Christopher “Critter” Fuqua played his final show as a member of the iconic string band Old Crow Medicine Show at the band’s annual New Year’s Eve performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville Tuesday night. The show was partly a celebration of Critter’s contributions to the band over the last 21-plus years as a founding member, singer, and multi instrumentalist, often found behind the banjo, but also playing guitar and other instruments upon occasion.
Almost immediately after Old Crow had wrapped up the performance, Rolling Stone Country published some prepared statements from both Critter, and co-founder Ketch Secor, assuring the public there was no drama behind the separation, but also not providing any real explanation of why Critter was departing the band, or what his plans were for the future.
“Leaving Old Crow is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make,” Fuqua said. “These men that I’ve played with for 21 years are not only band mates but dear, dear friends, brothers in arms. Old Crow is more than a band, it’s a spiritual being with many entities that have flowed through it since its inception in 1998. It’s my path that I flow out again, but all the folks that have played with Old Crow, worked with Old Crow, managed Old Crow, booked Old Crow, and loved Old Crow will always be family. Family is eternal.”
Ketch Secor added, “I first started making music with Critter in the 7th grade. We bonded over roots music, taught ourselves to play traditional instruments, and began writing songs. Together, we have lived our musical dreams, traveling the world with fiddles and banjos as co-founders of Old Crow. Over the past 20 years OCMS has seen numerous lineup changes, all part of the rotating cast of talents we’ve been honored to share the stage with. Critter’s voice will always be a part of Old Crow Medicine Show and we wish him love and luck on this next leg of his journey.”
But this only tells part of the story. As Old Crow aficionados will tell you, Critter Fuqua was absent from Old Crow Medicine Show performances for the majority of 2019, aside from shows in and around Nashville where Critter now considers home. In a video posted on April 17th, 2019, Ketch Secor asks Critter sarcastically, “What are you gonna do with your life ?!?” Critter explains, “I’m not going to be on the road with the boys, but I will be rocking metropolitan Davidson County … at Bonnaroo … I’ll be doing Opry gigs, and The Ryman.”
Critter’s departure from the band as a touring member also ushered in the appearance of Charlie Worsham who was fulfilling many of the parts previously played by Critter. Worsham began playing with the band in late May, including on an extensive summer tour. Worsham also played with the band at the New Year’s Eve show at the Ryman. When Saving Country Music reported on Worsham joining the band in August, he said,
“I am having a blast touring with OCMS this year, filling in with the guys the way Vince Gill tours with the Eagles, or John Mayer tours with the Grateful Dead. The shows are a blast, and OCMS has reconnected me to styles of music I haven’t had a chance to play publicly since adolescence. But first and foremost, I am continuing my journey on the scenic route to solo country music career success. I have been writing for my 3rd record for over two years now, and I will be making that record as soon as it’s ready to be made.”
Well-known Nashville-based drummer Jerry Pentecost has also been playing and touring with Old Crow Medicine Show recently, including appearing at the the New Years Eve Ryman show.
But this isn’t the first time Critter Fuqua has left the band. In 2007, Critter left after what he characterized as a “pretty rough” tour of Europe, and alcohol was beginning to consume his life. After landing in Newark, New Jersey, he rented a car and drove home to Virginia.
“I just couldn’t stop drinking, but the lightbulb was kind of starting to come on,” Critter explained in an interview in August, 2019. “One of my buddies in the band told me, ‘I just don’t want you to die,’ and he said it very clearly and very honestly. So I left Virginia and drove down to Texas, where I was staying at my parents’ house, still drinking. I remember my dad showing up at a bar where I was drinking, just following me and trying to get me not to drink. There was this great guy, this Native American, who had gone to a treatment center in the hill country of Texas, and he told me to go there.”
Critter admitted himself to the La Hacienda treatment center in Kerrville, Texas, not too far from his parents in San Antonio, and worked on becoming sober. After treatment, he lived in a sober house, and enrolled in Schreiner University in Kerrville, studying English and history. Through this time, Old Crow Medicine Show soldiered on without Critter until 2011 when Willie Watson left, and the band announced an “indefinite hiatus.” Then in 2012, Critter and Ketch Secor reconnected for a duo tour, new members began to come on board, and before you knew it, Old Crow Medicine Show was at it again with its two founding members.
On January 1st, 2019, Chance McCoy announced he would no longer be with the band after six years, and has since been pursuing a solo career, just like Willie Watson.
“The band’s changed again, and now there are a couple of guys who are doing solo stuff, and we just, you know, roll with the changes,” Critter said in August. “I tend to think in black-and-white terms, but I’m trying to let that be what it is. For me, my life outside of the band is a good one. I do a lot of writing and reading; I’ve got a heavy metal side project; and I’m a total nerd who plays Dungeons and Dragons.”
As Critter Fuqua explains, life as a sober touring musician can be difficult, and it makes sense that he would want to stay close to home more, which also must be hard for Old Crow Medicine Show to have to fill that void when they hit the road. Critter’s interests also appear to have evolved. His heavy metal project is called Spectral Evidence, and was just as interested in rock and metal when he first met the more roots-influenced Ketch Secor in 7th Grade in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Old Crown Medicine Show’s lineup has always been somewhat fluid, and a proving ground for talent. 21 years in, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and considered by many to be the house band of Nashville, Old Crow Medicine Show is now an institution, and one that Ketch Secor is the seminal member and frontman of. But Old Crow Medicine Show is bigger than any one player. Critter Fuqua may return again someday, or he may not. But Old Crow Medicine Show will still be Old Crow Medicine Show. And Critter Fuqua’s contributions will never fade in memory.