A few days ago, I sat down with Ketch Secor, author, musician, and lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show, curious about what he had in mind for his talk with TEDxNashville at this year’s event, March 2.
His house has that turn-of-the-century Nashville charm. We sat in a room filled with his kids’ toys, colored-pencil art, and a pandemonium of instruments: several guitars, a piano, a banjo, a couple of fiddles, and a ukulele/banjo he said a rapper friend from Paris gave him a couple years back. I had just listened to him rehearse his TEDx talk, and it was really captivating. The story, yes, but also the uniqueness in his delivery.
I asked him once about the moment he decided to do a TEDx talk. We ask a lot of our speakers this question because it helps us as speaker coaches understand their state of mind as they prepare. Some speaker say things like, I was at work when I got a phone call. Some say, I was at home and then I started jumping up and down and couldn’t believe it! Ketch was somewhere in between: “I was sitting here by my very fake fire,” he said, “next to my very real pet mouse when I got your email.”
I noticed the mouse when I visited him the first time. He was right. It was quite real and looked pretty cozy in the study on that rainy morning.
On advice from a mutual friend, I had reached out to discuss him speaking on the TEDxNashville stage. I knew who he was (okay, I knew his band) so at the very least I figured it was worth a conversation. But it didn’t take long for me to become a believer. There is more than artistry and musical fame to Ketch: he has an open soul, fascinating to witness.
I was just starting to get used to some of his more curious ways when I introduced him to my fellow speaker coaches during rehearsals.
“He’s kind of like a country music Mary Poppins.”
That was the gut reaction of Alyson, one of our speaker committee leaders, and I can totally see it. Ketch is affable, intelligent, and enigmatic.
TED means something different to every speaker but for all of them, it’s a lot of work. So I was curious, what was his motivation was to do this?
“I’m a musician,” he replied, “so my fly-wheel of inspiration is always spinning so long as the birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing.”
Another question I like to ask TEDx speakers when I’m working with them is, “What’s your favorite TED Talk?” For Ketch, that would be one by Bill Strickland called “Rebuilding a neighborhood with beauty, dignity, hope.” I hadn’t seen it so I watched it when I got home. Strickland had developed a training center in Pittsburgh to combat poverty, and his talk was about how we need to make a change in America.
“If you want to involve yourself in the lives of people who have been given up on,” Strickland said, a piano player moving the keys softly behind him, “you have to look like the solution and not the problem.”
He went on to describe a moment where he attended a reception at Carnegie Museum, and in their courtyard he noticed that they had a fountain.
“Because they believe that the people who go to their museum deserve a fountain,” he said. “Well I think that welfare mothers and at risk kids and ex-steel-workers deserve a fountain in their life. And so, the first thing that you see in my center in the springtime is water that greets you. Water is life and water is human possibility, and so it sets an attitude and expectation about how you feel about people…”
He built a fountain because everyone deserves a fountain. In a way his approach is simple, but that’s what makes it damning. TED has a way of making simple things surprise you.
I realize now how deeply Strickland’s message has impacted Ketch and how much it fuels his interests now. Aside from a busy life playing shows (including “small venues” like the Grand Ole Opry), he’s traveling to do readings of his children’s book, Lorraine, which he wrote to help children feel brave. He also attends weekly meetings at the Episcopal School of Nashville, an elementary school in East Nashville he founded with a vision to create a space for diversity and openness next to inspiration. He’s driven and passionate about how we can change the way we see each other, treat each other, and live out our lives in true community.
The message Ketch has to share with Nashville on the TEDx stage is simple and damning too, and hopeful. More than anything, he is speaking about something he believes has the power to unify, which is a message I personally want to hear more than any critique, revelation, or analysis. Our country could use a little more of that right now, and that’s actually why we’ve developed our theme for this event:
If we can walk away from our 2019 TEDx event feeling just a little more hopeful, we’ll have the power to translate it into positive action all around us.
Buy tickets to our TEDxNashville 2019 event March 1-2, and see Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine show discuss music history and community.
Article written by Jeremy Snow, entrepreneur, writer, and speaker coach.
Photos by Shanna Snow Photography.