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<  Music  ~  Trans Canada Highway Tour (1998)

The whistle knows my name
Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:29 pm Reply with quote
Thousandaire Joined: 21 Apr 2008 Posts: 1013
Hi everyone! I'm interested in the period of the band before they hit it big, and I decided to compile some of the published information about their early days. Below I've quoted articles I found on the website, and with some google searching, that gives a rough chronology of their three-month tour of Canada in 1998, which was really the first thing they ever did as a band. I find it interesting, and maybe you will too. All texts are direct quotes unless in [brackets] which are by me for the purpose of clarity and conciseness, or to provide context. Each source is separated by an "XX".
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[Ketch and Critter open for Willie's band, The Funnest Game in Trumansburg on February 20, 1998]
XX
[WW]: I had that first band [The Funnest Game], and then Ketch [Secor] moved to Ithaca when I must've been seventeen or eighteen. Richie Stearns knew Ketch from the festival scene and he introduced us. Ketch moved up [to Ithaca] and then Critter [Fuqua] moved up a bit later. When The Funnest Game was about to break up, Ketch and Critter's band had just broken up. They opened together for The Funnest Game and sang together, harmonized, did their duo thing. I was floored. As soon as they started singing, I immediately really badly wanted to sing with them. And so we made that happen.
XX
[KS]: "Our band's evolution is the most unique thing about us. Then I would say, it's our harmony and vocalization, the strength of our three voices. As soon as I heard our three voices together for the first time, myself, Willie and Critter, I knew something was going to happen.
"Hearing Willie sing, I recognized, he had a special voice and as soon as I heard Critter and I sing together, I knew that our vocals were some of the best I had heard. The way we came together and how we stay together as a band is pretty different from the way a lot of groups come together and stay together. We went with a sort of different layout or plan, much more focused on learning, going out and making it happen for ourselves then it was on following any specific rules."
XX
After [his high school girlfriend] temporarily broke up with him (they are now married), [Secor] and Fuqua started traveling the country, working odd jobs and recruiting other musicians they met busking on street corners. He met co-founder Willie Watson in upstate New York and guitjo player Kevin Hayes in Maine, where he worked raking blueberries.
XX
In 1998, [...] Hayes was living in Haverhill. He said he was on his way to deep Maine for a job picking blueberries when he met a fiddle player on the way named Jay "Ketch" Secor. Secor was playing on the street in Bar Harbor. The two men decided to travel together for two weeks along the Maine coast, playing bars for tips and food, Hayes said. Hayes eventually resumed his trip to pick blueberries and the two went their separate ways.
A short time later, Hayes signed Secor up to play at Lawrence's annual Bread and Roses Festival [Sept 7 1998]. Secor played the festival with another fiddle player and Hayes played with his brother.
Hayes said he caught back up with Secor a few months later in Ithaca, N.Y., where they and another member of the then-fledgling band recorded a cassette album they could sell on the road.
"When the festival was over, he told me he was forming a band and asked me to join," Hayes said of Secor. "We made a 4-track cassette and toured the northern United States for a couple months as the "Old Crow Medicine Show.""
XX
[KS]: "New York State, where I happened to be, trying to get in good with a gal, and I brought my friend Critter up with me. We met up with some players up in New York, namely Willie Watson. And then we dragged in a guy that I'd met on the streets of Bar Harbor Maine, he was up there raking blueberries, and I was on the street in front of a jewelry store playing the banjo, and that was Kevin Hayes. And we brought him down from Haverhill, Massachusetts, where he's from. And we assembled a whole bunch of these players all around Ithaca, New York, where there is a very lively old-time music scene [...] And that's when we started our first tour."
