On a cold and blustery night in New York City, an unique group of country music fans packed themselves into the intimate Bowery Ballroom to catch a glimpse of the artist that everyone has been talking about lately, Sturgill Simpson. Earlier that day, it was reported that his Grammy nominated “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” had sold an outstanding 100,000 copies, despite it being done without him have a label and only costing him $4,000.00 to make. I had read multiple articles by fellow bloggers saying that his live performance was just him and a microphone, with little charisma and no interaction with the crowd. What I witnessed on Wednesday night was quite the opposite.
When Sturgill hit the stage at about 10 pm, he immediately stated into the microphone that he and his band “were sick as shit, but going to give you our best”. And he and his three band mates did not disappoint in the least. Initially he moved quickly from song to song, but eventually settled in and began to not only speak to the crowd between each song, but also was quite the comedian.
He seemed surprised at how attentive the crowd was, which was a predominately 40 and up crowd which is rare this day in age where country music is dominated by pop singers pandering to teenage party seekers. And Sturgill does quite the opposite. Songs such as Long White Line and Voices are written and sung with a combination of struggle and passion that anyone who appreciates true music would appreciate.
He put forth an extensive two hour set list chock full of songs from both of his albums as well as a few covers thrown in. He was visibly sick and even stated at one point he also fainted. Further, he was drinking tea and cough medicine right on stage. But, once his voice hit the microphone and thundered through the speakers, you could not tell that he was sick at all. His unique and throaty voice was as impressive as it is as his studio efforts.
What was most surprising to me was how active and interactive he was on stage. His band mates, consisting of an electric guitarist, drummer, and bass player were extremely skilled and they broke out into a number of jam sessions. And as the night wore on, Sturgill seemed to get looser and looser to the point that he was dancing around on stage with moves at times that were similar to that of Dwight Yoakam or Dave Matthews. In the midst of the awesome song It Ain’t All Flowers, he and the band broke into an all out jam that last approximately ten minutes. You can see Sturgill really getting into it in this clip here:
All in all the performance was extremely impressive and despite it ending after midnight in the middle of the week, no one seemed to care at all. Now that Sturgill Simpson has signed with Atlantic Records, it will be interesting to see where his career will go. But with his true talent and obvious desire to do things his own way and not sell out to the current trend of country radio, I have no doubts this will not be my last glimpse of him playing to a sold out crowd.
Anderson East opened the show with a very impressive acoustic set. He had a very throaty voice that was very similar to Bruce Springsteen. But his approach was a combination of folk, pop and funk. He sang with a ridiculous amount of passion and had the entire Ballroom quiet while we attentively listened to his words. I suggest everyone pick up his EP if you are looking for something very different yet enjoyable.
STURGILL SIMPSON SETLIST:
- Sitting Here Without You
- Water In Hell
- Long White Line
- Time After All
- Medicine Springs (Stanley Brothers cover)
- A Little Light
- Life of Sin
- The Storm
- Sometimes Wine (The Sunday Drivers cover)
- Old King Coal
- Some Days
- It’s Ain’t All Flowers
- Railroad of Sin
- Just Let Go
- Turtles All The Way Down (Encore)
- I’d Have To Be Crazy (Encore)