“It always sounds a little sweeter at the Ryman Auditorium!” Old Crow Medicine Show leader Ketch Secor makes this exuberant declaration just before launching into the opening lines of his longstanding band’s ubiquitous hit “Wagon Wheel.”
Cover photo by Cracker Farm, courtesy Old Crow Medicine Show
It’s one of the many high-energy moments on the Grammy-winning old-time revivalist group’s new concert album, Live at the Ryman, a culled documentation of Old Crow’s many performances at the historic Nashville venue.
The band has performed at the Ryman—the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, still known as the “Mother Church of Country Music”—more than 40 times, delivering particularly beloved annual New Year’s Eve shows at the venerable hall since 2009. That’s quite an accomplishment for the mainstay Americana act (now members of the Grand Ole Opry), who started from humble beginnings busking on street corners and eventually building a loyal fan base by relentlessly touring with a fiery brand of string-band music.
Old Crow founders Secor and Critter Fuqua both hail from Harrisonburg, Va., and grew up learning old-time tunes in the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. As a teenager Secor wrote “Wagon Wheel” by adding verses to a leftover Bob Dylan chorus. The wanderer’s anthem came out on Old Crow’s 2004 debut album O.C.M.S., and was later made a chart-topping country song by Darius Rucker.
On Live at the Ryman, the Old Crow members also run through other staples from their six studio records, including “Tell It to Me” and “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer.” While maintaining raw verve, the familiar cuts now have a fuller sound, showcasing the group’s growth to larger stages necessitating the additions of drums and piano.
The live set also features a few special guests: Lee Oskar adds harmonica to the blues chestnut “CC Rider” and dynamic vocalist and singer-songwriter Margo Price duets with Secor during a hopping run through “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” made famous in the early 70s by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. The album ends with a celebratory take on the early country standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” an appropriate choice for a band authentically carrying traditional sounds forward.
3 More Ryman Concert Albums
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Live at the Ryman
The Americana star and his rock-driven backing band hold court at the Ryman for a multi-night (seven in 2019) stand every year. This record released last year pulls together great moments from the 2017 run, featuring 13 tracks highlighted by scorching, guitar-heavy versions of “Hope the High Road” and “Cumberland Gap,” both found on Isbell’s latest studio album, The Nashville Sound. The singer-songwriter also showcases his pensive side with a poignant version of the mortality meditation, “If We Were Vampires.”
Ramble at the Ryman
The late Levon Helm, legendary drummer and singer for the Band, spent the end of his career focused on his Midnight Rambles—roots-driven revues hosted at his intimate barn in Woodstock, N.Y. He also occasionally took the show on the road, stopping at the Ryman in 2008 for a night that included plenty of Band classics, including “Ophelia,” “Rag Mama Rag” and “The Weight.” Released in 2011, Ramble at the Ryman highlights the best of the evening, which featured a huge roster of guests: Sheryl Crow, Billy Bob Thornton, John Hiatt and Buddy Miller, among others.
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers
At the Ryman
After the Grand Ole Opry left the Ryman in 1974, the hallowed venue sat mostly dormant for nearly two decades. The room’s revival was assisted by country singer Emmylou Harris and her band the Nash Ramblers, who played a three-night run at the Ryman in 1991 and released this live album of highlights in 1992. The dynamic effort features Harris and her honeyed voice covering everything from bluegrass standards to takes on Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Mansion on the Hill.” The Ryman underwent extensive renovations the following year, and Harris returned to celebrate At the Ryman’s 25th anniversary with a full run through the album at the venue in 2017.