Zac Brown Band – Fenway Park, Boston, MA (August 21, 2016)
Written by Jody Smith
Zac Brown Band – Fenway Park, Boston, MA (August 21, 2016)
Written by Jody Smith
Eric Church – Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado (August 9 & 10, 2016)
Written by Kristin Hamlin
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the first of an epic two night special acoustic event by Eric Church at the legendary Red Rocks. Lightning flashes went off everywhere, but never a sound all night, but there was no rain. It was almost as if the Heavens were enjoying this show as well.
Eric Church. Two words, but one big meaning.
I was fortunate to land sixth row, smack dab in the center at Red Rocks for both nights of Eric Church last week. I have been to my share of concerts at this Amphitheatre, but I knew this time would be different. The way the stage was set up was as if you were in Eric’s living room; rugs and candles lit the stage, with just a piano and a microphone.
You could hear a pin drop as the lights went down and Eric was about to come on stage. As soon as those familiar ray bans and side smirk became visible, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation. Eric sat there in awe for a about a minute, taking it all in, and then the familiar chords of ‘Mistress Named Music’ started playing, and everyone began to sing as loud as they could, never missing a beat. What none of us were expecting, was when Eric broke out into covers of other people’s songs in the middle of Mistress. (like a rock, ain’t got money, piano man, troubadours) and then ended it with the last chorus of Mistress. It was incredible.
Without missing a beat, he flowed into ‘Mr. Misunderstood’. The crowd was so loud singing it back to him, he let us sing the chorus to him, and as we did, he just smiled and mouthed ‘thank you for this’ to us. That was definitely one of my favorite parts of the night. He then went on to sing Smoke, Drink in my Hand and Record Year, and then ‘Mixed Drinks About Feelings’. Next was his upcoming single, ‘Kill a Word’, and before singing it, he told the crowd how he didn’t think there was a more appropriate song to sing with all that has been going on in the world. The passion in the way he sang this song was goosebump-worthy, as you could tell this song meant a whole lot to him. Then came ‘Pledge Allegiance to the Hag’, ‘Rock and roll Jesus’, ‘Homeboy’, ‘Creepin’, ‘Dark Side’ ‘Living part of life’, ‘Jack Daniels’, and ‘Wrecking Ball’ – where he even had Peyton Manning jamming right behind him. The crowd didn’t miss a word!
What happened next warmed everyone’s hearts. Eric spoke quietly and said ‘I promised someone I would play this…I hope I can make it through the song’ and turned around to where his son was sitting and blew him a kiss. ‘Three Year Old’ was the song he sang for him and I teared up watching him singing it, because I knew behind those sun glasses, he was doing the same thing. It was absolutely magical. Then came ‘Cold One’ and ‘Chattanooga Lucy’ and the energy was wild!
Next, Eric had said the next song he had never played live before, but he wanted to play it because the first time he came to Red Rocks, this song came on his bus, and it stuck with him so much, and he had told his band just hours before he was going to play it. The second the first verse came from his mouth, the audience didn’t make a sound, and we all watched in awe as Eric played Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ – his voice as strong as I’ve ever heard it. It was probably at that moment, that I realize I was witnessing the best live act I have ever seen in my life. I have never been that impressed and touched with any artist I’ve seen, but this show was much different.
He followed that by singing ‘Knives of New Orleans’, ‘These Boots’, ‘Talladega’ and ‘Holding My Own’ and bowed his head and said thank you again and left the stage. The crowd, who never sat down once, chanted his name, and in seconds, Eric was back out, singing my personal favorite ‘Those I’ve Loved’. This was the best closing song I could think of.
The show the next night was completely different, which made this concert experience unlike any other. He had said he had one song he knew he was going to sing for sure, and the rest he just made up as it went, following the energy of the crowd. As soon as the show ended, the quiet lightning stopped.
Dawes – The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY (July 14, 2016)
The best part of doing this blog is the fact that I am always being introduced to new music and new bands I ordinarily would not hear if I was just a casual radio listener. Last January, I attended country super group, Zac Brown Band’s Mexican Music Festival known as “Castaway With Southern Ground”. On that bill was a number of acts spanning multiple genres of music. One such band was Dawes, a band I had never heard of at the time. I did my due diligence getting to know each of the acts appearing Castaway and was more than pleasantly surprised with what I heard from Dawes. Not only have their four LPs now become some of my most used records, but they have become one of my truly favorite bands in all of music today. When I heard they were coming to my area and playing the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, I did not hesitate in the least.
And not unlike what I witnessed in Mexico back in January, Dawes set off like a bullet out of a gun with the rousing I Can’t Think About It Now and never looked back. It was great to see the entire theater at max capacity, with the crowd singing and even, at times, jumping up and down, to the alternative rock/folk tunes that make Dawes seem so very authentic. I had a friend with me who was relatively new to their music, but came along because of how much I’ve been talking about them. And when Duane Betts ripped into his first of numerous solo’s on his electric guitar on that first song, his eyebrows went up and simply stated, “oh wow”.
And that expression really summed up the entire night as each song seemed to turn into its own rock show as all five members of the band showcased their incredible musicianship with Taylor Goldsmith controlling the forefront with his impeccable vocals, unstoppable energy, as well as impressive bouncing skills while ripping the guitar. Songs such as If I Wanted Someone, Things Happen, Fire Away, and Most People were full on sing-a-longs, while others were complete jam outs admist the original lyrics of the song (Now That It’s Too Late, Maria seemed to turn into a fifteen minute song). The brothers Goldsmith, Griffin and Taylor, took to the forefront for two passionate acoustic songs, highlighted by the beautiful Take Me Out Of The City. And the entire crowd erupted when the anthemic When My Time Comes (which was recently featured for the NBA Draft) was performed with vigor and zeal.
