The last time Old Crow Medicine Show was in town, it showed up with no merchandise for sale. The night before, its van and trailer were stolen in St. Louis, so the band showed up in Kansas City without a T-shirt, bumper sticker or piece of recorded music to sell or give away.
On Thursday night, nearly two years later, Old Crow returned to Kansas City for a show at the Uptown Theater with plenty of merchandise in tow. They’d need it. For two solid hours, the Nashville-based string band/jug band threw an uproarious party, keeping a crowd of more than 1,500 under its spell and on its feet, dancing and singing along for nearly the entire show.
Ketch Secor is Old Crow’s front man, but everyone in the seven-piece band gets plenty of time in the spotlight. Songs are arranged with a variety of instruments: acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, stand-up bass, drums, piano, keyboards, percussion, harmonica, plenty of banjo and lots of vocal harmonies. There were flurries of jams and breakdowns, but none of it was too ponderous or self-indulgent.
They opened with “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” a foot-stomping number about conjugal visits at a state prison, then “Alabama High Test,” a cautionary tale about a potent blend of marijuana. Beneath the incessant mirth of its music, Old Crow can issue some serious messages, as in “Bootlegger’s Boy,” “Cumberland River” and “The Warden,” three highlights from Thursday’s show.
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There was plenty of collaboration with the show’s opener, Carolina Chocolate Drops. Rhiannon Giddens, the Drops’ lead singer, came out and danced along to “Up S*** Creek” (along with the woman who’d danced during the Drops set). Later, Giddens delivered a stunning cover of the Patsy Cline classic, “I Fall to Pieces.”
Other highlights: the Tex-Mex/tejano number “Aye Te Dejo en San Antonio,” featuring some splendid accordion from Critter Fuqua; “Sweet Amarillo,” the Old Crow’s second collaboration with Bob Dylan; and “Carry Me Back to Virginia.”
But the song that aroused the biggest response of the night was “Wagon Wheel.” Secor wrote it from a scrap of a Dylan song he’d heard on a B-sides collection more than a decade ago. The band released it in 2004; in 2013, Darius Rucker turned it into a No. 1 hit on modern country radio. On this evening, the crowd owned the song, shaking the room with a delirious sing-along.
The show ended with a cover of “Kansas City,” then, with all four members of the Chocolate Drops, “Hard to Love” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Before that one, Secor reminded the crowd that this time the band had some merch to peddle and they’d be hanging around to greet fans afterward. By then, a line had already formed.
Carolina Chocolate Drops: The room was packed for their 45-minute set, and the crowd gave them a reception worthy of a headliner. Giddens is as charismatic as she is talented, both as a musician and a vocalist. With fiddles, cello, guitars and various forms of percussion, she and her three bandmates take old-time/string-band music into some compelling places. A few of their songs were accompanied by a dancer executing some impressive choreography (a mix of flatfoot dancing and step dancing, it looked like). During the cover of “Hit ’Em Up Style (Oops!),” she broke into some break dancing. Highlights: “S’iomadh Rid The Dhith Om,” which Giddens sang in Gaelic, and the closer, a lovely hymn called “Read ’Em, John.”
Old Crow Medicine Show: Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer; Alabama High Test; Caroline; Firewater; Bootlegger’s Boy/Eight Dogs, Eight Banjos; Sweet Amarillo; Aye Te Dejo en San Antonio; Cumberland River; Mary’s Kitchen; Humdinger; Raise a Ruckus; Up S*** Creek; I Fall to Pieces; CC Rider; Crazy Eyes; Big Boat; The Warden; Dearly Departed; Sweet Home; Carry Me Back to Virginia; Tear It Down; Wagon Wheel; Cocaine Habit/Tell It to Me. Encore: Kansas City; Hard to Love; Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Carolina Chocolate Drops: Pretty Little Girl With the Blue Dress On; Sandy Boys; Country Girl; When I Was a Cowboy; Ruby Are You Mad at Your Man; Buck Creek Girls; S’iomadh Rid The Dhith Om; instrumental/dance; Hit ’Em Up Style (Oops!); Read ’Em, John.