Old Crow Medicine Show/Molly Tuttle at The Sylvee, Madison WI, 11-12-2021
Old Crow Medicine Show is Back in the Saddle Again! And We Couldn’t Be More Thrilled!
Oh, the joys of live music once again!
Grammy-award winner Old Crow Medicine Show brought its Back in the Saddle Tour 2021 to Madison Wisconsin’s The Sylvee on Friday, November 12, 2021. With bluegrass specialist Molly Tuttle, OCMS reminded us of what we have been missing for the past Covid eternity. A genuine, feel-good musical extravaganza!
Old Crow describes itself as a collective, drawing from the specific talents of each of its members. All under the tutelage of founder Ketch Secor. The string band had its origins in the late 1990’s in Ithaca, New York, with initial members Secor, Chris “Critter” Fuqua and Willie Wilson. The line-up has been fluid over the years, with a number of talented musicians, such as Gill Landry, coming on for a while and then moving on to other projects.
In addition to Ketch Secor (fiddle, guitar, harmonica, banjo, vocals, and high kicks), the current line-up of OCMS includes Morgan Jahnig (upright bass), Cory Younts (mandolin, keyboards, drums, vocals, and, of course, cowboy hat), Jerry Pentecost (drums, mandolin, and a mean washboard), Mike Harris (slide guitar, guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, vocals, and monster beard), and newest member, Mason Via (guitar, gitjo, vocals, and a ready willingness to be the comedic foil). All are multi-instrumentalists, and each displayed their wide-ranging talents during the show!
If you have to classify Old Crow’s music, it’s likely best within the wide-ranging Americana-roots music label. A lotta bluegrass and folk, more than a tinge of country, a bit of old-fashioned rock & roll with some singer-songwriter ballads built in for good measure. Almost like a musical variety show from TV in the 60’s and 70’s.
The band launched its show in Madison with “Tell it to Me.” Perhaps ‘launched’ is a misnomer. It was more like the band exploded onto the stage to start the set!
The show included a set list of 24 songs, packed into a solid two-hour set, punctuated with tons of banter and crowd-endearing Wisconsin references.
Ketch Secor introduced the crowd favorite “James River Blues” as a song about a river. With his lead fiddle, Secor sang the sorrowful ballad.
The band amped up the volume for “Paint This Town,” and then dialed the energy back a bit for “CC Rider.” Jerry Pentecost dedicated the song to a niece who was turning 7 and then reminiscing about a girl from Green Bay. The reference to his niece was legit, but one suspect’s the girl in Green Bay may have been a bit of fiction for the crowd’s benefit. No mind—the crowd loved it! Pentecost led the harmonies and Cory Younts provided the whistling.
How many concerts have you gone to where you could say that you saw a guy twirling a baton? That’s precisely what happened in the next song, “Hard to Tell.” With the lights dimmed, Tyler Nichols came out on stage tossing and twirling his baton—reliving his Ohio State University college cheerleading skills! With this band, always expect the unexpected!
“Honey Chile” came next, which brought similar stylings, sounds and an instant comparison to this fan to Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real in their Sylvee appearance a little over a month earlier.
Ketch Secor introduced the next song by asking the crowd what Wisconsinites love best. After rejecting beer, cheese, and the Green Bay Packers, Secor declared that polka was the state’s favorite. This led to the renaming of the next song, “Tiger Rag,” to “Polka Tiger,” and a challenge to the crowd of a polka contest. After the rollicking song, Secor declared everybody to be a winner!
Ketch Secor inserted a little seriousness next with a soliloquy about all those people we have lost over the past years, with tributes to soldiers lost in the Middle East, family members lost to Covid and those wonderful performers we’ve lost, such as John Prine. This led to his introduction to the song, “Paradise,” and his observation that “wasn’t Madison a little like Paradise?”
Secor then asked Mason Vie why he looked so full of ‘vim and vigor?’ With a falsetto, Vie responded by saying “Well, I got one shot in my left arm, and it felt so good I then went across town to get another in my right arm!” This banter was the lead into the band’s plea for everyone to get their vaccines and boosters. The song, “Medicine Man,” came next—their single released in 2021 with Keb’ Mo’ on the politicization of science and the perils of dealing with Covid.
Each of the band members had opportunities to shine during the night with their particular talents. Witness Jerry Pentecost dancing around with the washboard, playing the drums backwards with his butt facing the audience. When he’s not tickling the keys, there’s Cory Younts wailing on his harmonica and high stepping across the stage. Mason Vie—the veritable new kid on this block—strumming his guitar and (with the apologies of this reviewer) showing off his babyface grin! Then there’s Morgan Jahnig—waltzing around the stage with his upright bass as if it was a nimble dance partner. And don’t forget Mike Harris with his fingers flying on the banjo, dobro, and slide guitar!
And finally, those many faces of Ketch Secor! Jokester. Prankster. Comedian. Consummate entertainer. Dancing and jumping around on stage. Duetting with Jerry Pentecost. Giving Mason Vie a lesson on his fiddle. Taking over the keyboard when Cory Younts took over lead vocal on Alabama High Test. A captain in full control of the ship!
Secor invited Molly Tuttle on stage for the last seven songs of the set. She took the lead on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” one of the covers she recorded during the Covid pandemic shut down. She sang the lead sweetly with Ketch Secor doing his best Tom Petty in the duet.
