Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson
Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary
Saturday, May 2, 2015

Playing one of the first dates of his band’s spring tour Saturday night in Cary, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor tried to explain how the group has kept busy while off the road—including traveling to Los Angeles to pick up Grammy statues for 2014’s Remedy.

“This is from that hillbilly country album that won in the folk category because Nashville doesn’t remember what country is like,” Secor said, introducing “Tennessee Bound,” a reworking of an old bluegrass song.

With breakneck fiddle and banjo meeting an instantly singable chorus, the tune—like much of Old Crow’s repertoire—wasn’t quite country, bluegrass or folk. And like much of the evening’s set, it found the group leaning on updated string band tunes and faux old-time originals—that is, although the group is at its most interesting when pursuing the hybridized Americana showcased elsewhere on Remedy.


Still a string band at heart, OCMS often doubles down on fiddle and banjo when tearing through the instrumental mayhem of tunes like “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” or “Raise a Ruckus.” But the group was at its best Saturday when spreading out its seven-piece membership to create a fuller sound or when stripping down to the basics. Accented by soft pedal steel, the gently shuffling “Firewater” was an example of the former, along with “Sweet Amarillo,” a Dylan co-write where accordion offers counterpoint to fiddle. And when the group slimmed into a quartet and huddled around a single microphone, the move lent the show intimacy that was otherwise lacking among several thousand fans more concerned with revelry. An arrangement of “I Hear Them All” gradually grew to include harmonica, banjo and bass. More than furiously sawed fiddles or a failed reference to North Carolina’s “mustard-based” barbecue, that one-two punch represented OCMS’s best.

After Sturgill Simpson’s sold-out appearance at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre was canceled in February, the rising star made his much-anticipated return to the Triangle in the leadoff slot. During a set that stretched past an hour, Simpson pulled almost equally from his debut LP, High Top Mountain; the heralded follow-up, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music; and a well-curated selection of covers from country songwriters both legendary and relatively obscure. Sandwiched between biting boot-stompers “Living The Dream” and “Life of Sin,” for instance, Lefty Frizzell’s forlorn ballad “I Never Go Around Mirrors” received only arbitrary hoots and hollers despite Simpson’s tremendous, passionate reading.

As the rowdy coda of “It Ain’t Flowers” segued into a deliberate cover of When In Rome’s “The Promise,” the set ended with urgency. Drummer Miles Miller kept the click-clack rhythm of “Railroad of Sin” high, while guitarist Laur Joamets—impressively versatile throughout the night—delivered another scintillating solo for “Sometimes Wine.” Plenty of stragglers got little more than this taste of Simpson’s power after tailgating until dusk; still, don’t expect that to make tickets any easier to come by for his next headlining Triangle gig.

Sturgill Simpson setlist
Some Days
Amarillo Highway (Terry Allen cover)
Sitting Here Without You
Water In A Well
Long White Line (Buford Abner cover)
Time After All
Poor Rambler
Medicine Springs (Stanley Brothers cover)
Living the Dream
Life of Sin
I Never Go Around Mirrors (Lefty Frizzell cover)
It Ain’t All Flowers
The Promise (When in Rome cover)
Railroad of Sin
Sometimes Wine (Sunday Valley cover)
Listening To The Rain (Osborne Brothers cover)

Old Crow Medicine Show setlist
Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer
Alabama High-Test
Bootlegger’s Boy
Brave Boys
New Virginia Creeper
Tennessee Bound
Tear It Down
O Cumberland River
Hard To Tell
Raise A Ruckus
My Good Gal
Take ‘Em Away
Sweet Amarillo
Mean Enough World
CC Rider (Ma Rainey cover)
Poor Man
I Hear Them All
Carry Me Back To Virginia
Fall On My Knees
Wagon Wheel
8 Dogs 8 Banjos
Tell It To Me
American Girl (Tom Petty cover)