By Cameron Lee
March 8, 2020
Lines were long at the arena as hordes of country music fans funnelled into Spectrum Center for the highly anticipated A Good Look’n Tour, pairing two of the hottest names in modern country music. While many were still getting primed for the evening’s shindig, Tyler Childers and his band moseyed onto the stage and wasted no time getting right into his most popular song, “Feathered Indians.” A collective wave of country-tinged hollers went through the crowd; it was an audience that, quite honestly, seemed a little out of place for the gigantic arena. Childers’ dynamic voice filled any voids that might have made the vibe awkward.
Like many proficient singer-songwriters, the Kentucky native grew up singing in the church choir, and his hallowed and twangy voice certainly holds a level of divinity. It was only just in 2017 when Childers broke out with Purgatory, an album produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson (Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Jake Bugg). He was releasing music independently since 2011, at the age of 19, when a chance meeting at a Kentucky bingo hall with Sturgill Simpson resulted in a harmonious relationship rocketing his music career.
For an opening act, Childers and his band were treated more like a co-headlining bill, both by the audience and the air-tight sound and stage production. He played a healthy portion of his latest album Country Squire (including “Bus Route,” “Creeker,” “House Fire,” and the tender love ballad “All Your’n”), and even added a little humor before his cover of the Charlie Daniels’ classic, “Trudy,” proclaiming Daniels as “arguably the Miley Cyrus of his time.”
It’s hard to classify Childers’ music, and he’s expressed distaste for being labeled as an “Americana” artist in the past. He’s brazenly proud to be a country musician; the greatest country songwriters tell authentic stories and paint vivid pictures of their emotions through song, detailing the complexities of simple everyday American life. If that’s the criteria, Childers might be the most important country music artist of our time. Touring extensively over the last few years, from small bars to large arenas, Childers is rejuvenating the genre.
Before Sturgill Simpson and his band stepped onstage, a moment was reserved for a veteran who served in Afghanistan. Exactly a year ago, he lost his legs stepping on an IED during a combat operation, and the veteran proudly announced to the crowd that $1 from every ticket will go to the Special Forces foundation.
If you don’t know much about Sturgill Simpson, one thing you should know is he’s never been one to pander to his fans and critics. In September, he released his latest album Sound & Fury, a psychedelic and bluesy rock album with raucous synths, contrasting his 2016 soulful southern country album, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. The album was also released simultaneously with a 30-minute anime film available exclusively on Netflix (Simpson wrote and produced it, with the direction of Japanese filmmaker, Junpei Mizusaki).
Simpson opened his set with a fiery red backdrop resembling the album cover for Sound & Fury. Playing the first five songs in exact order of the album, he displayed his keen guitar skill with opener “Ronin” and, with that, the musical outlaw set the tone for the evening. Simpson’s thunderous voice erupted on “Remember To Breathe,” a slow rolling distorted blues rock song with screeching synth episodes that transition into a whistling calm. He seamlessly shifted into “Sing Along,” and the energy transformed into a full-on arena rock show.
Simpson took some time out between songs to praise The Thirsty Beaver, where he played his first show in Charlotte, not as a solo act, but with his country rock band, Sunday Valley. “Proud to say the first show I ever played here, about six years ago, the Thirsty mother f*ckin’ Beaver. Back when there wasn’t shit around it but a big ol’ gravel parking lot,” Simpson exclaimed. “There was, like, seven people there. We got drunk as sh*t and I slept in a van. This is a lot different tonight, I don’t know how many people are here, but I’m gonna get high as sh*t and sleep on the bus.”
Playing all of the songs from Sound & Fury, Simpson still paid homage to his previous work on A Sailor’s Guide To Earth with “Breakers Roar,” “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog),” “Brace For Impact (Live A Little),” and “Call To Arms.” With a 22-song set that included a touching cover of Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy” and a few songs from his second studio album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, the evening was a showcase of two incredibly talented musicians from Kentucky: one that likes to stick close to his roots and another, a maverick that strays away from convention. Regardless, country music, southern rock, Americana– whatever you want to call it– it’s in good hands.
Check out the remaining 2020 dates for the Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers tour.
Setlist for Tyler Childers:
Highway 40 Blues (Ricky Skaggs cover)
Tulsa Turnaround (Kenny Rogers & The First Edition cover)
Long Long Time to Get Old (Great Speckled Bird cover)
I Swear (to God)
Honky Tonk Flame
Trudy (The Charlie Daniels Band cover)
Nose on the Grindstone
Setlist for Sturgill Simpson:
Remember to Breathe
A Good Look
Make Art Not Friends
Best Clockmaker on Mars
All Said and Done
Last Man Standing
Mercury in Retrograde
Fastest Horse in Town
I’d Have to Be Crazy (Willie Nelson cover)
Brace for Impact (Live a Little)
The Promise (When in Rome cover)
Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)
It Ain’t All Flowers
Long White Line
Turtles All the Way Down
You Don’t Miss Your Water (William Bell cover)
Call to Arms