and with barely a breath in-between, right into “White Face” – a little threesome smash-up, break-down southern style, bluegrass boogie. I loved their take on, “Dire Wolf”, a song they admittedly, “learned out back by the dumpsters”, and remarked how special it was to play a Grateful Dead song, here, in the Golden State of California….. and at the Theatre named the same. Definitely a lot of hippies in the crowd that night, tie dyes and steal your faces all around me, kind of makes me feel at home.
With 26+ songs on the set list (see below for full setlist), they Crowed it up for nearly 2 hours, giving us some deep and dirty bluegrass, from the heart and soul of Tennessee. I’ve learned a few things writing this article, and from the band themselves, as they tell us how “Sweet Amarillo” was one of their songs from a long time ago, shared from and co-written with Bob Dylan. You gotta love a song where they pull out the old squeeze box – that’s an accordion for those who might be questioning. I remember my Aunt used to play, in her own way, squeezing sound out of it, tapping her foot along to old songs from Newfoundland. And, you know, that “Wagon Wheel” was Dylan’s too. Created for a movie that was never finished, the song hung out there blowing in the breeze until OCMS found it, finished it up, and sent it on to Bob for a final “OK”. The story, I read online and told by Ketch, refers back to the popularity of “Wagon Wheel” that shot up the charts not via Dylan, not via Old Crow, but via Darius Rucker…. Dylan had liked OCMS’s version of maybe what he called, “Rock Me Mama”, and decided to send them another to put their spin on, which was “Sweet Amarillo”, and to which Bob’s influence continued as he suggested some changes and edits that OCMS gladly incorporated.
“Firewater” is their most Steinbeckian song, as Ketch would tell us. A perfect number for a set in Monterey County, where Steinbeck’s influence is all around, his stories eked out of the history here, from Cannery Row to East of Eden, Tortilla Flats, and Of Mice and Men, of course, the novels are still deep in the spirit of this place. “Walking through the graveyards and sleeping in alleys telling myself the same old stories, drinking that blood and calling it holy wine. Looking in windows and seeing a stranger going through hell like a fallen angel. Feeling my bones getting old long before their time. Yeah buddy, it’s a short life it’s a hell of a life it’s a mean old world when you’re kicked to the gutter and the firewater gotcha talking in circles again……..” Starting out pretty simple, just guitar and banjo, before the first refrain is over, and then the entire band kicks in, filling up the Theatre with sound.
We’re told to hold onto our underware, as they go into, “Sweet Home”, another very familiar OCMS song for me, whether it got radio play around here or a familiar sound I heard in my Mom’s kitchen, shaking a leg, breaking a leg, shaking a leg, blowing the gates wide open and getting ready to go. Short but sweet, very sweet.
Back to the high energy, “Humdinger” brings Kevin and his banjo to the main mic, if just for a moment, before going into “Ole Molly Hare”, an old traditional number that is completely fiddle and banjo driven, with Ketch and Kevin taking over the front of the stage. And, before ya know it, they skip us along right into “Rukus”, another super fast, fiddle driven number, that leaves Cory taken over by the high pace, and with no musical responsibility in the song, he starts to dancing. Legs kicking up high from side to side, shakin’ his thang, cuttin’ loose up there on stage! I’m snapping away, laughing and enjoying the clearly comedic moment, and suddenly Cory rips open his nice blue shirt to display, “Mama Tired” written across the chest of his white t-shirt he’s sportin’ underneath. Reminds me of an old Grateful Dead number, in “Mama Tried” – was this Cory’s play on words or is his mama really tired – from his energy, I bet. My guess is, she was tired most of the time. OCMS sure likes to have good fun, not taking it too seriously, and they want you to get just as silly as they are.
“Flookie”, also known as, “Big Time in the Jungle” is one that goes out to the military influence in the Monterey area, with the Defense Language Institute, Navy Post Graduate School, old Fort Ord out in Marina, all broken down and dusty. Welcome to Vietnam boys, you’re in for a helluva fight…. I must appreciate how OCMS really understands the area, and gives much respect to it in song, like with “Deportee”, as they say we are heading out to Salinas for a number, a “fruit pickin’ song” if we ever did hear one.
Just over an hour into their set, they dim the lights and I notice some members head off stage. Near a-Capella, “Tell That Woman” was a nice break in energy, with Ketch, Cory, Critter and Chance sharing a lone microphone, Chance keeping his guitar, the stage dark but for the few lights shining down on the front of the stage. They continue this stage presence with “The Warden”, another nod to the Monterey area with the prison in Soledad, and another song from their latest release, Remedy (2014), having Gill back on banjo and vocals to fill out the sweet harmonies even more. Slowly, I hear more sound coming in, and notice Kevin back on banjo and Morgan on soft bass, and doubly sweet harmonicas from Cory and Ketch – wait, now I have to list that next to Cory’s name too…. Again, you go Cory.
