Each week in God and Country Music, Nick Rynerson gives country music a chance and examines the world of Americana, folk, alt-country, and popular country music.
I am an unashamed nostalgia-junkie: everything from the music I listen to and the books I read, to the circa 1955 portable record player that serves as the centerpiece of my living room. So naturally, the bands that I love are deeply connected to the past, especially the new bands. The bluegrass / Americana / whatever band, Old Crow Medicine Show has had my heart for years for this very reason.
You may know them from their mega-hit (by Americana standards), “Wagon Wheel”, that has made their way into popular culture through country radio, wedding receptions and open-mic covers (and just so happened to be one of the best highway-travelin’ songs ever written). While not a “traditional” bluegrass band by many purists’ standards, Old Crow Medicine Show makes their living by channeling the heart and soul of American folk music and rural life (from the 1890’s to the present). They stick to pretty traditional song structures, instruments (minus the ever-present guit-jo) and traditional lyrical content, even opting to play a solid amount of 20’s & 30’s traditional tunes.
But Old Crow Medicine Show is not a relic, as so many “traditional bluegrass” bands are. And in no way do they have a “traditional bluegrass attitude”. They have rock & roll energy and stage presence (note the old dude at the end of ‘Down Home Girl’ video who asks, “is that the Sex Pistols”?). They are playing music that connects to their audience and deals with the world around them.
It is their foot in the past and their foot in the present that makes their music so relatable, accessible, and beautiful. Unlike an old Bill Monroe (ex. A) tune, an Old Crow song is not intimidating to those unfamiliar to non-bluegrass veterans. Yet, unlike a Toby Keith (ex. B) song, Old Crow Medicine Show doesn’t completely betray it’s roots.
Exhibit A (look for “snobbery”)
Exhibit B (look for “lack of quality”)
Old Crow Medicine Show should be a lesson to the church going into a “post-Christian” culture. If you loose your roots, you will forget who you are, but if you refuse to engage the present you’ll become a dinosaur. This is a tension that exists not only on the “Episcopal-Independent Fundamental Baptist” denominational spectrum but also in every church and to a degree, every soul. In clinging, savoring, and studying orthodoxy the challenge persists to bring the beauty of living, active, Bible (Hebrews 4:12) to an ever-changing context.
Old Crow Medicine Show is a perfect example of how looking to the past for relevance practically works itself out in other spheres of life. So if you are looking to be really relevant, you don’t always necessarily need to look forward, but backwards and then around all you.And I am convinced that (and I think the guys in Old Crow Medicine Show would agree with me) It is the beauty of the high and lonesome old-time folk music that brought Old Crow Medicine Show together and gave them a voice. For the Christian, we have an even more beautiful, more timeless message; the gospel of Jesus that proclaims victory over Satan, sin, and death.