XX
The drive was Ketch's idea [...] Driving alone one night, crying, he says, he had a brainstorm, and the next day began assembling a band. He asked along Critter Fuqua, his best friend since seventh grade from Harrisonburg, Virginia, who had also just broken up with his girlfriend; and Willie, a native of upstate New York and a high-school dropout with the gorgeous voice of a pubescent Hank Williams; and Willie's friend, Ben Gould, who had just procured a stand-up acoustic bass; and an already-wandering folk singer Ketch had met while picking blueberries in Maine, Kevin Hayes, who brought his girlfriend (they were living in a van together). Ketch's painter friend, Jacob Hascup, would come along as a traveling companion and muse. They had a few hundred dollars between them. a big brown van, a rusted black Volvo with flame detailing, and a dog.
XX
Secor had the idea to join forces as a band, cut a quickie album and drive across Canada to the West Coast and back, selling CDs and playing on street corners for tips. Climbing into the big brown van were Secor, his grade-school buddy Critter Fuqua, upstate New Yorker Watson, his pal Ben Gould, wandering folkie Kevin Hayes, two non-playing friends and a dog.
XX
[KS]: The reaction from my peers was they all jumped on the road with me. We all rode off together. And the reaction from my parents was one of understanding. I think they figured that I would ramble around for a couple years and then come back and do something more like what they do. I think they could see in my cloud of dust that I wasn't coming back, that I would find a different way to be a teacher.
XX
[KS]: I think that we really wanted the outer reaches. We wanted that wild land. And also we didn't want any competition.
XX
After working for two weeks picking grapes for gas money, they gathered in Critter's bedroom to record an album that they could sell on the road-a cassette of ten songs, called Trans:mission. It was the first time they had all played together. "Kevin had never played old-time in his life," Ketch remembers. "Critter had been playing the banjo for, like, four months. And I was a shitty fiddler." The plan was to drive across the continent and earn their keep busking on the streets, playing for gas money and food.
XX
Secor and the band packed into three cars, stopped by the Onondaga Nation "for cheap cigarettes" and made their way to Canada for a cross-country tour. It was the band's first, and it was full of speed bumps from the get-go. "We tried three times to get into Canada," Secor said. "We kept getting rejected. Canada just wasn't that interested in letting in a renegade string band with Virginia plates."
XX
[T]heir very first tour began in Cornwall, Ontario, thanks to a little persistence at the border. "We tried three times," says Secor, "but we couldn't get across until the Akwesasne Mohawks got us through, in exchange for taking a few bags."
XX
[KS]: We bought a car, and slipped across the border in September
XX
Whether out of idealism or desperation, these boys set out to make Guthrie and Kerouac proud. But "We got kicked out of every border," Secor says as if he's still in the van doing that U-turn back home. "We tried four times to get across. Everyone turned us down, every fuckin' one of them! Until we got up to Akwesasene [Indian Reserve]. We found out all you had to do was pay off an Indian and you were an honourary Canadian." He pauses, then recalls with a tone that seems almost homesick, "They said, 'Come on man, come right through man.
We'll sell you Nintendo tapes, man. We'll bring you corn liquor man. Go up there and fuckin' scare those fuckers." That was our welcome wagon right there: corn liquor and Nintendo tapes. And then once we were in, man! Two dollar coinage?! People want to throw change. People don't want to throw bills. Bills are for service. Musicians are bums. But in Canada, thank God, they made the Toonie. It made it all possible."
XX
[KS]: We faced an early difficulty with the journey, which was that they wouldn't let us into Canada. We kept trying. We had been turned away from three border crossings in the state of New York to get into Ontario. I mean sometimes half of us would get across. At one point, we all got across, except for one guy whose arrest record came back up to haunt him.
But we got in and we went to Cornwall, Ontario. We played on the streets and we got a bar and it just started from there. The first kind of - Ottawa did us right. You know, we were rocking out there on the streets of the Farmer's Market.
XX
[They] left upstate New York and traveled 10,000 miles in three months in a van, playing on countless street corners, theaters, schools and honky-tonks
XX
[KS]: Took off to Canada for three months, with only a few scheduled shows, and we seemed to do okay. A lot of Irish pubs, they like that kind of stuff. We would just play for tips.