With the crowd firmly in their hands, Old Crow brought out “Wagon Wheel,” their biggest hit. Instantly everyone in the audience was dancing, singing with the music. They closed out their set with “Cocaine Habit.”
The crowd cheered and cheered, calling for the return of the band. Old Crow obliged and returned with “Fight For Your Right” and ending with the Americana staple “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
Experiencing OCMS for the first time is like a body slam into musical chaos! However, as the antics continued and each of the band members changed up their roles, whether it was their position on stage or instrument, it’s apparent that this was a tight performance. This was not a show where the band was just phoning it in.
Clearly, tons of preparation and rehearsal went into the performance. The result was well-meshed under Ketch Secor’s leadership. Nothing in this show felt rote, stale, or overdone. Instead, everything felt spontaneous.
What this leads to is a thoroughly enjoyable high energy concert experience—one that will live in memory for some time to come.
Molly Tuttle—Bluegrass Virtuoso
Nashville-based Molly Tuttle opened for Old Crow Medicine Show. The winner of multiple bluegrass and Americana guitarist awards, Tuttle has received constant accolades for her amazing guitar and songwriting skills.
Bluegrass has been Molly Tuttle’s lifeblood from an early age. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Tuttle began playing the guitar at age 8. She began appearing onstage at age 11 with her father, a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist. By age 19, she had appeared on successfully recordings, won songwriting competitions, received awards and scholarships to Berklee College of Music. She is the first female to win guitarist of the year in the International Bluegrass Music Awards.
Her songwriting is personal and introspective. She has a versatile voice that ranges from soft and lilting to soaring and aggressive. There is an underlying strength in her voice and her lyrics below her sensitivity and gentleness.
However, Molly’s forté clearly lies in her skills with a guitar.
Tuttle uses an interesting approach to playing her guitar. Her picking style is referred to as ‘clawhammer’—a distinctive style associated with historical American banjo and guitar music. While a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this review, essentially the strumming hand will assume a claw-like shape and the strumming finger will be kept fairly stiff, striking the strings by the motion of the hand at the wrist and/or elbow, rather than a flicking motion by the finger. The technique allows a guitarist or banjo player to produce diverse ranges of sounds and effects including string bending and percussion.
Ketch Secor introduced Molly at the beginning of the show. She walked onstage and expressed how happy she was to be touring and appearing in live performances.
In her song, “Lightning in a Jar,” she sings about a wild lost love she was unable to hold onto, wishing she could get it back—hoping for lightning to strike twice.
Mason Vie and Jerry Pentecost joined Molly during her set, providing backing vocals, guitar, and percussion on several songs including “Messed With My Mind,” followed by “She’s A Rainbow.”
Molly Tuttle told the crowd how the Covid-19 pandemic affected her and how she adapted to the isolation. It caught her off guard and forced her to stay home—an experience she wasn’t accustomed to, given her touring schedule.
She did use the time in 2020 to develop her album titled, appropriately, …But I’d Rather Be With You. The album contains covers of songs she’s loved and admired from other artists. She described for the audience the remote effort in the production of the album. Molly would record her tracks and then send them to the other artists in other parts of the country. Each, in turn, would record their parts with all parts then mixed remotely.
This explanation transitioned into her interpretation of the Grateful Dead’s “Standing on the Moon,”—the song providing the title for the album. Her take on the song was particularly wistful and dreamy, reflecting the regret at so much missed during the pandemic. The crowd roared when she sang “but I’d rather be with you in Wisconsin!”
Highlighting a staccato picking intro, Tuttle sang “Olympia, WA,” a song by the punk band Rancid that she loved while in middle school and high school. While all of her songs featured extended displays of her breath-taking guitar picking, her guitar solo here was remarkable as her fingers flew over the strings.
Molly closed her set with her standard “Take the Journey,” which encourages taking the hand of the person next to you to continue on the path towards home.
Listening to her music, it was fascinating watching Molly Tuttle closely on the stage—standing there with a little half smile going on. Her eyes half closed. Her fingers dancing on the strings. She was in the moment. She was in her element. You could tell she didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Everyone came away from this concert with smiles on their faces and a little lighter feeling in their hearts. It was wonderful enjoying the pure entertainment of these amazing artists.
Check out Old Crow Medicine Show and their 2021-22 tour dates at http://www.crowmedicine.com,
Molly Tuttle has a busy schedule coming up, including supporting Old Crow Medicine Show, opening for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and appearing in high-profile ensemble performances at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and Carnegie Hall in New York City. For information about Molly Tuttle, including her upcoming tour dates, visit http://www.mollytuttlemusic.com.
The Sylvee, Madison, Wi
Friday, November 12, 2021
Tell It to Me
Alabama High Test
Down Home Girl
TN Bound/Ruckus/Tear It Down
James River Blues
Shout Mountain Music/8 Dogs
Dearly Departed Friend
Paint This Town
Hard To Tell
Ain’t Gonna Rain/Flicker & Shine [Molly] Take Em Away [Molly] Stop Dragging My Heart Around [Molly] Wagon Wheel
[Encore] Fight For Your Right
Will The Circle Be Unbroken