Rob Hall, one of the two brothers who form the nucleus for North Carolina bluegrass band Old Man Whickutt, doesn’t care if he plays the Ryman Auditorium or Carnegie Hall. That’s because he’s played Reynolds Coliseum.
“I’ve told people that if I never play another gig, I’d die a happy man,” Hall says.
Rob Hall and his brother, Marcus, took the stage Monday at NC State’s 125th anniversary celebration with their band to perform their YouTube sensation “When Jesus Comes Back,” a song describing how Wolfpack fans will be spared over UNC fans when the end of time comes.
They even enlisted Chancellor Randy Woodson to join them for some picking. “He just jumped right in,” Rob says. “He’s now an official member of Whickutt. We call him Chancellor Whickutt.”
The Halls grew up as die-hard fans of NC State, which came pretty easy for them. Their father, Bobby Hall, played running back for the Wolfpack in the late 1960s and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. “We grew up in Carter Finley. We went to every game,” Rob says. “We would stay until there were four zeroes on the clock.”
So when the brothers Hall and OMW’s other members, Greg Tart and Craig Thompson, got a call a couple of months ago to perform at the NC State celebration there was no hesitation. Marcus even delayed a trip to Jamaica just to make the Monday’s gig, which they found a humbling experience.
“It’s just one of those out-of-body experiences,” says Rob, who spends his days as a realtor in Greenville, N.C. “We were ball boys growing up at basketball games. You think about the history there. You think about David Thompson and Tommy Burleson and Jimmy V and all the people who’ve graced that floor.”
Though both Halls followed NC State sports growing up, it was music that captured their attention in their formative years. Rob was at East Carolina and Marcus went to NC State, where he got a management degree in 1998.
They started playing guitar and realized that music gave them a bond with each other, a bond that reflected summer trips of their youth to North Carolina’s Toe River Valley where they would visit their mother’s family and sing folk songs around the campfire. But it wasn’t until 1997, when they took a cross-country trip in a Winnebago with their parents, that the idea for a band was born as they obsessively played guitar together.
“I’m pretty sure my parents got sick of hearing ‘Wild Horses,'” Rob says.
The two enlisted Thompson and Tart, also a lifelong Wolfpack fan who grew up helping his father, Stephen, pick up referees for football games. “I grew up on the sidelines of NC State,” Greg Tart says. “I had no other option but to be a State fan.”
Tart, who sells building materials at his day job, says that last year was when the band made a conscious effort to start playing gigs around North Carolina. It was a December 2011 Christmas show, he says, where they really found their niche. Decked out in elf regalia, the band performed their NC State-centric songs in front of 400 people that night.
“We’re all about comedy, all tongue and cheek,” Tart says, adding that their song about the end of days is just harmless ribbing at UNC’s expense.
Rob says the performance at Reynolds and the subsequent hits on YouTube count as a major break for Old Man Whickutt. But it’s not a record deal or a Grammy he hopes the buzz brings.
“We don’t know where it’ll go from here,” he says. “But we hope that it will be played over Carter-Finley Stadium.”
“This,” he says, “will become the unofficial anthem of NC State.”