The numbers aren’t in yet, but attendance on Thursday probably breaks the FloydFest record of more than 8,000. The reason: Old Crow Medicine Show.
FloydFest co-founder and show booker Kris Hodges has become one canny dude when it comes to drawing the folks. He has said it is as much about how the festival looks and feels as about who is on the bill. But drawing the big crowds is really about bringing in the right performers. And in Old Crow Medicine Show, he guaranteed FloydFest a big Thursday.
This string-band, forged in the mountains of North Carolina before a daughter of guitar legend Doc Watson discovered it busking on Boone, N.C.’s main downtown drag, has become a real monster.
Old Crow has exactly one hit song on its resume – the Bob Dylan-derived “Wagon Wheel,” a number that name-checks Roanoke and has morphed into a modern-day “Freebird.” But it also has flasks full of dependable crowd-pleasers, not the least of which is “Tell It To Me,” a lament that “cocaine gonna kill my honey bee.”
The secret, though, is the band’s energy – from multi-instrumentalist and Harrisonburg native Ketch Secor’s showmanship and Southern rake affect to the wailing three- and four-part harmonies to the blistering tempos the band can set and hold strongly for three, four and five minute runs. It’s music to make you stomp, jump and yell.
Thousands of hellraisers packed the fairway in front of the main stage for two hours, and for two hours, Old Crow gave them something to raise hell about.
Over the past couple of years, the band has become a FloydFest regular. On Thursday, FloydFest gave it a big spotlight, and the band responded with outsized entertainment. It included clogger Arthur Grimes, from near the aforementioned Boone. And it included complementary musicianship from a band of five road brothers who have turned themselves into a near-seamless string-band show machine.
But it also included my favorite Old Crow ingredient, Kevin Hayes, a gitjo strummer who may be the band’s true rake. His hard-country tenor on “Humdinger” is always a crowd favorite, a number about a party with “no cops allowed,” where folks are “crowd-surfing on river of beer” and “all the neighbors are saying their prayers.”
As the set neared its end, he sang a song I’ve never heard before. Among the verses was one about a couple of hobos drinking along a railroad track, so loaded they “couldn’t hear the northbound No. 9,” and now “the hobo jungle’s got two less tramps,” he sang.
Sending those fellows up to heaven, the band sang, “May the good Lord take a liking to you.”