XX
"We used to really hobo it," explained Secor. "We had nowhere to stay and it wasn't really pre-planned. It was just us in Canada with some old cars and all of our junky instruments just unloading in some downtown in some town where there are some pedestrians moving around and playing for change and making so much that we were feeling really good and having great experiences being abroad. [...]
"There is something about in the streets of Canada & it was just so right. And of course, the thing that really helps is the coinage in Canada makes it very pro-busker because you don't have paper dollars, but everybody has loonies and toonies and people throw their change. In the US you give maybe a quarter to a bum, but in Canada they throw dollars at bums. I don't think the Americans would have been nearly as kind to us in that situation when those first couple of months were so critical to our surviving. It was a big help for a couple of bums like us. "
XX
"They have a two-dollar coin, which is what made it sweet," says OCMS multi-instrumentalist Ketch Secor. "Ottawa and Winnipeg were probably the most lucrative; you could make $1,000 in an afternoon, but you had to work like hell. Busking and begging has always been about coins. People like to throw change; bills don't toss."
XX
[KS]: "The street corner was really our gym or track where we could go out and just run and get our endurance and measure our strength against all of the forces out there from cops to drunks to people that steal from you. To be king of the street corner as a musician is a wonderful thing to strive to be. I never have felt in the clubs that there was anything that quite measures or compares to drawing a crowd on the street and how you work them with your music"
XX
[Interviewer]: So you would just drive from place to place, set up on a street corner and start to play?
[KS]: Yeah. It was a medicine show. That's how they did it. We wanted the authorities to approve. You know, the musical authorities from way back. We wanted to do it the right way.
[Interviewer]: Well, when you were bouncing around through Canada in these small towns, what sort of response were you getting from people when you would show up and start busking on the street corner?
[KS]: A really strong response. One in which people would go get their children or their parents or their friends and bring them out - drag them out. You gotta see this. There was kind of like a collective memory for when this happened in real time. When entertainment moved in packs across the country and came to your town from afar - just from somewhere else, from over the horizon line. They could tell that there was a spectacle to it that was something really special. It's like this music was really a part of the land itself that we were traversing.
XX
[KS]: The original line-up was like 8 or 9 pieces, with a painter doing portraits on the street corner, and a lady with an eye patch selling nick-nacks and stuff out of a suit case. But that was so much more than a band.
I miss that freedom of wild abandon on the road sometimes, and sleeping outdoors, you know, waking into the bars and trying to make some destiny happen. But I did it.
XX
"To Winnipeg, Saskatoon"
-Don't Ride That Horse
XX
[Ketch says the song] Don't Ride That Horse, tells the story of their Canadian adventure.
XX
Shortly after coming together, they packed up their banjo, upright bass, fiddles and harmonica into a beaten, exhaust-spewing van and pointed their compass north, drove past the border and right into the sleepy community of Cornwall, Ont., where they performed their second show ever in a grungy watering hole.
The boys received a warm reception. They continued on across Ontario to venues in Parry Sound, Wawa and Ottawa, where they were making up to $700 a day busking outside of a butcher shop in the city's farmers' market. Their gig on Manitoulin Island was unfortunately cancelled. "There was a stabbing in the bar the night before," explains frontman Ketch Secor, the band's vocalist and fiddler. "It was pretty hardcore up there."
XX
[T]he members first earned their chops together [...] playing places like markets in Ottawa and Winnipeg.
XX
When fiddle player Ketch Secor and his rag-tag string band sought to hone its old-timey sound, etched from the hollows of the Appalachians and the rags, reels and jigs of the Civil War era, there was only one true course of action: Travel hundreds of kilometres and hang out in the Byward Market.
It was early October 1998 when Secor's Old Crow Medicine Show turned up unannounced in Ottawa on what was unofficially dubbed the TransCanada Highway Tour, which also featured stops in Cornwall, Kitchener-Waterloo, Wawa and as far west as Winnipeg and Vancouver.
