On February 19th, 2012, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival founder and venture capitalist Warren Hellman’s life and legacy were celebrated at a special event on a pair of stages in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, with musicians paying tribute to the “hillbillionaire” philanthropist who died in late 2011. Performers included Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Buddy Miller, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Robert Earl Keen.
But another recent passing that year was recognized by performers Old Crow Medicine Show. Just eight days earlier, the death of singer Whitney Houston at 48 years old rocked the music community.
As expected, Dolly Parton — the writer of Houston’s biggest-selling single — paid tribute, as did others in country music, but perhaps none quite as reverently as Old Crow Medicine Show. Their somber, acoustic rendition of Houston’s 1987 floor-filler, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” turned the modern tune a slow-moving old-time classic, substituting heartache, banjo and mandolin for synthesized beats and Houston’s playful vocals.
The Whitney tribute came just ahead of the group’s 2013 platinum-selling single, “Wagon Wheel,” which would go on to even greater success when it was covered by Darius Rucker. Later in 2013, OCMS became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Another of the songs the group has covered sticks a lot closer to their country roots. In 2013 they included Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight” on their “Carry Me Back to Virginia” single.