OCMS: Above the Fray

Kim took me to see Old Crow Medicine Show last night. She got me tickets for my birthday. This is the third time we’ve been to see Old Crow. The first time was the first year of the Salem Bluegrass Festival. The very conservative bluegrass crowd was shocked at the “Tell it to me” song, which features the word “cocaine” frequently in the song. They were not invited back to Salem. Some Old Crow lyrics can be found here.

The other times we have seen them have been at the Roanoke Civic Center. If you have never heard of Old Crow Medicine Show before, they may be difficult to pin down. Frequently they have the sound of an old time string band, but they mix that with lyrics more fitting the rock and roll drug culture. To me, the overall effect is Grateful Dead-ish, especially if you consider that Jerry Garcia played banjo with Old And In The Way, along with David Grisman and Peter Rowan. Old And In The Way definitely aimed at that old timey sound as well.

Despite all the genre bending going on here, OCMS has landed at the top spot on the Billboard Bluegrass chart with their new CD Tennessee Pusher. The OCMS following is typically college age through early 30s. There were a few people there older than me and Kim, but they definitely stood out. Even the name of the new CD combines Appalachia and drug culture. The “pusher” part is probably supposed to evoke a train theme,  but if you know the band, you know it has to be mean something else. The word “medicine” in the name of the band tells you what kind of pusher they are talking about.

Are these guys evil? No. The music is good, even if the lyrics are sometimes a a bit too obvious or explicit.

Other CDs from OCMS, like O.C.M.S., Big Iron World, and Eutaw had an alternating old time/bluegrass feel, but Tennessee Pusher does not. Tennessee Pusher falls more into the realm of Phychodelic Hillbilly or Grateful Dead gone acoustic. The most noticeable thing on Tennessee Pusher was the presence of drums. To me, that’s the first thing I listen for that completely removes the music from the Bluegrass category. The second is electronic instruments. There is some slide guitar and even Hammond organ on Tennessee Pusher. And yet it’s classified as a Bluegrass album. I was a little worried what the live show would look like when Kim showed me the tickets, but they didn’t tote a drum set or a synthesizer, and the slide guitar was just a dobro with a resonator top.

One instrumental oddity was the 6 string guit-jo. It was played like a guitar (single pick picking or strumming), and had 6 strings like a guitar, but looked like a banjo, with the resonotor back and drum head, so it sounded banjo-ish. A more traditional 5 string banjo was on the othe side of the stage, this one played without the resonator back, and played in a clawhammer style, sounding maybe more dixie land than bluegrass or old timey.

The live show felt much more in touch with what I think of as the OCMS sound than the CD did. Honestly, the Tennessee Pusher album was a little bit of a let down for me because of the instrumentation.

Speaking of the live show, these guys always perform well. They are high energy, acknowledge the audience, and are every bit the musical masters. The only complaint I had about the live show was the sound. Granted, there was a capacity crowd at the Roanoke Performing Arts Center, which means somewhere north of 2000 screaming 20-somethings. At some points, like the screaming for an encore, the crowd was simply deafening. I felt it physically resonating in the back of my throat. I’ve never heard a crowd alone generate so much noise.

The sound guys had to try to overcome this incredible racket. The result was vocals that were badly distorted, and completely buried instrumentals. A couple of times I thought I heard some clawhammer banjo coming through, but to make it discernible, it had become as badly distorted as a 1920s recording.

Kim and I were seated in the loge closest to the stage, which is incidentally also closest to the speaker stack. I know the difference between loud music and distortion. The sound engineers were forced into the quantity over quality region to overcome the crowd.

At last year’s event on Halloween night, the crowd rushed the stage and were actually dancing on the stage before the night was over. A couple retirement age security people were not able to contain them. This year security was better prepared. They had more security people, and had reconfigured the seats to make it easier to contain concert-goers. More importantly, this year they had a 3 beer limit, and warned people buying beer that shenanigans wouldn’t be tolerated. Still, it was a little pathetic watching the security people trying to push the kids back into their seats. Just let them dance. They weren’t hurting anyone, and it was fun.

Last year, security was also trying to keep people from using phones or cameras to record the concert. That was a losing battle. This year, I don’t think they made any such attempt. I saw a lot more digital screens in use. From our eagle’s nest seats we could see the whole thing unfold.

