by John Tarpley
One of the greatest stories of recent bluegrass lore went down in 2007, when the hard-line traditionalists of the Mountain View Bluegrass Festival booted Cadillac Sky, a moderately forward-thinking hill music act, from their festival for being progressive to the point of being, apparently, offensive.
Now, keeping the rustic sound of bluegrass pure is, in its own way, a noble effort and one that shouldn't go unappreciated. Unfortunately for purists, a nation of dirty youngsters are rapidly changing the face of bluegrass music. Even in a bluegrass stronghold like Arkansas, one of our state's greatest acts is a mohawked, Dexadrine-hearted act called Cletus Got Shot. Nationally, the movement is even larger and no one typifies the face of the new old like Nashville's beloved Old Crow Medicine Show. Since finding national notoriety in 2004 with the release of its signature tune, "Wagon Wheel" (a cover of an incomplete, oft-bootlegged Bob Dylan song written for the soundtrack of "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid"), Old Crow has cracked away at the rural landscape with Highwaymen harmonies, a Woody Guthrie ramble and a set of influences spanning the distance from Earl Scruggs to Public Enemy.
And now, the collective is enjoying enormous success, sharing "Austin City Limits" duty with Lucinda Williams, performing regularly on "A Prairie Home Companion" and, if dorm rooms are anything like they were when I called them home, providing an all-but-constant hum on college campuses everywhere. My mandolin-playing buddy John, who, like the rest of his family, is no stranger to bluegrass festivals, once played Old Crow for his dad, who scrunched his face and said, "That ain't how Bill played it." Mr. Monroe may not have played it that way, but, more than likely, our kids will.