Old Crow Medicine Show, along with Matt Andersen, gave a wonderful performance at Acadia University’s Convocation Hall in Wolfville on June 1. Laura MacDonald caught up with lead singer and fiddle-player Ketch Secor to recap the show and talk music. Here are a few excerpts:LM: You guys put on such a great show the other night! We really appreciated how you tailored the concert to us by learning all those Nova Scotia songs; you made all of us in the audience feel very special.
KS: That was a mutual feeling. There was something really special about that night. It was up and above the best performance we’ve had in a long time. We felt it too, what you guys felt. And it certainly wasn’t just because of us! It was because of the venue, the weather, the event, the sunshine. The stars were all lined up for it all to be so good. I’m glad that we got to share it. And man, that [Convocation Hall] is one of the greatest theatres I’ve ever played. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to perform.
LM: It was great for us having Matt Andersen back home to play too. What did you think of his performance?
KS: Matt’s a wonderful player. He just radiates soul in a way that I haven’t seen from a contemporary in a long time. He did a tour with us about three or four years ago, and then he’s been so busy since then we haven’t seen him. He was definitely in our mind when we set our compass point down east: we were hoping we’d cross paths again with our old pal.
LM: Did you get a chance to see the town at all while you were here?
KS: I really enjoyed the Farmers’ Market. I was impressed with the number of sausage vendors, availability of fresh organic produce, and the great assortment of local artisans. There is a real spirit of community up there in that little town that is palpable just walking down the street. If we could all be a little bit more like that I think the world would be a much happier place.
LM: It was great hearing you guys play the Wilf Carter and Stan Rogers songs. There’s definitely some common ground between the kind of American roots music that your band plays and the folk music from the Maritimes.
KS: Yeah, when you play this kind of folk music, you find that it’s from all of the places, it’s from all of the valleys: the Annapolis Valleys, the Shenandoah valleys, the Cumberland valleys. So, what’s really fun is to figure out how it’s from the Annapolis Valley. Songs are like signposts that point to the places of familiarity in a region. And so, I spent the few hours we had in Wolfville to try and figure out what those were.
And then there’s the tradition of all the Nova Scotians who have come down to Nashville to make their name. You have people like Hank Snow singing all these iconic Nashville songs. Interesting story is that his fiddler [Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald] decided not to go to Nashville. Hank goes down and starts recording, but Winston goes back to Cape Breton and farms and joins the service. He made this choice not to go, and I’ve always been interested in the people who stayed home. The people who stayed and decided: this is where I’m from, this is where I’ll play music.
LM: There’s something to be said for isolated rural places, like Cape Breton or the Appalachians, being able to preserve those old folk tunes, because of that isolation.
KS: The music of Appalachia, those Cape Breton fiddle tunes, yeah, we’re locked in the same time, those places were settled at the same time and when you play music like that it’s like you unlock an older way of looking at the world. And I think it’s just straight up good music and that’s why it’s lasted so long. There’s a strength in a commonwealth of songs and I love to see it. After the show I saw a lot of musicians playing our songs. I think it’s great how our songs can crop up there and be shared. It’s the same as when as a kid I heard Stan Rogers’ music and thought it was mine too.
LM: You guys are based in Nashville, where there’s that definite divide between the country-radio industrial complex and sort of that truer country-music sound of the Americana scene, which your band is a big part of. Did you feel that divide, or find it frustrating?
KS: We never had the kind of sound that you could just go get the Nashville country industry to write you a cheque over…Our foundations were crude and fun and hungry. And there’s a big difference between the kind of music we make and the kind of music you’ll hear on the hot radio station. There’s a lot of concrete out there, but under the concrete is the same fertile fields that were always there. You just gotta get down to it. And as long as young people are hungry enough to want to taste the real flavour of living, then traditional music will always be around. You tend to need that other kind of music to get laid, but then again, you can get laid at a square dance too.
LM: I love the story of how you guys were discovered by Doc Watson on a street corner. He’s one of my all-time favourites.
KS: It’s true, the mythical legend of us meeting on that curb. It really happened that way and I’ll never forget it. We were really young and I had a pink Mohawk (though Doc couldn’t tell…) I think that just like Stan Rogers, just like Wilf Carter, Doc made a lot of people happy with his gift that he shared with everybody. You can have all the talents in the world, and if you don’t want to, you don’t have to do anything about it. You can just play around the campfire, like Scotty Fitzgerald, he just made his choice to stay home. And Doc coulda stayed home too, but instead he made this choice to go give it away. And by doing that he really educated a whole generation of people and the work that he did to turn on people to old music has affected everything from the Grateful Dead to the Rolling Stones and all down the line to bands like mine or to Matt Andersen. Doc brought a lot of songs around that might have been looking at their last years. And for us we’re trying to do exactly that. And by our discovery of a song like Wilf Carter’s “Apple Blossom Time in Annapolis Valley,” we’re doing what Doc would have done. And that feels good.
LM: Well, we loved having you guys here, and on behalf of everyone who was at that concert, thanks so much for visiting our little part of the world. Hope you come back someday!
KS: There was something about waking up in the Annapolis Valley, it’s uncanny, it couldn’t possibly be anyplace else. When you drive across the southland, there’s stripmalls, endless parking lots, and neon signs advertising places that you can find anywhere. And as a traveller on the road you wake up in a town and you’re like: is this Oklahoma or Pensacola? But where you all are, with those mountains, that body of water, and that beautiful late spring morning we awoke to that day which felt like the beginning of the summer, we couldn’t have been anyplace else on earth. Every feature of the landscape, of the light of the trees, of the buildings, everything said, “You’re here.” And that’s a real blessing. Here I am right now in northeastern New York, and I’m looking out at a rainy parking lot with a mall out there in the distance with an Applebee’s, a Fuddruckers and a Bed, Bath and Beyond, and I’m trying to figure out where that spirit is in this parking lot. As a performer I feel that it’s my duty to unearth that mystery.