Last night, after the 57th annual Grammy Awards came to a close in a sea of Prince cameos and Kanye West rants, Old Crow Medicine Show split into two groups. Most of the guys wanted to celebrate their newest award — a golden gramophone in honor of 2014’s Remedy, which had been named the year’s Best Folk Album earlier that evening — by hitting the town and bouncing between afterparties. Co-founders Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua, on the other hand, just wanted to grab something to eat.
“A couple of the boys went out to the parties thrown by the labels,” Secor says the following morning at LAX, while waiting for an 11:45 a.m. flight to take his band back to Nashville. “Me and Critter took off our Manuel suits and put on our sneakers and sat down at Chipotle, where we ate burritos and talked about how surreal the whole thing was until 2 a.m.”
There was a lot to talk about. Back in 2002 — two years before Old Crow released “Wagon Wheel,” the song that more or less kickstarted the band’s career — Secor and company drove to Los Angeles to perform at a Grammy party as Ricky Skaggs’ opening act. It too was a surreal experience. While audience members like Dr. Ruth looked on in bewilderment, Old Crow ripped their way through a set of loose-limbed country tunes that were as raw and rough as the bandmates themselves.
“Man, we were pretty greasy,” Secor admits. “We were stinking up the joint.”
That same year, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack took home a handful of Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Old-timey roots music had officially made a comeback, and Old Crow Medicine Show — whose own songs mixed the dirty stomp of rock & roll with the tradition and twang of Appalachian music — stood to benefit from the renewed interest. It took more than a decade, though, for the guys to ascend the long ladder from Grammy party participants to Grammy Award winners.
“When we won the first time, it was for a long-play video,” says Secor, referring to the music documentary Big Easy Express that earned the band a Grammy award in 2013. “Now we’re starting our 18th year as a band, and it took all that time to get good and make a record that could become the folk album of the year. It took all those years to become the band we were meant to be. It feels pretty powerful to get that recognition now, because we’ve put out a lot of albums — but it was this one that took home the golden gramophone.”
Do they consider themselves a folk band, though? Last month, during a Grammy nominations party in Nashville, Secor seemed to indicate otherwise, telling Rolling Stone Country that “until Nashville is ready to come to terms with the fact that we’re a country band, sure, we’ll take a folk Grammy.” Weeks later, his stance has softened a bit.
“The thing about folk music is that everyone onstage is playing it,” he says. “Everyone from Pharrell to Stevie Wonder to Brandy Clark. There’s only one genre that fits them all — one genre that includes every style of popular music. It’s all folk music. We’re happy to be in that bin.”
When asked to mention a few highlights from the ceremony, Secor quickly returns to Clark, comparing her stripped-down version of “Hold My Hand” with Dwight Yoakam to Loretta Lynn’s duets with Conway Twitty. “Dwight Yoakam wasn’t following the script,” he notes, “and it was wonderful to be in the presence of a guitar player who wasn’t gonna sit still, and was doting on his partner in that way. They sang real sweet together. I thought that kinship was missing onstage from a lot of the heavy hitters.”
Speaking of heavy hitters, Old Crow Medicine Show also got the chance to rub shoulders with hard-rock icons Lemmy, Angus Young and Brian Johnson during the event. “We felt more akin to the metal performers than anybody else,” Secor admits. “We didn’t feel a strong kinship with the Nashville offering, just because it feels like we come from a different side of town in Nashville.”
The most powerful moment of the night, though, arrived not during AC/DC’s performance or Old Crow’s acceptance speech during the off-camera Premiere Ceremony, but during the annual tribute to those who’ve recently passed away.
“For the first time in my life, it was so many people that I knew,” he says. “It was Pete [Seeger], who we got to know, and Little Jimmy [Dickens], whose funeral we got to sing at, and Jimmy C. Newman, who we got to talk horses and cattle with. That’s the market changing, right there.”
However, now with the country-roots music torch in their grasp, Secor and his bandmates have mixed feelings about moving forward while losing their influences.
“There’s a weird thing that happens when your heroes become your opening acts,” Secor says after a pause. “That’s something that’s just begun for the Old Crow, to a limited extent. Even when your heroes are your opening acts, though, you still feel like they’re the headliner. That’s part of the power of these artists. They draw you into their family. Peter Seeger, in his way, invited us to bear the torch. There’s just a whole lot of us holding it up, though. It’s not just us.”