“Down in Rockingham County I was born and raised, I’ll be a Rock-town rocker for the rest of my days” is an opening line off Old Crow Medicine Show’s newest album, paying homage to their Harrisonburg roots. Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua — cofounders of the old-time, alternative country band that now has multiple Grammy Awards and are members of the Grand Ole Opry — first met and performed in Harrisonburg.
Every Thursday night, the diner that was originally a bathhouse for a nearby swimming pool and then a soup kitchen would open its microphone to the community. It was at Harrisonburg’s own The Little Grill Collective where a young Secor saw Robert St. Ours, who later founded The Hackensaw Boys, perform “Heart of Gold.” It was the definitive moment for Secor when he decided to pursue his musical dreams. Just years later, 17-year-old Secor revitalized a Bob Dylan fragment of “Wagon Wheel,” that would later top the country charts in a version by Darius Rucker.
Today, Old Crow Medicine Show cultivates the blueglass revivalism they sought out over twenty years ago. Without giving into the modern rock momentum that carried similar bluegrass bands to mainstream success, Old Crow Medicine Show pays a steadfast deference to their roots. The six member group’s sauntering road music unabashedly embraces the quirk of bluegrass and old country while harnessing 21st-century vitality. Old Crow Medicine Show has given the nation a glimpse of the timelessness of Rockingham County.
Secor — who does vocals as wells as plays the banjo, fiddle, harmonica and guitar — attributes his band’s fortune to the Valley.
How did you and Critter meet?
We met at Thomas Harrison Middle School in the 7th grade, in Mr. Smith’s History Class. In middle school, we just rocked out at my house or his house, we both had the same electric guitar from Ace Music and Electronics on South Main St.
What’s your favorite memory from performing at the Little Grill Collective?
One time there was a mosh pit and the gumball machine got broken. Everyone scrambled to get the free gumballs but some of them just got glass.
What’s the story behind Old Crow Medicine Show’s name?
I was working in a dish room, and I thought I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wondered if it might be cool if I start a new band, get me out of that dish room and get me to Winnipeg, which is where I really wanted to go. So I wrote in my journal that night I was going to start a band called Old Crow Medicine Show, and it stuck.
How did Old Crow Medicine Show start?
I had had this great band in Harrisonburg called the Route 11 Boys. We had figured out how to go out to Quebec, Maine, Michigan in the dead of winter — we did a lot of traveling into snowy climates to go play music on the street corner in a daring and brave fashion. Having had those experiences I then decided to go do that with a different group of musicians, these musicians primarily centered around the old-time music scene in Ithica, New York.
How has Harrisonburg influenced your music?
In our most recent album, we have a song called Dixie Avenue. It includes references to Court Square and Gus Floros who was [Jess’] Quick Lunch’s owner, and Rawley Springs where we all used to swim next to 33.
How would you describe your band’s sound to someone who’s never heard it before?
I guess we’re beer drinking music, with a little twang.
What has been the highlight of Old Crow Medicine Show?
Probably playing at the Rockingham County Fair. I think we’ve done it three or four times. It’s in August. It’s just great to be back in the Valley, stand up there with a violin in front of that great big American Flag and play music that sounds like where I grew up, inspired by the product of the Valley. Just like all of those prize winning pies, hogs and corn stalks that get celebrated.
What’s on the horizon for Old Crow Medicine Show?
We’re probably going to keep doing what we do, it’s worked out pretty well so far.
Contact Mary Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.