"We found our good spot on the corner near that old butcher shop, where they had this chalkboard sign on the sidewalk. We didn't have any chalk, so we wrote 'Old Crow Medicine Show' with an aspirin," recalls Secor, standing in the back alley behind Austin's famed Continental Club, where his band -- arguably Nashville's hottest musical commodity these days -- was getting ready for a recent gig.
"Thanksgiving was an important time to be in Ottawa, there was a real spirit of giving among its people," adds Secor in his subtle Virginian twang.
"Hell, we were livin' large in Ottawa for a while there, we made $700 on one Sunday. We took over the street in a manner that you really couldn't avoid, and we lure you in with this kind of sirenic quality you can't resist."
The group lived for a spell out of their three vehicles in a Bank Street parking lot -- near a liquor store, which Secor says was a key element to their success. They were able to score gigs at the Glue Pot and Molly McGuire's, but they spent their days raking in cash as buskers. Eventually, the five musicians and assorted hangers-on found a cheap hotel, near the closest Tim Horton's they could find, for the final few days of their stay.
"We came up there and pretty much just walked into joints to ask for a gig. Before then, I don't think any of us ever considered Ottawa as any kind of North American locale at all; it wasn't in our register. We had no idea such a cool place existed, where people loved this music."
XX
If it weren't for music fans in Ladysmith, British Columbia and Wawa, Ontario there might not be an Old Crow Medicine Show. The first true test of this band was to do the famous Trans Canada Highway Tour in 1998. The boys pushed off the tour by having their second show ever in Cornwall, Ontario and then continued to do shows all over that particular province. Guelph, Prairie Sound, Windsor, Ottawa, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Wawa are just a few cities where OCMS stopped on this whirlwind tour. Their experiences in Wawa actually inspired them so much that they named their first record "Greetings from Wawa".
[...] The band continued to do shows across Canada and busked their buns off for the folks at the Farmers Market in Ottawa and the Fork's Market in Winnipeg. At one point the band was making almost seven hundred dollars a day busking "We lived like KINGS in Ottawa! We all had girlfriends and thought we were going to live there," explains Ketch Secor, the frontman of OCMS.
XX
Fav. Temperature: 27 degrees, northern lights over Wawa Lake
[Ketch Secor's "Star Stats" on crowmedicine.com]
XX
Ketch fondly remembers waking up one early November morning in a hay field near the border of Manitoba and Ontario with frost on his bedroll. They drove in to Winnipeg that day and bought then usual groceries: lunch meat, cheese, white bread, mustard, peanuts, and a jug of water. They played all day and drank free coffee and made a hundred dollars, and a television crew stumbled upon them and put them on the six o'clock news. They spent the night at some college party, where a kid with a beard sang Phil Ochs songs and Ketch kissed a girl who'd seen him on TV. Three months of this, Ketch says, and they never went to bed hungry.
XX
[KS]: We didn't look back, right, and we weren't really a band, we were just on a trip. Nobody really thought, 'Hey, let's be a band for the next 14 years, and go travel across the world and make a lot of good records and have a lasting impression on the world.' No, it was, 'Man, let's get out of town. Let's go have some fun, let's go get into something. Let's go see if all this stuff that Woody and Bob talked about, let's see if it's still out there. Let's go see if the grand coolie dam is really as impressive as it sounds like in that song. Let's go see if there's any wild Indians left in South Dakota. And let's go see if music can open all the doors, if music can feed us, if music can clothe and shelter us.'
XX
"The most difficult gig I ever played with the O.C.M.S. was on the Pine Ridge Reservation (in South Dakota)," Secor remembers. "We played at Little Wounds High School, and it was the toughest crowd I've ever played to. Playing to Indian kids...it takes your breath away to play to these guys because there's so much angst in the crowd. Whenever you're playing for high school kids, there's lots of aggression, angst, confusion and all the shit that goes on with people of that age group. But when you're playing to the poorest kids in the poorest county in our country - they're the poorest socioeconomic group - and you've got a bunch of white guys trying to tell them about old time fiddle music, it was pretty rough. They spat on us. They blew up condoms, and they tossed them around like balloons. They took a dime and wrote things into the paint on our car."
