Touring is much different -- and much more enjoyable -- now for Critter Fuqua, a founding member of the iconic old-time bluegrass band Old Crow Medicine Show.
Having rejoined the band last year after a five-year, self-imposed hiatus that saw Fuqua, a Virginia native, check himself into a Texas rehab facility for alcoholism then complete college at nearby Schreiner University, Fuqua said his outlook on playing concerts has changed.
"It feels brand new now," Fuqua said by phone from Asheville, N.C. "Back then, I was miserable and I was drinking a lot and now I'm sober. I realized at a certain point that it's really about what's going on inside of a person and not outside that matters. Now, I love touring. I get to see so many new and beautiful places. It's a blast."
The transition from rehab inpatient/college student to again joining a popular band wasn't entirely seamless, but Fuqua said it didn't take him long to again find his place in the band he helped form in the late 1990s.
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"When I came back, it had been four or five years since I'd been on a stage so I had to learn all of the new songs and re-learn some of the songs that I wrote but it was a lot like riding a bike," Fuqua said. "As far as my vocals go, I mean I'm not exactly (Luciano) Pavarotti or Barbara Streisand, but it took some practice to get back to where I was. It's a muscle like anything else and when it hasn't been used or worked for five years, it can atrophy a little."
On Saturday, Fuqua and Old Crow Medicine Show will headline the Seventh annual First Flush FesTEAval at Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island.
Fuqua talks about "Wagon Wheel," Darius Rucker and the resurgence of folk and bluegrass music.
Question. "Wagon Wheel" has become such an iconic song for your band. How did that song come together?
Answer. I'd gotten a (Bob) Dylan bootleg in like ninth grade and I let (band co-founder) Ketch (Secor) listen to it, and he wrote the verses because Bob kind of mumbles them and that was it. We've been playing that song since we were like 17, and it's funny because we've never met Dylan, but the song is technically co-written by Bob Dylan. What's great about "Wagon Wheel" is that it has grown organically. The popularity of it was all based on word of mouth. There was no radio airplay for it. We made a music video for it, but it wasn't "November Rain" or anything. No one was like, "Oh my God, what's this video about?" And 16 years later, it went gold, then Darius Rucker cut it.
Q. Do you like his version of the song?
A. I love it. He actually played with us at (The Grand Ole) Opry, and it was great. I think he sees something special in that song and understands it. He's a country music fan and, more than that, he just loves music and loves playing. I'm really glad he cut the track. It's been good for him and good for us, but I'm just waiting for the time when people come up to me and say, "I love when you guys played that Darius Rucker cover." (laughs)
Q. Bluegrass and folk music is enjoying a resurgence right now. As a band who has been playing that music all along, how does that feel?
A. We've always felt like we were standing on the shoulders of giants and other artists who came before us and we've always felt really blessed to be able to do what we love and play the kind of music we love, and that it's become more popular has been really cool. We're opening for Mumford & Sons and Avett Brothers, and it's amazing to have bands like that acknowledge us as an influence. We were just doing our thing and never thought we'd be around long enough to be an influence on anyone. It's cool what Mumford and Avett Brothers and The Lumineers have been able to do. They give the music a pop sensibility that is a little more radio-friendly.
Q. Are you working on new material now?
A. We've been writing a lot and working on a lot of new stuff. We're barely at the demo stage now, so I have no idea when there might be a new album or albums from us. We're just enjoying touring and playing together right now.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.
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