Roots revivalists: Old Crow Medicine Show brings string band sound to Alaska’s Salmonfest

In the 25 years since its forming, Old Crow Medicine Show has helped usher in a 21st century revival in roots music.

Along with contemporaries like the Avett Brothers and Rhiannon Giddens, the band helped bring Americana to the mainstream musical lexicon.

With its upcoming album, “Jubilee,” the band gives a nod to that quarter century and returns to the traditional string band sound it was founded on.

“This is a really, really fun album,” band multi-instrumentalist Cory Younts said. “We’ve gone back to some roots with this one — some old-school stuff.”

The record, which is set to drop later this month, includes guest appearances from Mavis Staples and founding member Willie Watson, who left the band in 2011.

It also includes a collaboration with Sierra Ferrell. Ferrell and Old Crow are co-headliners for this year’s Salmonfest, Friday through Sunday in Ninilchik.

Aside from the headliners, 2023 Salmonfest includes national acts like The Burroughs and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. It also features some of Alaska’s favorite bands, like Medium Build, H3, Blackwater Railroad Company and Hope Social Club.


Check out our Spotify playlist of artists performing at Salmonfest 2023

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OCMS recorded the album at Hartland Studios, the East Nashville space it purchased in early 2020.

“We got it in February 2020 and we thought, ‘This will be great. We’ll be on the road and have a construction company in there to build it how we want,’ ” Younts said. “Of course everything hit the fan and it turned into ‘Does everyone still have a toolbelt and remember how to drywall?’ ”

The band first caught national recognition with their debut studio album in 2004. The self-titled record included “Wagon Wheel,” which became a major hit for the band and garnered an even greater audience when Darius Rucker released a cover of the song in 2013.

The band has taken musical diversions over the years, experimenting with music tinged with rock and honky-tonk.

“We’ve always considered ourselves an old-time string band, regardless of what we kind of progressed into,” Younts said. “First and foremost, we still can do all the traditional stuff and we still enjoy doing that, by all means.”

“Bell Meade Cockfight” is the name of the “Jubilee” song Ferrell was a guest on. A recently released video for the song features Ferrell and OCMS hamming it up as toy dinosaurs face off in the fight instead of roosters.

Ferrell has also made a name for herself in roots music, with a sound that rambles through country, jazz and folk and a voice that summons the classic songs of those genres from the early 20th century.

Launched in 2011 as Salmonstock, the festival has established itself as a major advocacy outlet for wild salmon and salmon habitat. It’s had a few recent updates, most notably the addition of a fourth major concert venue, the amphitheater style River Stage.

This year’s festival will feature 60 bands, more than 100 vendors and a daily kids program. Presale tickets for the festival are sold out.

OCMS had been invited to play the festival before, but the timing was right to make a trip north this year.

“Myself, (bassist) Morgan Jahnig and (frontman) Ketch Secor decided we really wanted to go,” Younts said. “We’ve had a lot friends from Nashville who have been to it many times and said it’s just a blast. A few of us are fishermen so I’m dying to get up there.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.