Old Crow Medicine Show benefits from new blood
Summer is rapidly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to catch some big outdoor concerts around the Finger Lakes region. That includes the double bill of acclaimed honky-tonker Dwight Yoakam and Americana favorites Old Crow Medicine Show, who will perform at CMAC in Canandaigua on Saturday night.
Since forming in Ithaca in 1998, Old Crow Medicine Show has seen a constantly changing cast of musicians, all rotating around founding member and bandleader Ketch Secor. But each new member has brought something fresh to the band, including multi-instrumentalist Mason Via, a native of North Carolina who joined the group in early 2021.
Via (rhymes with “sky”) just turned 25, which means he’s only slightly older than the band itself.
“That's the kind of the running, ongoing joke,” he said in a recent phone interview. “There's like a couple months difference between us.”
Despite his relative youth, Via fit right into the Old Crow lineup, which also includes Mike Harris, Morgan Jahnig, Jerry Pentecost, and Cory Younts in addition to Secor. The son of bluegrass musician and composer David Via, he grew up attending concerts and festivals up and down the east coast, including the GrassRoots Festival in Trumansburg – which Old Crow played at in 2001-2003.
That enabled Via to quickly find common ground with Secor when he auditioned for the band.
“When I met him, we talked for a while and then jammed on old-time songs for an hour,” Via remembered. “And then we talked a little more, and he kept asking me all these questions about my musical influences. We realized that we had this very similar trajectory, maybe 20 years in between each other, but with a lot of the same musical influences. All the fiddler conventions and festivals, and all these other people both influenced us, and it's pretty cool to get to be in a band with someone who I share that much commonality with.”
Of course, Old Crow itself had a major impact on Via’s musical development, especially the band’s 2008 album, “Tennessee Pusher.”
“That came out when I just started playing guitar, and ‘Highway Halo’ and others from that album were some of the first songs I learned,” he said, “so it was a huge influence on me.”
He added: “It’s kind of funny because I grew up in a bluegrass household – my father is an award-winning bluegrass musician -- but I wasn't into it. I had this idea that bluegrass was kind of for hillbillies and rednecks. And then through Old Crow, Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers – that whole movement – I started to realize that this stuff is cool, that young people are doing it with a punk-rock attitude, and so that's what got me into wanting to learn traditional bluegrass and old-time music.”
Via joined Old Crow in early 2021, shortly after he had made it to the Round of 24 of “American Idol.” His first gig with the group was at the hallowed Grand Ole Opry in May 2021. But due to the pandemic, he had never actually played with the whole band to that point, or even its massive hit, “Wagon Wheel.”
“I was worried sick about the whole thing, honestly,” he said. “But the cool thing about the Grand Ole Opry is that you only play a couple songs, so it's a great kind of first gig. The other guys, they're all like, ‘Oh, we've done it a million times,’ so it was just another gig to them. But I'm like, ‘People dream their whole life to be on this stage,’ so it was a huge deal.
“The first time we ever played together was on that stage, but after everybody started standing up and singing along with ‘Wagon Wheel,’ that's when I started to realize like, ‘Wow, this is gonna be a wild ride playing with this band.’ And it's just been mesmerizing this whole past year and a half.”
Via contributed a variety of instrumental and vocal parts to Old Crow’s latest album, the raucous and eclectic “Paint This Town,” which the band recorded and co-produced with Matt Ross-Spang at their newly built Hartland Studio in East Nashville.
“That was so much fun to jump into the studio, get to know the guys and record an album, and then go out and tour it right away,” he said. That included a gig at Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette, New York, on August 25, 2021.
The band has already recorded its next album, which should come out in 2023. “I got to help write about half the songs for this album and got to sing a lead vocal on it,” Via said. “It’s a lot more down to the Old Crow roots, whereas this past one was a little more rock and roll. So that was really fun for me.”
IF YOU GO
Who: Old Crow Medicine Show and Dwight Yoakam
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27.
Where: Constellation Brands–Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center (CMAC), 3355 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua, New York.
Cost: $25-$65, available online here.