When the Rollings Stones played the Halifax Commons in September, 2006, Mick Jagger impressed the crowd by using the term “Haligonian,” and even pronouncing “Newfoundland” correctly. Forty years into his career, the rock superstar still had the professionalism to get every local concert detail exactly right.
I have never seen an effort to sprinkle a touring show with meaningful local references to match what Old Crow Medicine Show frontman Ketch Secor displayed last night at the Nashville-based, alt-bluegrass band’s Membertou show in Sydney.
“It’s intimidating to play the violin in a city that has a 60-foot-high statue of one,” Secor told the crowd. “You see the cop on the corner and you wonder, ‘Does he play the fiddle?’ You get talking with the crossing guard and ask, ‘Do you play the fiddle?’ What about the guy painting lines down the middle of the street, does he play?”
“Then you start to wonder, “Do I play the fiddle… well enough?”
(He does. Secor’s pyrotechnic style is a cross between Ashley MacIsaac and the Leahy Family Band.)
Early in the show, Secor described an obviously fictitious drive he claimed to have taken through rural Cape Breton, throwing in half a dozen local place names.
“You got hillbillies up here?” he asked. “Where do they live? Victoria County? Well here’s a song for all the hillbillies out in Victoria County.”
In introducing the George Jones song, “Tennessee Whiskey,” Secor illustrated the Texas crooner’s universal appeal by noting that Scooter Jim, a fixture of downtown Sydney’s streetscape, had been humming a Jones tune earlier that afternoon.
Advance work can’t give you these little telling details. You can only get them by taking the trouble to walk around the city and chat up everyone you meet.
Toward the end of the show, the band played a song with the same verse structure as “We are an Island,” and before you knew it, they had inserted the chorus — words all correct, air slightly askew — into their own song.
We are an island, a rock in the stream
We are a people, as proud as there’s been
In soft summer breeze or in wild winter wind
Home of our hearts, Cape Breton
The crowd, naturally, went berserk, as the refrain repised half a dozen times.
As in Halifax, a series of encore tunes ended with a letter-perfect a capella rendition of “Barrett’s Privateers.”
Attention young musicians: Want to make an impression on the road? Take a few notes from Old Crow’s fakebook.