Interview: Old Crow Medicine Show Blend Old and New on ‘Live at the Ryman’
“You start searching for those magic performances, and oftentimes, the ones you remember, well, they actually weren’t the magic.”
Ketch Secor is walking around Nashville as he talks to The Boot about Old Crow Medicine Show’s latest release, Live at the Ryman. In celebration of his band’s relationship with the historic Nashville venue, Secor and company compiled 11 tracks of pure magic that not only capture the beauty of the "Mother Church of Country Music," but the inimitable ferociousness of Old Crow’s spirit as well.
“The thing about the kind of music that Old Crow plays is that it’s charged with such a fiery gregariousness that it’s like a damn jungle gym waiting for the kids to get let out,” Secor says. “I think of original studio albums as sort of an empty playground. A live record has every swing swingin’, every merry-go-round in rotation.
"I really think the live record serves as a statement, because what our band has really done is be out there with the people," he adds. "When you go into the studio, that’s just you and your songs, and you’re sort of imagining the people grooving and liking it.”
For Secor, an artist who is no stranger to releasing new albums, there’s something distinctly special about creating and sharing a live record. “To be honest, it’s just a lot easier,” he admits. “You don’t have to write the songs. You don’t have to go through all the arrangements and all that. Instead, it’s a little bit like scrapbooking: There’s a cataloging to it, to the magic. It’s really quite a bit of fun. You’re sort of making something old and new at the same time.”
That experience of bringing the old and new together is not unlike Secor’s own experience with the Ryman.
“You know, so much about country music has a nostalgic view,” he says, “but the thing about nostalgia is, it’s rooted in grief. Nostalgia isn’t necessarily the most helpful way to look at the world, and so what I love about the Ryman is that its nostalgic air is like the wallpaper, layer upon layer of all the people who have come through … but during each performance, what was once nostalgia becomes current and alive.”
But that nostalgia isn’t unique to only those performing onstage: “The audience is at once viewing both the present and the past,” Secor pontificates, with a hint of awe in his voice. “You’re able to have a sort of pure country music experience at the Ryman, that you can’t have elsewhere, because you’re both in the context of history: Johnny Cash, there he is; oh, there’s John Hartford sawin’ on the fiddle — you can almost see these people. You can almost see DeFord Bailey take his last bow. Except, I’m the one up there playing harmonica.
"The present and the past are all swirling together as one in the atmosphere of the Ryman," Secor continues, then taking a moment to reflect on what he just said.
“That’s the kind of stuff you want to breathe in deep.”
The appreciation and respect that Secor holds for the Ryman is crystal clear, and that admiration envelops Old Crow’s latest record. “This isn’t just about celebrating Old Crow,” he explains. “It’s about celebrating the Ryman, and celebrating the Ryman for what it is — it being this incredible, divine intervention resulting in a concert hall.”
That divine intervention revolves around one man, Thomas Ryman. “This was a man whose riverboat-captaining ways resulted in a life of sin and licentiousness,” Secor reflects, “but he went to a tent revival, heard Sam Jones preach, and got a call from on high to go build a tabernacle. And he did -- he builds something for all people, and he fills it with all people. And by the middle of the century, performers from Charlie Chaplin to Bert Williams took the stage, and onto the next half century, Martin Luther King and [Theodore] Roosevelt and the Grand Ole Opry and DeFord Bailey and Old Crow Medicine Show …
"It just goes on and on as this concert hall becomes what I like to think of it as, as the spiritual epicenter of Music City," he continues. "We love celebrating the Ryman just for what it is.”
But Live at the Ryman also lifts up Old Crow Medicine Show and their life within that spiritual epicenter.
“We’re definitely celebrating our own beloved relationship with the Mother Church as occasional preachers up there on the stage ourselves,” Secor says. “We’ve done it probably 50 times, maybe more. It’s the hometown gig for us, and it’s one of the greatest venues on earth.”
Live at the Ryman is due out on Oct. 4. It is available for pre-order now.
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