Old Crow Medicine Show offers a prescription for modern ailments

The grateful audience at Meijer Gardens soaked up the Southern charm of the enthusiastic, twangy, bluegrass, country and American act when they returned to Grand Rapids on Thursday. The review and the photo gallery.

Crowd-pleasing music and laughter: Old Crow Medicine Show. (Photo/Bryan Bolea)

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There’s a classic bit from an early episode of “The Simpsons” when Bart and Milhouse attend an ill-fated Spinal Tap gig that sends familiar rock concert cliches wonderfully.

During their brief stint on stage, the cartoon version of the parody group bends like mad to the audience, referencing a local highway, deterring neighboring “rival” Shelbyville, and hollowly praising the host city. “Nobody moves like (checks note on guitar)…Springfield!

It’s hard not to think fondly of that joke when watching a performance of the ever-endearing Old Crow Medicine Show, which filled the amphitheater Thursday night at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park for his Fifth Third Bank summer concert series.

Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ketch Secor made a running joke when leaning into this trope. At about the fifteenth reference to Grand Rapids/wolverines/the Grand River/Spartans/Grayling, one can’t help but fulfill his gag pledge.

And while the commentary is almost certainly tongue-in-cheek, there’s nothing remotely heartfelt or cynical about the band’s energy, personality, or talent it brings to the venue year after year. A popular and familiar sight on the Meijer Gardens stage, Thursday night’s show was a crowd-pleaser affair with nearly two dozen songs packed into around 110 minutes of dancing, clapping, singing and laughing.

The Opener: Jaime Wyatt performed songs from his new album. (Photo/Bryan Bolea)

Drawing on familiar (“Wagon Wheel,” “Cocaine Habit”) and new (“DeFord Rides Again*,” “Used to Be a Mountain,” “Bombs Away”) material and the title track from their 2022 release “Paint This Town”), Old Crow was both upbeat and unexpected, with some interesting musical twists and some fun surprises, including a closing rendition of KISS’s “Rock and Roll All Nite”.

(*This song is a tribute to harmonica player DeFord Bailey, the first African-American musician to appear on the Grand Ole Opry, a story that percussionist/mandolin player/backing vocalist Jerry Pentecost encouraged the public to Google at his back home.)

Although Old Crow is known for giving audiences a rambunctious good time, they aren’t shy about tackling heavier themes in their writing, including racism, violence, drug addiction, poverty, and environmental disaster. Secor spoke candidly about the difficulties of traveling the country and seeing the pain and heaviness in people’s lives. He implored audiences to pull together before launching into 2004’s “We’re All In This Together”.

Opening the show Jaime Wyatt warmed up the crowd with 40 minutes of country-tinged rock from his new album, “Neon Cross,” produced by friend and collaborator Shooter Jennings.

The next stop in the Fifth Bank of Meijer Gardens Summer Concert Series is the sold-out venue Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown at 6 p.m. on Friday (June 24).

PHOTO GALLERY: Old Crow Medicine Show, Jaime Wyatt at Meijer Gardens
Pictures of Bryan Bolea

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