Having driven from St. Louis to Nashville and back again in one day, walking into the Pageant to see Old Crow Medicine Show
and Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys
felt like being thrown into a strange, infinite loop. After spending endless hours braving Illinois’ woeful roads, there was no way I could be in Nashville yet again, yet the venue oozed country kitsch a la Music City’s Lower Broadway–matching embroidered shirts in the opening band, mason jars suspended from the ceiling, a crowd decked out in overalls, mullets, and cowboy boots. This couldn’t be St. Louis, either. It was, though, as front fiddler Ketch Secor took care to remind the crowd repeatedly, referencing our grocery stores (Schnucks), our choice desserts (Ted Drewe’s), and our baseball team’s progress against the Cubs throughout the evening.
Before any of that, though, when the loop was still spinning, Chuck Mead started the night on a strong note. Blending his past alt-country days as a part of BR549 with an infectious brand of rockabilly, he and His Grassy Knoll Boys meandered through most of Back at the Quonset Hut. The highlights, besides the matching outfits and campy exclamations like “let’s get hillbilly!”, were songs such as “Honk Tonk Hardwood Floor”, “Tennessee Border”, and “Girl On the Billboard”. All of the essentials were touched on: drunken debauchery, the ever-loved Blue Ridge Mountains, moonshine, and young love. The set was impeccable, as Mead’s crystal clear twang rang out over the crowd, getting everybody rowdy and through their second-to-third rounds of beer.
When Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show finally took the stage, it took a second to figure out who all was up there. The revolving door of members has finally settled on a stellar lineup, though, including both Gill Landry and original member Critter Fuqua, as well as new guitarist Chance McCoy. The energy was hardly containable on the stage, as Secor jumped around, breaking bow hairs, launching straight into “Carry Me Back”, the title track from their freshly released album. The album, which spans the sounds of the band’s career, blended right into the setlist of older favorites. “We Don’t Grow Tobacco” is the new “Cocaine Habit”, and maybe “Genevieve” could be the new “Caroline”. The audience didn’t yet know the lyrics to the new songs, but accepted them with open arms and beer bottles raised.
The key word for the show was dynamism, as the setlist refused to fall to monotony, the band constantly switching instruments and lead vocal duties. Each of the sextet got a turn in the spotlight, with Kevin Hayes’ guitjo runs and weathered drawl receiving particularly riotous applause. Sprinkling in anecdotes about the songs’ backstories (“Levi” being particularly moving) and his undying love for “ol’ St. Louie,” Secor’s time in front effectively eliminated the distance between the crowd and stage as the night progressed. Classics “Humdinger”, “Big Time In The Jungle”, and naturally, “Wagon Wheel” received the sing/yell-along treatment, and by the time closer “Cocaine Habit”/”Tell It to Me” rolled around, nobody wanted the show to be over. Fortunately, the band returned for an encore, featuring both Mead and those Grassy Knoll Boys. The ten supremely talented musicians onstage brought the vocal harmonies and jangling melodies to a new level, and with the artists having as much fun as the beer-drenched audience, maybe an infinite Nashville loop isn’t so bad after all.
Photography by Will Hawley.
Carry Me Back
Big Time in the Jungle
We Don’t Grow Tobacco
Mississippi Saturday Night
Take ‘em Away
Sewanee Mountain Catfight
Ain’t it Enough
Tell it to Me
Oh My Love
I Hear Them All
Wabash Cannonball (ft Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys)