Saturday afternoon, The Clay Center and Appalachian Power Park treated Charleston to what might have been the highlight of the summer season: an outdoor concert featuring Old Crow Medicine Show that felt less like a one-off show and more like somebody was testing the waters to see if Charleston might be ready for another music festival.
If so, this looked like a good first outing.
First off, something of an apology: I missed the local opener, Qiet, a popular eclectic folk art band which seemed at first like the odd man out on this lineup.
Old Crow Medicine Show plays string-band influenced Americana, Del McCoury is traditional bluegrass and Robert Randolph and the Family Band is pedal-steel driven funk and soul. But in terms of jam, it all probably worked. None of the bands went into vast, extended jam sessions. Pretty much everybody stayed on task.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band were a lot of fun, full of lively, infectious energy. They had a blues-rock sound and a bone-shaking sort of bass line that had folks bouncing around on the field.
The Del McCoury band was straight bluegrass. They did songs from McCoury’s catalog, including material from his “Streets of Baltimore” record, along with traditional tunes like “The Orange Blossom Special,” and a cover of bluesman Robert Cray’s “Smoking Gun.”
The band played well, had folks out flat-footing on the field, and outside the music Del McCoury was entertaining on his own. An older musician of a different generation, he good-naturedly performed for the tattooed and pierced grandchildren of the people he used to play for.
He had a lot of fans in the audience, but most people had come out for Old Crow Medicine Show, and they didn’t disappoint.
The band played a mix of older tunes as well as a lot of music from their latest record “Remedy,” including a Bob Dylan co-write, “Sweet Amarillo.” They also threw out a raucous, string-band take on “Country Roads.” It seems like one in every four bands that comes to town feels like it has to play the unofficial West Virginia anthem. Nobody ever seems to mind.
They were an enthusiastic bunch who played and sang and danced like wild mountain men. Much of the crowd clapped and sang and danced along.
The band’s leader, Ketch Secor, seemed over the moon about playing in West Virginia again, referencing the state, the roads, the rivers and various towns. If someone had started a drinking game based on the singer saying the words “West Virginia,” they might not have been upright after two or three songs of Old Crow Medicine Show’s set.
The Clay Center and Appalachian Power Park’s partnership appeared to be a fair success. They probably would have liked a few more people to have come out. They attracted a few thousand, maybe a bit more than what the Clay Center could have gotten on its own.
The crowd was remarkably well-behaved. The beer flowed freely with beer vendors scarcely more than a few steps away in any direction. Loads of people staggered around like the walking dead, half-stunned to hammered, a few a little loud, but no fights and only a couple of ejections -— at least as far as I saw.
At about 11 p.m. things more or less began to wind down. People were ready to go. Six-and-a-half hours is a long show. As soon as the band played its signature song, “Wagon Wheel,” audience members began to stream from the field and the stands, headed toward the parking lots in hopes of avoiding the rush.
Some of them probably had paid their $50 and waited all night just to hear that one song, but nobody got cheated. That $50 was a pretty good deal if you’d come for the whole night.
The Clay Center and Appalachian Power Park ought to be commended. It was a good night of music.
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.