Old Crow Medicine Show Has Strong Tie To New Brunswick

Old Crow Medicine show is ready to blow the doors off Fredericton's Boyce Farmer's Market Thursday night (May 30). The show's been sold out for awhile, a testament to the folk-roots band's popularity. Tour mates and pals with Mumford & Sons, the Nashville group joins that popular British band among the vanguard of festival-friendly, old-time flavoured musicians. With their hit Wagon Wheel (partly written by one B. Dylan) an anthem among young folk fans, the group has shown that fiddle, banjo, and folk transcends generations and trends. The latest album, Carry Me Back, was the biggest of the group's career, which goes back to 1998.

The band has deep ties to Canada, as the members first earned their chops together on a busking tour called the Trans Canada Highway Tour, playing places like markets in Ottawa and Winnipeg. By 2000, still busking, they were famously discovered by Doc Watson playing outside a drug store in North Carolina. This show, along with dates in Nova Scotia and PEI, is being hailed as their east coast debut. That may be true for Old Crow Medicine Show, but as it turns out, one of the band has deep ties to New Brunswick.

I'd been told that fiddler, banjo player and co-founder Ketch Secor was "excited" to talk to me. I've heard that kind of p.r. hype before, so I didn't think much of it. But when I reached Secor on the phone in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was obvious excitement in his voice. "I've been waiting to talk to someone about New Brunswick for 20 years!" he announced.

Well, not quite 20, it turns out, but close. 1997 was the year Secor first discovered the place, and fell in love. There was no band yet, and Secor was busking solo. The Southerner liked to stay away from the cities, and head to places a bit out of the way. One of them was our neighbour across the border, and Secor arrived there in his trusty Volvo. "I've always gone to Maine," he explains. "I'm from the South, and Maine has a lot of isolation, and so does New Brunswick, and so does the South. I came up to Bar Harbour, and made it up to Calais, and then crossed the border, and found a gig at Daigle's Pub that night. I met some kids who were going to Great Big Sea, so we drove there, and I busked in Moncton and then Shediac, to Miramichi where I met a spoons player, and stayed at his houseboat, and then up to Madawaska, I just kept going."

It was an epic trip. Miscou Island, Edmundston, Charlotte County, Shediac, Saint John, Fredericton, Secor visited all four corners of the province and each major city. "I stayed at the Salvation Army in Saint John," he remembers, "and met an old fiddler, Fiddlin' Joe, and we busked together. He had played with Don Messer. Then I went to Oromocto and met some Micmac people, and some Maliseets." In short, Secor fell in love with the province. Sometimes it takes someone from away to point out all the good things you can find here. "I was impressed by the cultures, and the languages, the Acadians, everybody living together so well. It blew my mind."

It was also a trip that led directly to the formation of his band. "It was integral to what I became, to wanting to start Old Crow Medicine Show, to bring that old-time music to the fore," he confirms. His own music went over great in the province, and he noticed a desire to hear the old-time sounds, that there was a common language between his Southern style, the Miramichi folk songs he heard, the Acadian music, the Celtic and fiddle tunes, and the youthful energy. "I saw (Acadian stars) 1755, and heard them do a great song, Le Monde a Bien Change." Secor then proceeds to sing some lines of the song, clearly a great favourite of his. "I'd been given that song on a mixtape up in Madawaska, and I love it, and finally found it on YouTube, I didn't even know its name until then. When I listen to 1755, and Old Crow, there's a definite connection. There's a pan-national movement to it, 1755's music came out in the 1970's first. The cause we share is trying desperately to stay connected to something. Let's pass along folklore, lets pass along tradition. Let's be North American."

That was the founding goal, at least for Secor, behind Old Crow Medicine Show, and soon he had a like-minded group for the next trip to Canada. On the fateful 1998 tour, he learned another important thing about Canada. "It was always a great place to busk, and it was because of the Twoonie. Those big coins, people would throw them in and we'd make a killing. Nobody ever wants to throw bills to buskers, so in the States we'd get small change, but Canada was gold!"

Obviously, Secor is thrilled to be coming back to New Brunswick and he'll no doubt be ready to talk to anybody about the province, after being denied the chance since 1997. There's just one sour note about Fredericton though: "I did get asked to leave town by the police. It turns out you can't sleep in your car in Fredericton." Well, he's not busking any more, he should be okay.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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