Although most of the crowd was there solely for the Old Crow bluegrass bonanza, opener Justin Townes Earle put on a solid set of Hank Sr.-influenced country and folk tunes. The son of Steve Earle and named after Townes Van Zandt, his feet were indeed big enough to fill the shoes given to him at birth. In typical Grand Ole Opry form, Earle and his sidekick multi-instrumentalist hammed it up for the crowd while strumming through tunes about Tennessee, women, and chittlins.
Just fifteen minutes after Earle left the stage, the five boys of the Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show stood front and center, and took the stage by storm with the face melting instrumental "Sally Ann," a cover of the 1927 Frank Blevins recording. It was immediately apparent that the crowd was ready to stomp and holler as long as the Crows would let them.
One trademark of an Old Crow performance is variety. This show was no exception as they navigated their entire catalog, adding a slew of new songs, much to the crowd's delight.
Early in the set, "Down South Blues" marched with steam-engine momentum and absolutely smoking harmonica solos. Directly following was "I Hear Them All," a slow number pairing soft, sweet voice harmonies with lyrics of political and religious relationships. This altering wavelength of energy kept the crowd on its toes all night.
Probably a large part of the OCMS appeal here is the relevance of their lyrics: They sing about Virginia, a lot. They strummed through "James River Blues," a song primarily about Richmond and the birth of the railroad era -- when river freighting died away. Needless to say, anytime a band mentions Richmond in a song, the girls go wild! Old Crow also played a new song called "Methamphetamine," a story about the coalfields of southwest Virginia. Much to the confusion of half of the crowd, the other half yelled giddily throughout this song as if it was their biography. Strange.
After a raucous bunch of songs ranging from Martin Luther King to "body surfing on a river of beer," the band left the stage only to return quickly for an encore set including "C.C. Rider" and "Are You From Dixie?" The crowd was as pumped after three sets and more than an hour-and-a-half of playing as it was at the opening note. That energy then spilled into the streets of Richmond. No word yet on the friendly carnage that may have been committed.
In the end, Old Crow will be as big as their crowd will allow them. In the last five years, Richmond has seen these guys playing in bigger venues every time they visit our fair city. The hardest-working band in bluegrass deserves every bit of admiration they've garnished, even if some people write it off as geographic pandering. Still, when they declared "This feels like a hometown show!" after taking the stage, it was hard to deny them.