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12:00 AM Monday, 10/30/06 |   |

When manager Norm Parenteau first heard Old Crow Medicine Show more than six years ago, he thought he'd come along too late to figure in the band's career.

"They had no pictures and the recordings they had at the time sounded like they were from 1920," Parenteau told Pollstar. "We just kind of dismissed them."

A couple years later, Parenteau stumbled into a conversation with a young fiddler/harmonica player who had just returned from Denver. His band had driven more than 1,000 miles from Nashville to the Mile High City to open for the Del McCoury Band, then turned around and came right back home.

"I said, 'Oh my god, did you make any money from that? A one-off?'" Parenteau recalled. "He said, 'Yeah, we all came back with money in our pockets.'"

The musician explained that the band spent no cash except on cigarettes and gasoline, skipping the hotel and eating its lone meal at the venue. Parenteau was amazed.

"For any other band that I knew that I had ever worked with, a one-off gig in Denver would have ended up costing money," Parenteau said.

When the musician introduced himself as Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, Parenteau was floored to realize the group was not only alive and well, but barely old enough to be allowed in a nightclub.

Parenteau attended his first Old Crow concert that week and was immediately drawn in by the act's raucous energy and its extensive musical knowledge

combining Appalachian folk, bluegrass and old-time country styles while covering the likes of Neil Young.

"Norm's been great," Secor told Pollstar. "I don't know how it is in other cities, but in Nashville it's all about building a team that, along with the artist, [creates] a real strength to it all."

Old Crow's team includes agent Bobby Cudd of Monterey Peninsula Artists / Paradigm, who took the band on six years ago after a live audition in his Nashville office.

"Basically, Bobby threw us out with a couple of his acts, as an agent is known to do when he's got something new and he's not quite sure how it's going to work out," Secor said. "But Bobby had confidence in us from the start."

The group did numerous dates with Junior Brown and Robert Earl Keen, along with country staples including Trace Adkins, Kentucky Headhunters, Ricky Skaggs, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton.

"There's a whole Nashville side of it too, [although] we never really thought of ourselves as that much of a Nashville band," Secor said. "We were just gaining experience all through those early years of just having an agent.

"Having an agent was so much more important than having a record deal, because we knew from the start that we wanted to be - and we were by nature - a working act."

Although Old Crow did plenty of support slots in the early years, Parenteau made sure to focus on the group's draw as a headliner, knowing the boys would be a success if allowed to fully work their magic.

"We made it 'An Evening With Old Crow Medicine Show' so that people would get two or three hours of music a night and then spread the word," Parenteau said. The band regularly fanned out from Nashville to cities like Louisville, Memphis and Little Rock, then began hitting New York and Los Angeles as well.

"We would make the trips to New York and I'd book them, like, four gigs in clubs, and they'd spend the day busking and promoting the show for that night," Parenteau said.

After a lengthy national tour with Gillian Welch in 2004, Old Crow Medicine Show began headlining its own club treks. The group's recent tour history includes sellouts across the country, including a performance before more than 2,000 hometown fans at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium in June.

"In terms of putting your best foot forward, really, to do your own tour is the most effective way to reach the audience when you're at the level we're at," Secor said.

To illustrate his point, Secor offered a timeline of his band's visits to the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. The group first played the club with Keen in 2001, back when Old Crow was "young and scrappy and in a rental car, driving all through the night to get to these gigs to do 25 or 40 minutes of lousy sound and no response," he said.

"So then we went back about three years later and sold about 500 tickets [689, according to Pollstar's records] and it felt great. Suddenly, we had the strength of an album behind us and people came out to see us the same way they came out to see Robert Earl.

"Then last night, we oversell it and there's 1,270 or 1,280 people out there. Standing room only - you can hardly walk through the joint, it's so packed. And we've got a Nashville coach chugging outside, and a crew. So the growth is really cool.

"I think if we were to be there opening up for Dwight Yoakam or somebody, it really wouldn't be to our advantage."

Old Crow - which comprises Secor, Willie Watson, Critter Fuqua, Kevin Hayes and Morgan Jahnig - plans to stay on the road through 2007 in support of its new Nettwerk album, Big Iron World. The group hopes to hit several European countries for the first time, and Secor said he knows Cudd will come up with some interesting Stateside gigs as well

 


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