"But at the same time," Secor continues, "there was a kid that came up to me after the show - a kid named Luke Brokenrope - who said that his grandfather was a fiddler, and that they come from a long line of square dance people and square dancing and fiddle music has been amalgamated into Indian culture since a long time ago - especially with Western Indians. The fiddle became an instrument that was widely used and played. But not anymore, these kids like rap music. But this guy remembered that we were part of bringing that circle back for this kid."
XX
[Ketch]: People like to dance. People like to cavort and drink, people like to get together. So if you've got the soundtrack to what people want to do, and you show up when they want to do it, then you've got yourself a job. And we've found that when we've played to six Indians in a bar in White Clay
XX
You know you're young, 19/20 years old, leaving home was part of the whole experience, leaving home and getting out on the road and going to a town you've never been to before, setting up on the street and seeing what was going to happen. I feel like I've been very fortunate, musically things have always been kind of fruitful for me. We'd get out on the street corners and we just worked so well, attracting these big crowds, and the cops would come and tell everyone they had to stay off the sidewalk, or tell us to move to the other side of town because we were blocking traffic. It was a great experience in that it worked, we never really found ourselves frustrated. It could be a cold day in October, in Canada, and we'd be making $800 on the street corner in three hours. It really helped us become better performers, getting people's attention and finding out what worked and what songs people liked. That's the thing, people are walking by and you have two seconds to get their attention. If they're walking by and you're playing the wrong song, then you lost them. You find what works and find what doesn't work, it really makes you a good performer. So our busking days set us up for what came up later and taught us how to put on a really successful live show.
XX
When the boys finally made it to the Pacific, they were asked to play with the house band of a newly created Internet radio show called Testing Testing on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. The Old Crow boys were ideal guests.
XX
"It felt the right kind of time to be crossing North America when our band was formed," Ketch explains. "We set out like a circus, and just set up on a street corner and start playing; every time you met people and somebody had a party, or knew a bar that would hire you. We've played everything from retirement homes, to Indian reservations to package stores, everywhere that could be played," he reflects without irony. "We were a nine piece with three different cars at one point. We'd pull over and sleep at the side of the road and someone might go ahead and try and set something up in the next town. There was a lot of walking into bars and saying, "We're here! You didn't know that you booked a string band from Virginia and Texas, but you did and we're here." It was like the Blues Brothers showing up in that chicken house and I don't know if it would work now; there were no web pages or social media outlets to build up hype and hysteria, just you on a street corner. No posters, no stage."
XX
The tour took them back to the US after which they looped up to Canada again once they hit Washington State. They took up a residency at the Cannabis Cafe on Hastings St. in Vancouver and then headed over to Vancouver Island where they performed more unforgettable shows. Even today the folks of Ladysmith, British Columbia are still talking about the legends that are Old Crow Medicine Show.
XX
The boys made it home for Christmas [1998]


Last edited by The whistle knows my name on Sat Jul 29, 2017 6:20 pm; edited 1 time in total

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The whistle knows my name
Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 7:06 pm Reply with quote
Thousandaire Joined: 21 Apr 2008 Posts: 1013
https://www.flickr.com/photos/150786013@N04/35068355694/in/dateposted-public/

I've linked to a map with places they visited bulleted to give a better sense of the geography.

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"That's the whole principle of the Medicine Show ... you put your trust in the medicine, and you don't get beat up."
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gwrap
Posted: Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:04 am Reply with quote
Charlie Joined: 28 Oct 2004 Posts: 895 Location: Stankonia, GA
Good stuff. I like the map! I never knew exactly where they went.

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