Last Thursday and Friday night, DC’s 9:30 Club was transformed into a barn and the spirit of the South was alive in an all-out hootenanny. Tennessee’s Old Crow Medicine Show played their characteristic blue grass, country, and folk songs while the crowd conducted a ruckus hoedown, dancing and smiling throughout the set.
With the band was Los Angeles’ Milk Carton Kids. The acoustic guitar folk duo was an interesting choice for a crowd clearly there to drink whiskey and party. While it was apparent that the group’s music would be best enjoyed in a quiet setting where their wit and lyrical aptitude could be better appreciated, they certainly held their own and gained new fans. A highlight of the set was “Charlie,” a song written to a yet-to-be-born daughter. Band member Joey Ryan followed up this touching number by letting the audience know that the his counterpart, Kenneth Pattengale, is currently in the hunt for a baby momma and that we might put an asterisk next to our name on the email list in order to audition. They also advertised that both their CDs are available for free download on their website….or that you can let your conscious guide you to buying the album at the merch table.
Next to the stage were a late addition to the billing—Denver’s Lumineers. Since releasing their debut album in April, the group has risen meteorically, touring non-stop and growing quickly in popularity (you can read our reviews of their other recent stops through the area here and here). Many in the crowd were familiar with at least their hit single “Ho Hey.” The band split the crowd in two, asking the balcony to yell “ho!” and the floor to follow it up with “hey!” while lead singer Wesley Schultz laid vocals over the chant. Songs like “Big Parade” and the “Classy Girls” struck gold with the crowd, strangers to the band audibly professing their newfound fandom. The Lumineer’s music is easily accessible in a live setting, and the crowd quickly learned the choruses to sing along to set closers “I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem But My Own” (Thursday) and “Stubborn Love” (Friday).
The crowd exploded in applause and sheer exuberance as Old Crow Medicine Show took the stage and Ketch Secor opened fire with his fiddle while singing the opening lines of the title track of the band’s new album Carry Me Back. The band took the crowd through one high-energy song after another, slowing things down for just a brief moment in places to pull at emotional heartstrings and inspire thought about the effects of war through songs such as “Levi” and “Big Time in the Jungle.” Thursday night, the camaraderie of the audience grew so intense that people put their arms around each other to form an ever-growing circle and dance together. Guys and gals took turns in the center of the circle, kicking up their heels before a bow or a curtsey to the next entrant. This eventually gave way to people crossing the floor to do-si-do complete strangers, people laughing, smiling, and falling into complete rapture. Just when it seemed the night couldn’t get any better, the band played its biggest hit, “Wagon Wheel,” with a disco ball casting romantic light over everything as people grabbed partners to sway or slow dance.
Every bit of fun had on the floor was replicated on stage. Both The Lumineers and the Milk Carton Kids made mention of the familial atmosphere of being on tour with Old Crow. They mentioned in particular the mentorship they had received from Old Crow’s Ketch Secor, and in our interview with the Milk Carton Kids that will run this Thursday, they described the effect they expected the tour to have on their future work. These accolades were given substance in the show’s encore when Old Crow brought the openers back on stage to close out the evening. They night ended on the theme of protest and brotherhood with the group playing through a heartwarming "Ain't It Enough?" before each band took a turn singing on a medley of “I Hear Them All” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Both shows ended with all of the evening’s performers on stage for a rousing performance of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The juxtaposition of an incredible evening of music capped off by a rendition of a classic song by one of the greatest bands in folk history cemented the perception that we were seeing a truly remarkable moment and a band that will leave their mark on folk music for ages to come.