It's funny to think how in the mid-20th century, cowboys and "Wild West" shows like "The Lone Ranger" and "Bonanza" were all the rage, shortly after the advance of suburbia and industrialism put the last nail in the coffin of the actual lawless frontier.
Old-timey-sounding bluegrass/string bands like Old Crow Medicine Show sell another kind of romanticized vision of a rural lifestyle that's fading. Old Crow's style and lyrics call to mind visions of rolls in the hay with farm girls, trashy drugs, lonesome highways and bootlegging. And yet, it seems to be most popular with people who are at least a generation removed from a rural background. I'm willing to bet the closest any average Old Crow fan comes to moonshine is the fancy "white whiskey" stuff that micro-distilleries are selling now.
Don't get me wrong, I like Old Crow Medicine Show, and I can count my share of late-night house party "Wagon Wheel" sing-alongs. (Side note: That single went platinum.) It's a credit to the band that it still seems just about as down-home as ever, even if the fellows are far from the street buskers they once were. Old Crow's latest album, last year's Carry Me Back, is a return to a less-produced sound after the somewhat slick Tennessee Pusher. One of the first tracks on Carry Me Back is "We Don't Grow Tobacco," about a family that quits farming because the kids have moved to the city. "Yes, I sure am sad to say, this way of life has gone away," goes the end. But the music that originated from that way of life still lives on.
Old Crow Medicine Show plays the Wilma Wed., July 3. Doors at 7 PM. $35. Advance tickets sold out.