Old Crow Medicine Show

A Mandela Hall gig from the American folk stalwarts is 'as fiery as a belly full of moonshine'

Opening tonight’s hootenanny at Mandela Hall is Johnnyswim, a stripped back folk duo consisting of singer-songwriters Amanda Sudano (daughter of disco legend Donna Summer) and Abner Ramirez.

Although tenderly accompanied by Ramirez’s guitar, the real attraction here is the soaring Appalachia-inspired vocals from both parties, cosily easing an eager audience into the evening. While the songs are far removed from her mother’s dance-floor fillers, Sudano has inherited powerful pipes, giving the performance a soulful twist.

From the moment Open House Festival favourites Old Crow Medicine Show take to the stage, they have the revved up audience eating out of their hands, their bluegrass-tinged brand of Tennessee folk as fiery as a belly full of moonshine, and even more fun.

Clearly their reputation as the premier purveyors of old-time pickin’ precedes them, with a sold out crowd singing and stomping along to ‘Alabama High Test’, the group’s ode to hi-octane marijuana.

Although effortlessly switching between instruments at the drop of a hat, a core backbone of drums, fiddle, double bass, banjo, harmonica, guitjo and guitar make up the seven-strong outfit, who prove that southern hospitality is alive and well.

Frontman Ketch Secor announces early on that ‘it is a pleasure and a privilege to be back in Belfast’. Of course the audience respond in kind with their own style of Northern Irish hospitality, gleefully hooting and hollering.

Breakout single ‘Wagon Wheel’ makes an early appearance and, although covered by all and sundry (including Fermanagh-based country singer, Nathan Carter), the song loses none of its appea,l with the Bob Dylan-penned chorus remaining as catchy as ever.

Full of boundless energy and seemingly much younger than their sound, OCMS tear through hits ‘Down Home Girl’, ‘Cocaine Habit’ and traditional blues staple ‘C.C. Rider’.

At one point a furious duelling fiddle instrumental finishes up with some Status Quo style theatrics, Ketch Secor and Chance McCoy swinging their bow arms and leaning back to back. Despite being part of a genre where being ‘the real deal’ matters too much to too many, for Old Crow it is clearly all about their love of the music.

Songs from their forthcoming fifth album are previewed and met with roars of approval, and even broken double-bass string leaves the band undeterred. After all, these are the old hands who continued playing through a power cut at their premier Belfast appearance, some five years ago.

The crowd are delighted with the band’s between-song references to ‘driving around Ballymena with a bottle of Paddy’s whisky in a yellow Opel’ (they’ve clearly done their homework) and an encore of ‘Dirty Old Town’ proves that these musicians know their audience.

With the support act brought back on stage to join in the finale, Old Crow Medicine Show live up to their reputation as real Southern gents as they bow and exit the stage. There is, however, one last treat for those hungry to keep the hoedown going, with UK roots group CC Smugglers playing an impromptu set on the steps of the Students Union – guerrilla busking at its best.

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