Old Crow Medicine Show at Riverside Theater
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For the past 14 years, Old Crow Medicine Show has rollicked in the fields of Americana with the intensity of a punk band. During the group’s Saturday night show at Riverside Theater, founder Ketch Secor and his band (which features an “honorary Badger” member) fed on their newfound appreciation for all things Milwaukee as they fired through a brilliant set that had feet, heads, and hands swaying.
“I was watching a mattress floating down the Milwaukee River with a PBR in my hand,” said Secor partway through the band’s 20-plus song set. There was plenty of love for Milwaukee and Wisconsin given by the band (including a cover of Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues”), and the crowd responded in kind. The nearly two-hour set drew largely on the band’s last two albums, Carry Me Back and Tennessee Pusher, though there were a few older songs, too. Banjo, violin, harmonica, and guitar rollicked together joyfully, and the band members (especially Secor) danced and stomped around the stage with glee. Midway through the show, Secor and another band member strummed violins as they confidently strolled toward the front of the stage and, leaning back to back and going as low as they could go, happily feeding on the crowd’s enthusiasm.
Songs like “Carry Me Back To Virginia,” “Big Time In The Jungle,” “Caroline,” and “Bootlegger’s Son” featured irresistibly catchy melodies and harmonies. There was no downtime even on slower numbers. The biggest crowd response of the night was for the band’s hit song “Wagon Wheel,” a song derived from a Bob Dylan bootleg. During “Take A Whiff On Me,” the band took a cue from The Band with multiple singers, jumping into band intros where everyone got a chance to sing. Secor and another band member were hopping between the basses at the back of the stage, and the crowd and band were in a joyful state of bliss.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s encore was filled with nice surprises, including a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid,” an accordion-driven song Secor played with Milwaukee unions in mind. Opener Chuck Meade And His Grassy Knoll Boys joined the band for the rest of the set, creating a massive 10-man band. With Mead taking vocals for the first few songs, they fired into some Nashville honky-tonk country. This included a great cover of “What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me).” Secor finished on vocals with a commanding version of Dylan’s “Quinn The Eskimo,” as the band finished in perfect form.