In the end, I think Old Crow is much better suited to outdoor events than indoor events in places meant to hold a symphony. Most bluegrass shows can be pulled off indoors, but this wasn’t really a bluegrass event.


Wooly Worm Weather

I saw my first true sign that winter is on its way to Virginia this past weekend – the wooly worm.  I am fascinated every year to see them and note their weather indicating black and tan markings.  I heard the wooly worm story when I was a kid from my grandma and never gave it much thought until the first winter I lived in Connecticut (2002 – 2003).  The wooly worm that year was completely black tip to tip.  The amount of black is said to predict the severeness of the coming winter.  That first winter in Connecticut I saw an astounding 90+ inches of snow.  That was more snow than I had ever seen in one winter, even more than Colorado.  It was a beautiful and snowy winter that made me a believer in the prediction of the wooly worm.

So this year’s wooly worm is heading up the photo in this picture.  I read that as a miserable extended first part of the winter and not so bad middle and a harsh but brief finish to the season.  Just read the wooly worm by the bands of black and tan. Black tells of the harshes parts of the season and the tan are the milder ones.  Every season the markings are different and in my opinion fairly accurate.

There are other great animal weather indicators among us everyday.  I find them fasicnating….

Hornet’s nest predict the amount of snow.  Depending on how far from the ground a swarm of hornets build their nest will accurately predict the depth of the snow in the coming winter.

Crickets can tell the temperature.To convert cricket chirps to degrees Fahrenheit, count number of chirps in 14 seconds then add 40 to get temperature.  Example: 30 chirps + 40 = 70° F.  To convert cricket chirps to degrees Celsius, count number of chirps in 25 seconds, divide by 3, then add 4 to get temperature.  Example: 48 chirps /(divided by) 3 + 4 = 20° C. (thanks to the Old Farmer’s Almanac for this example)

Ants let us know when rain is on the way.  Dogs always sense the thunder storm.  Livestock gather before a storm.  The groundhog is one of the most famous spring predictors….  I could go on.

So for 2008, the wooly worm has stated its forecast.  Time for me to go grab the thick socks. ~K

Boys and Toys

It really cracks me up when I give Matt a completely practical gift and he loves it. Instead of heading off for a mountain or ocean I opted for a pressure washer for the birthday boy.  First thing he said was “WOW I get to put it together!”  Now in my family this statement has been the beginning of many long Christmas days with tattered instructions and trying to bridge the missing part gap.  Usually without so much enthusiasm.  So you can understand my amazement at this comment.  Matt on the other hand was delighted at the prospect of assembly.  I think he was a little disappointed not to have to use a drill or pneumatic hammer for the tooless assembly.  Although a pocket knife did come in handy.

So as you can see from Matt mugging with his new toy, the pressure washer went together and works beautifully.  We were both amazed at just how dirty the concrete was.  The difference is stunning.

By the end of the weekend, Matt’s house was free of mildew, the concrete was sparkling and Matt was pleased with all that he had accomplished.


Niagara Falls

Posting from the road again… a short untimely trip to Niagara Falls provided us a quick glimpse of the falls.  The last time I was here, it was the autumn of my 10th grade high school as I was looking at colleges.  Oddly enough, I was interested in pursuing photography at RIT, the college that Matt attended.  I ended up not going there for many reasons but do remember what a beautiful site Niagara Falls was.  It had always stayed in my mind that the Canadian side was more developed and nicer than the American side.  While on this trip our view of the falls was brief and even though we had our passports with us, we just didn’t have the time to hassle with the border crossing.

View of Niagara Falls from America

Luckily Matt proved to be an excellent tour guide.  We quickly found a parking place and walked into the American side park.  It was lovely, well landscaped and clean.  The views were stunning and the falls were awesome!  There just aren’t enough superlatives to accurately describe their power and physical beauty.

This is truly one of our best natural wonders.  I would recommend the destination for longer than just an hour.

Matt pointing out the sites and driving at the same time.... yikes!

Matt pointing out the sites and driving at the same time.... yikes!

As we make our way back to Virginia, Matt wanted to show me another beautiful site in his home state of New York.  We traveled along the finger lakes for more stunning scenery.  A series of long, deep and skinny lakes that comprise the finger lakes region host a great number of wineries and farm land as well as water sports.  We got in a bit of autumnal leaf peeping and once again become accidental tourists. 
Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake