LIVE: Old Crow Medicine Show – Mandela Hall, Belfast

 The Nashville-based septet return to Belfast as part of the Open House Festival at Queens to bring a little bit of country to the Mandela Hall on this stormy Tuesday evening.

The night kicks off with Parker Millsap and his band, made up of Michael Rose and Daniel Foulks, who bring their own Oklahoma groove to the steadily filling venue. Millsap does not hesitate to launch into the first song, demanding the crowd’s attention with his impressive vocals. Once the opening numbers are out of the way and brief introductions have been made (we learn that Rose was once the winner of beautiful baby contest and Foulks is the only college graduate on stage) Millsap introduces us to one of the tracks off their new album, ‘Quite Contrary’. He jokes that the song aims to ruin story book characters for everyone but with an infectious beat and clever lyrics it proves a huge crowd pleaser and definitely succeeds in getting the crowd ready for the headliners.

With the venue now filled up nicely, Old Crow Medicine Show take to the stage. All seven members immediately start playing in unbelievable unison allowing the crowd to get lost in their incredibly tight harmonies and unique bluegrass tones. The sheer speed and vigour that they play with is like nothing I have ever seen before. Each member of the band appears to be having the time of their lives, which is confirmed during ‘Hard To Tell’ when Cory Younts downs his instrument and breaks into a dance which can only be described as a combination of River, Irish and Line Dancing. As he tries to retrieve his instrument to join in with the rest of the song, one of the Crew starts playing his part for him provoking a huge cheer from the audience.

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With almost every song, the members of the band switch places and instruments creating an exceptional performance that is effortless to enjoy. Ketch Sector appears to be leading things, as he provides most of the chat between songs. He exclaims that there is ‘a little hillbilly’ in all of us and that it was time to play some ‘hillbilly music’. This does not disappoint the crowd who are right there with OCMS through every fiddle and banjo solo. The band seem genuinely happy to back playing Belfast as Sector shouts to the crowd, ‘Do you want play to Belfast? Then you better have two fiddles’.

Platinum award winning ‘Wagon Wheel’ allows for the biggest sing-a-long of the night closely followed by a song that had been drafted earlier that day while sheltering behind a dumpster, with the crowd shouting ‘Fine Girl You Are’ with every prompt from Sector. Although sometimes it feels like each member of the band are racing each other to finish a song, there are plenty of slower numbers among the set list to enjoy, no more so than during the beautiful ‘Warden’ which they perform ‘Just like it was done in days gone by on the Emerald Isle’, stripped back and centre stage.

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To finish things off, OCMS are joined on stage by Parker Millsap and his band to play their own versions of Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’ and Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’. Both covers are lapped up by the audience and as the final bows are made, the applause can be heard well after the bands have left the stage. Pamela Anderson, GiggingNI.com