NORTH ADAMS — It's a little hard to believe, but Chris "Critter" Fuqua, the talented banjo and slide guitar player for Old Crow Medicine Show, wasn't really a country or bluegrass fan growing up.
"No, I was a real metalhead," he said in a recent phone interview. "The first band I really started listening to was Guns and Roses. But I think growing up, I was really just following pop culture, because I also started listening to Nirvana and Talking Heads. And then I got into Chuck Berry. It wasn't one genre."
Fuqua brings his band, Old Crow Medicine Show, to the FreshGrass Festival this weekend at Mass MoCA. While there are some heavy hitters that include Ricky Scaggs and Carlene Carter in the festival lineup, it's the Medicine Show that will be headlining on Saturday night, with a set beginning tentatively at 9:10.
Like many artists, Fuqua resists traditional labels, although he acknowledges that his band has been termed a both "country" band and a "Bluegrass" group.
"When I need a short answer, I say we're a 'country' band," he said. "But labels are more for people who want to describe us. I think we're very far from a Bluegrass band, for instance."
In addition to Fuqua, members of the band include Chance McCoy, guitar, fiddle, banjo; Kevin Hayes, guitar, vocals; Morgan Jahnig, upright bass; Cory Younts, mandolin, keyboards, drums and Ketch Secor, fiddle, harmonica, banjo, vocals.
When the Nashville-based string band started performing as Old Crow Medicine Show in 1998, Fuqua recalled that, even in their early home base of North Carolina, "there weren't a lot of people doing what we did.
"Yeah, when we started, there were a couple of older musicians playing the kind of stuff we played," he said. "I think it's fair to say people weren't doing what we were doing, at least with the energy and intensity of our live act.
"There were a couple guys," continued Fuqua. "I remember a guy named Two-Gun Terry, an older guy, who was on the same page. But by and large, the bands down there were doing Top 40 radio-friendly Country music."
In 2000, the group got its big break, after moving to Nashville. They snagged a four-minute slot on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Although they only had a four-minute slot, their original tune, "Tear It Down," earned them a standing ovation and a call for an encore.
The band's furious live show earned them considerable support from the musical community in Nashville. And in 2013, Old Crow Medicine Show was asked to officially join the Grand Ole Opry.
Fuqua admits that it took a while for the "Old Crow" sound to really catch on.
"Well, when we started out, we weren't really that good," he admitted. "It took a while. A lot of practice and a lot of gigs. But I will say this: We always knew we had something special."
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.
If you go
What: FreshGrass Music Festival, more than 50 bands playing throughout the weekend
When: Friday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Sept. 18. Performances times vary
Where: MASS MoCA, 87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass.
Cost: Adult: three-day pass $99, Friday pass $39, Saturday or Sunday pass $60; Child, 7-16: three-day pass $46, Friday pass $19, Saturday or Sunday pass $29
Information: For complete list of performers and times, visit freshgrass.com