Old Crow Medicine Show on ‘Blonde on Blonde’ at Belly Up Aspen

Old Crow Medicine Show will headline Belly Up Aspen on Saturday, May 13.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Old Crow Medicine Show performing ‘Blonde on Blonde’

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Saturday, May 13, 9:30 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

More info:

Last spring at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Old Crow Medicine Show honored the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” with a live performance of the entire epic Nashville-recorded double album.

Though the string band thought it was a one-time thing, the ecstatic reception of their thoughtful and spirited reinterpretation gave birth to an enthralling live album — released April 28 — and a hotly anticipated 26-date national tour that comes to Belly Up Aspen on Saturday.

The band will play its reimagined version album straight through, from the “everybody must get stoned” singalong of “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” to the dense Dadaist poetry of “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

“Somewhere in our collective brain, the whole album was there,” explained Critter Fuqua, Old Crow’s slide guitarist and co-founder.

Fuqua and singer Ketch Secor first bonded over “Blonde on Blonde” when they were in junior high school together. The whole band all knew the album intimately. Figuring out how to play it and put an Old Crow stamp on it, however, took work and extensive rehearsals.

“Only Bob Dylan can deliver it like he did in the studio, and if we did it verbatim like Bob did it would be pretty boring,” Fuqua said. “The Country Music Hall of Fame asked us to do it our way. So it’s one of those organic things where we get together and it starts coming together and we decided to speed up some songs, and give a country honky-tonk feel to some. It just kind of flowed.”

The Hall of Fame show was an instant sensation — a crowd-pleaser both for the Dylan faithful and Old Crow’s hard-core following. They morphed “Just Like a Woman” into a country ballad, made “Obviously Five Believers” into a bootstomping fiddle tune and picked up the tempo on the seemingly unapproachable “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

Dylan himself, of course, has been doing sundry cover versions of his own songs for decades — from the punk rock-inflected versions on “Hard Rain” to the unrecognizable piano — and mumble-driven takes he’s doing these days. The members of Old Crow assiduously avoided studying Dylan’s own reinterpretations of himself when they were working on their “Blonde on Blonde.”

“We just did it,” Fuqua said. “We charted out the stuff and got the chords and lyrics down. We sat down and tooled around and decided what would be cool to do for the song.”

They did listen to the original repeatedly to understand the lyrics — so many tightly packed and maybe chosen-at-random lyrics from the Nobel laureate, lyrics where infinity stands trial and jewels and binoculars hang from the head of a mule.

“It’s tricky,” Fuqua said. “And I think Bob was flying by the seat of his pants while he was recording it. If we don’t get all the lyrics right, unless there’s some Dylanologist in the audience, we’ll be OK.”

Of course, every Dylan fan has their personal favorites from “Blonde on Blonde.” Fuqua most likes playing the Old Crow version of “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine,” on which he gets to play drums. Here in Aspen, the longtime home of the late Hunter S. Thompson, many are partial to “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” for its prominent and repeated usage in the narrative of Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Fuqua said the band, if they do encores, may play Dylan songs from other albums or some Old Crow material.

The two-time Grammy-winning group was linked to Dylan long before this musical adventure. The band’s breakout hit, and signature song, 2004’s “Wagon Wheel,” was expanded from an improvised Dylan fragment in the outtakes from on “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” Ketch Secor wrote that song as a Dylan-obsessed teenager. The band also got a gift from Dylan’s manager three years ago, when he sent Old Crow Dylan’s incomplete song “Sweet Amarillo” and asked them to finish it.

Despite those connections and the Country Music Hall of Fame accolades — and, unsurprisingly, given Bob Dylan’s enduring shroud of mystery — the members of Old Crow have never met Dylan.

The “Blonde on Blonde” project emerged while Old Crow was in the middle of finishing a new album in spring 2016. They’re planning to release it this fall. Fuqua was unsure of how the band’s extended adventure with “Blonde on Blonde” might influence the new record.

But, he added, Dylan is always casting his shadow: “Dylan is always going to be some kind of influence on everything.”

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