July 9, 2017
Who the f#@k is Sturgill Simpson? It’s a question that the many night owls who mistakenly decided to visit Charlotte’s VBGB Beer Hall & Garden Friday night thought to themselves while they sat motionless under the 277 bridge waiting to park their car. The question could be read across the chests of many fans who donned the official Simpson merch item (presumably, he gets the question quite a bit) for the country star’s sold-out show in the Queen City with Adia Victoria.
Much like Simpson, opener Adia Victoria did a lot with less. Standing on more or less an empty stage in front of a large crowd, dressed in a white gown, she spun dark-hued tales of the Deep South. Born in Spartanburg, not far from Charlotte, the 30 year old has lived a unique life filled with experiences and emotions that seep into her blues. Victoria’s music is free-flowing yet deep down, the meanings behind her songs have often been described as “creepy.” One of Victoria’s more lovely songs, “Mortimer’s Blues,” explores the singer’s inescapable loneliness. This lyrical content mixed with chugging electric guitar sounds make Victoria a booming artist in the blues scene and one to keep a sharp eye on as she plans her sophomore record.
Sturgill Simpson is enjoying a banner year. The country artist was nominated for several Grammy awards, including Album of the Year, and gathered national press coverage when his feud with the CMAs went public. He’s often compared to Waylon Jennings and, according to Country Music Television, he has “a voice that recalls Merle Haggard [and] guitar licks that bring Buck Owens to mind.” In short, Simpson is a big deal.
A couple songs into his setlist, Simpson gave a shout out to Plaza Midwood’s Thirsty Beaver, a local bar that the artist played back in 2012 with his band Sunday Valley before selling out The Chop Shop in 2014. “Last time I was in Charlotte, we got fucked up at the Thirsty Beaver,” he said.
Simpson is only two shows into his 2017 tour with Adia Victoria and it’s already sold out a number of venues. That type of success isn’t foreign to Simpson, but this tour is a bit different than his previous. Back in March, the country star stripped down his band to four members. He bid farewell to his touring horn section and longtime guitarist Laur Joamets. The change offered Simpson the opportunity to take over as lead guitarist, a role that’s he’s relished as of late.
Simpson showed off his guitar-playing talent under the near full moon in Charlotte. No matter what jaw dropping licks he laid down, the crowd was on their feet. The smaller band allowed Simpson to shine in his own spotlight and savor the admiration he’s received from his devoted fan base.
Much like his persona (white T-shirt and blue jeans), Simpson’s stage setup was devoid of frills. A large white sheet hung from the back rafters and occasionally changed tints from the simple, yet colorful stage lights. Simpson isn’t about overdoing it. He’s cool and collected, even when the “moisture” in the air forced him to cut short “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” due to pedal tech difficulties. He rolled with the punches and moved along with the crowd’s support behind him.
While Simpson played plenty from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, it was his earlier music that gave the night a bit of a boost. The fast-paced “Railroad of Sin” gave the set a punch of vivacity before he showcased a few covers. “I hope you like Rihanna,” Simpson chimed in between songs. For the younger crowd less familiar with Simpson, it might’ve been hard to believe, but Simpson’s country version of her song “Desperado” exemplified the artist’s true touch and uniqueness. After channeling his inner RiRi, Simpson cruised through his own renditions of Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have to Be Crazy” and William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” What started out as the quintessential “first night off tour” with the few malfunctions, ended smoothly on a jam and Freddie King cover that exemplified Simpson’s musical charisma.
Check out the remaining 2017 Sturgill Simpson tour dates.