Another favorite OCMS song of mine is, “I Hear Them All”. Maybe one of the first songs I remember hearing of theirs, off their Big Iron World release from 2006. It sticks with me, in my head, in my soul, in my ears I hear it for days after. And, this blends pretty perfectly with, “This Land is Your Land” sung in perfect harmony, as OCMS and Woodie Guthrie would have it, from California (through Tennessee) to the New York Island.
Right after they’ve finished up three very high energy, high-heel kickin’ songs, from “Carry Me Back”, to the blend of “Fall on My Knees” into “Tear it Down”, I’ve got to catch my breath and make my way up front again. I was given a chance to shoot one more song, a request to me by the publicity team for OCMS. I knew it was coming thanks to their road manager who clued me in before the show started and the lighting guy, who confirmed it by handing me the set list (Thanks Mikey!). As I head down the isle on the far left of the stage, I look up to a warm glow coming over the crowd, created by what appear to be water bottles with lights inside, hanging all over the stage. The band is frozen, Ketch with his arm up, holding his fiddle bow as if it was a conductor’s baton. Definitely a moment I won’t soon forget. A song the crowd won’t soon forget either. With the familiar strum to the start of it, the crowd lets out a huge cheer. “Wagon Wheel”, their big one. The entire place is singing along, from the first lyric to the last, which gave me goosebumps. I’m sure I’m not the only one. The joy on every single face, people were hugging, high-fivin’, and smiling. You could feel the floor move, the walls breathe with the expansion of voices singing in unison. And I was singing along too, nearly forgetting I’m supposed to be taking pictures. I’m not sure I wanted it to end, ya know? Rock me, any way you feel, hey, Mama, rock me. What a moment. OCMS created a lot of those in Monterey that night – moments.
Ending with “Cocaine”, the crowd begins to stomp and clap, letting OCMS know that they wanted much much more. And, well, they gave us more, with a four song encore, tossing in some respect for their influences and asking The Deslondes, to join them for both “Rockin’ Pneumonia” and “End of the Line”, the big one from the Traveling Wilburys, which, by no irony, included Bob Dylan of course, along with George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, to name a few other big ones.
Just as “Wagon Wheel” stuck in my head for days after, with the sound of the crowd cheering in my ears, remembering the feel of feet stomping and hands clapping, my new favorite, not-so-new song is “Alabama High Test”. Its lyrically driven, poetically rhyming, hard on the dancing, but you just have to get into this one. And the lyrics are great, hard to follow if ya don’t know ’em well. Heck, I thought they said, “she’s hotter than a hot mess” until I looked it up…….. “Well, huff paint, cocaine, playin’ chicken with a train. Smack dab, Meth lab, mellow out, rehab. Percocet, cigarette, I don’t need no more of that, But gimmie some down home Dixie fried homegrown Alabama high test! Alabama high test, Alabama high test. Got me in a big mess, runnin’ from the wolf pack. They’re gonna put me in the slammer, if they catch me with that Alabama high test.” With the fast lyrics that match the fast pace, this one kind of reminded me of Dylan too, in a little “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sort of way. Dylan is clearly a big influence on OCMS. I’m alright with that.
As I mentioned earlier on, I’ve had a chance to catch a few acts at the newly reopened Golden State Theatre, but none put on a show like Old Crow Medicine Show did. I was blown away, not just musically but how they got the entire crowd up and energized, so much I had to stop on my way out and tell the new owners just that. Amazing. Leaving the Theatre, I notice a lot of people drenched from head to toe, as if they’d been caught in a chance rain storm. Now that’s how you put on a show.
Set List: Brushy Mountain, Alabama High Test, Caroline, Take ‘Em Away, Bootleggers> 8 Dogs> White Face, Dire Wolf, Sweet Amarillo, Firewater, Mary’s Kitchen, Sweet Home, Humdinger, Ol Molly Hare> Rukus, Good Gal, Flookie (Big Time in the Jungle), Deportee, CC Rider, Tell That Woman, The Warden, I Hear Them All> This Land is Your Land> I Hear Them All, Carry Me Back, Fall on My Knees> Tear It Down, Wagon Wheel, Cocaine E. Hard to Love> Brave Boys, Rockin’ Pneumonia, End of the Line (with The Deslondes)