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Old Crow Medicine Show has the longest, strangest Wikipedia page in music
“May contain an excessive amount of intricate detail.”
Old Crow Medicine Show is—if you like bluegrass infused music, at least—a solid band with substantial discography. Nobody questions their musicianship, but their most popular album peaked at #22 on the U.S. charts. As far as cultural prominence goes, they aren’t exactly The Who.
That is, unless you’re looking at Wikipedia.
Despite being a niche musical act at best, the Old Crow Medicine Show somehow rivals The Who (not to mention the Battle of the Alamo) on Wikipedia. Their voluminous and laudatory Wikipedia page seems wildly outsized compared not only to other musicians but to some significant historical events. And it mostly appears to be the work of a lone editor whose mission seems to make the Old Crow Medicine Show bigger than – if not Jesus – at least the Beatles.
The Phoenix News Times’ Michael Cryer first pointed out this anomaly on his blog, where he makes a by-the-numbers case that an editorial imbalance exists in regard to OCMS.
“There are 161 footnotes cited for OCMS’ relatively short history,” Cryer writes. “Comparatively, there are 169 footnotes on the Alamo page, and that battle involved two completely different countries! For a more genre-specific comparison, The Who’s page has 293 footnotes, but about half the content of the OCMS page. The Beatles have 367 footnotes and, not surprisingly, all the requisite content.”
He’s not the only one who’s noticed. The OCMS entry has been a low boiling conflict on Wikipedia since at least last year. The talk page hasn’t generated the same kind of heated disagreements that fuel more histrionic editorial debates, but it periodically earns the ire of editors who feel the entry is more like a fan Tumblr than an encyclopedia.
The OCMS talk page shows a back and forth between several Wikipedians, in which editors object to the usage of puff terms like “legendary” and “venerable.” Others worry that the band’s connection to “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s weekly public radio showcase, has been overblown to make it sound like the band appears as guests much more frequently than they do.
“I’m sorry, but does anyone else think that this article reads like a biased, band promotional instead of a neutral encyclopedia article,” writes one user.
There are numerous examples throughout the article where Wikipedia’s desired neutral voice is abandoned and the entry begins to sound more like liner notes. In one instance, quotes attributed only in footnotes are used to pump up the status of a song that didn’t even breach the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100.
“‘Wagon Wheel’—a ‘catchy country infused sing-along that has taken on the status of Free Bird’—has become the group’s signature song,” reads the opening line of a 700-word subsection about just this one song. Granted, the song does have a unique history, having been partially written by Bob Dylan, but with a separate Wikipedia page already in existence just for “Wagon Wheel,” its hard for some Wikipedians to justify so much information being included on an already extensive artist page.
Complaints from a number of Wikipedians have led to the page being flagged by administrators. A disclaimer at the top of the page says the article “may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail,” employ a style that does not reflect Wikipedia’s encyclopedia tone, and may “be too long to read and navigate comfortably.”
But the question that remains is who keeps padding this article with superfluous, positive information. A look at the page’s edit history reveals that Wikipedia user Empirecontact seems to be the most active editor on the page, and the one most responsible for its excessive length.
Empirecontact’s motives remain a mystery. Despite attempts by other users to engage in dialogue, he or she seems to have no interaction on any talk pages. And the Daily Dot was unable to contact him or her for this article. One might speculate that Empirecontact is either a huge fan of the band or a paid marketer who is using Wikipedia to increase the size of OCMS’s web footprint. The latter is an somewhat common practice on Wikipedia, though it trips the ethical radar of Wikipedia purists.
At least one other Wikipedia editor has tried to call out Empirecontact directly.
“I think that Empirecontact should be applauded for her/his contribution to this article. However, I feel that this user is trying to ‘own’ the article by discouraging collaboration that helps improve this article by making it more objective and less like a promotional article. I don’t have anything against OCMS, but I think that if Empirecontact wants to write a promotional piece, then this should be done outside of [W]ikipedia.”
Photo by Forest Woodward/Flickr
Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.