Thunderstorms and ominous black clouds threatened the crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday night, but a barrage of fiddles and old-time Americana music seemed to keep the rain at bay as members of Nashville, Tenn., string band Old Crow Medicine Show strummed their way through a sold-out, headlining show at the coveted Colorado venue.
True, some lightning strikes could be spied out in the east, almost framing a giant, blood-orange moon low on the horizon. But barely a drop of rain fell as the band blazed through a two-hour set of original songs spanning its 17-year career, with some wonderful covers sprinkled in for good measure.
California band The Devil Makes Three warmed up the stage, playing about an hour’s-worth of upbeat songs with catchy choruses, including “Gracefully Facedown,” Doc Watson’s “Walk on Boy,” “Dragging All Those Chains,” “Old No. 7″ and a new song referencing Daniel in the lion’s den.
“It’s been the shortest 12 years in the life of any band… we love what we do,” the band’s frontman reminisced at the end of the set.
After a short break, the stage lights went out and a lone figure appeared, plucking a few notes on a banjo. It was none other than Gov. John Hickenlooper, who proclaimed, “Are you ready to hear some of the greatest music you’ve ever heard? Well, at least since last year.” Hickenlooper is a self-proclaimed fan of OCMS, having jumped up on stage with them to perform just last summer (also at Red Rocks).
The seven members of Old Crow Medicine Show then took to the stage, kicking things off with “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” from 2014’s “Remedy,” followed by fiddle-heavy “Alabama High Test” from “Tennessee Pusher.”
The Colorado flavor didn’t end with the governor’s introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our Mile High Crows fest up in the clouds,” remarked frontman and co-founder Ketch Secor between songs. “We’ve been waiting all year for our return to Red Rocks,” he later said.
Members of the band have either spent a significant time in Colorado or maybe put their heads down for some serious homework before last night’s show. Between-song banter from Secor was filled with an abundance of Colorado nods; in fact, there were no less than 10 Colorado references, including Mile High, Rocky Mountain, the I-70 corridor, Glenwood Canyon, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, the Platte River and Montrose. Secor also noted, “We worked our way up from (playing) Cervantes’ and the Bluebird.” So it was only natural that OCMS then covered a John Denver song, 1974’s “Annie’s Song.”
Other highlights of Old Crow Medicine Show’s set included “Bootlegger’s Boy,” from “Carry Me Back,” in which Secor and Chance McCoy — dressed in a red suit — spun around the stage while dueling with fiddles; “Down Home Girl,” from “Big Iron World;” Secor’s ear-piercing harmonica during “Mississippi Saturday Night;” and drug classic “Methamphetamine,” with lyrics “It’s gonna rock you like a hurricane / It’s gonna rock you till you lose sleep / It’s gonna rock you till you’re out of a job / It’s gonna rock you till you’re out on the street / It’s gonna rock you till you’re down on your knees / It’s gonna have you begging pretty please / It’s gonna rock you like a hurricane / Methamphetamine.”
After the song, as a seemingly sarcastic afterthought, Secor urged, “Kids, don’t try that at home.” And then, “It’s all downhill from here boys, literally,” yet another Red Rocks reference.
The band paid tribute to the late B.B. King with “CC Rider,” off 2004’s “O.C.M.S.” which was not complete without a whistling solo, and the crowd went completely nuts when “Carry Me Back to Virginia” was played.
Of course, the band’s signature song, “Wagon Wheel,” which was co-written with Bob Dylan, was played. And of course the crowd sang the chorus a capella, sending shivers across the whole amphitheatre.
Toward the end of its set, four band members gathered around one single microphone for a few of their own a capella songs, “like the good old days.”
Some folks cleared out early, at around 10:30 p.m., which allowed for more room for diehard fans to energetically dance in the stands during the last few numbers.
Old Crow Medicine Show ended its set with a few more covers, starting with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” and ending with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” with another appearance from The Devil Makes Three.
“Looks like we’re in for nasty weather,” the band (and, originally, John Fogerty) sang. But Old Crow Medicine Show made sure that wasn’t a problem as audience members’ raincoats and umbrellas went entirely unused.