However, the true highlight of the night, was during A Little Bit Of Everything, which was introduced by Taylor exclaiming “…it’s a weird time right now, but it is times like these that remind us that we love each other a lot. We are all on the same team!” The song spoke to the truths of love, heartbreak, and all the feelings you encounter in life. Taylor sang the song almost with a preaching tone that made the message all that more effective. And when the band ended the spectacular set with All Your Favorite Bands, another song with a hopeful message, it was clear this band called Dawes is one of the most authentic and talented today’s music has. They have won me over as a fan and, I am sure, if you were in the building last night, you understood the brilliance that this band has achieved as well.
GARTH BROOKS – YANKEE STADIUM, NYC (July 9, 2016)
After years and years of hearing about how amazing Garth Brooks was as a live performer, I made my way into the Bronx on Saturday afternoon bracing myself for a once in a lifetime experience. When all was said and done at 2 a.m., my feelings were certainly mixed, mostly due to the unfortunate and confusing three plus hour rain delay. However, there is simply no way I could overlook the performance and spectacle that Garth put forth late into the night.
I got to my seat at approximately 8:15, just fifteen minutes before he was supposed to get on stage. I had just had an amazing dinner at NYY Steak and was feeling like the evening was set up perfectly to be a memorable experience. With a light drizzle in the air, the last thing I was thinking about was a delay. Even at 9:15, more than forty five minutes after the start time, with the entire Stadium seating filled to capacity, we all thought it was just a matter of time. But, then, the stage crew began to come out with tarps and plastic to fill the giant sized circle stage extension and we all began to fear there was a delay, despite there being no announcement. Finally, after 10 pm, more than one hour and a half from the start time, with still just a drizzle (if that) in the air, the Stadium announced we were in a rain delay. Most were furious, including me, that it took this long to make the announcement, but more so that they could have gotten most of the show in already. What was worse, was they cleared the pit and floor area, and alcohol sales ended. The scene within the Stadium was angry, tired, and anxious.
Finally at about 11 pm, we were allowed back to our seats. It had rained extremely hard during the 10 to 11 pm hour, but that did not make anyone feel better about the situation. At midnight (yes, freaking midnight), Garth finally took to the stage. There was simply no energy from the crowd at that point as people half heartedly clapped when he came out. I was expecting some dramatic entrance, but instead Garth just walked out and apologized for the wait. But then something unexpected happened, song by song he won back the crowd and energized the iconic Stadium deep into the night air.
From Rodeo to Two Pina Coladas to That Summer, it was clear Garth was going to do everything he could to salvage the night. He moved from side to side of the huge stage and even used the slick circle extension a few times. He told the crowd he was not going to be able to do some of the performance runs like he usually did (another bummer due to the rain), but all in all it was clear he was born to perform. And the crowd was in the palm of his energetic hands by the eighth song of the night as the huge screens flashed lighting and rumbled thunder as he put forth an amazing rendition of the epic Thunder Rolls, with the hidden verse included (to the crowd’s delight). From there on, the crowd was up and standing, singing, and dancing in unison.
He claimed that they were “making up the setlist as they went along”, but that was hardly true as it very much mirrored the night before, despite some changes and crowd requests. One such change from the previous night was my favorite Garth song of all time, “Much Too Young (Too Feel This Damn Old)”. The twang of his voice echoed in the Stadium and truly made me appreciate not only the mastery of his performance style, but the perfection of his voice in a Stadium, at that. Halfway through the show, his wife Trisha Yearwood came out to perform a five song set. The crowd went crazy when they shared an embrace at the end of In Another’s Eyes, but her solo performances of How Do I Live and She’s In Love With the Boy got two of the biggest responses from the fans all night. Her mid show set was a great change of pace and I got a new found respect for Trisha as a performer as well.
The true climax of the show occurred with the three songs before the rather forgettable encore, consisting of a bombastic Callin’ Baton Rouge, followed an epic sing-a-long Friends In Low Places and concluding with the heartfelt The Dance. No three songs may say more about Garth Brooks’ career in terms of the depth, reach, diversity, and passion he has for his music. After those three songs it really sunk in to me that I was seeing one of the best performers I’ve ever seen in the 500 or so concerts I have seen.
The encore was a mixed bag for me as I felt his best songs were already performed and it was so late (1:45 in the AM) I was beginning to expire. He ended the night with a Billy Joel cover of Piano Man followed by Standing Outside the Fire which included five minutes worth of fireworks, which seemed unnecessary due to it being 2 am. However, all in all, I am glad I waited out the annoying rain delay because the show itself was indeed a spectacle and Garth is a world class performer. But, I can’t help but feel like I was cheated out of the full Garth Brooks experience, but I guess that just means I will have to see him again in the future.
COUNTRY STAMPEDE – MANHATTAN, KANSAS
JUNE 24, 2016 – Tim McGraw, Chris Janson, Josh Abbott Band, High Valley, and Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys
by Austin Earl
It was a lazy Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, Kansas. With the temperature being 104°, there was nothing I wanted to do outside, so I played around on Twitter and sent an innocent Tweet to Dierks Bentley and Chris Janson. With their upcoming shows in Manhattan, I wanted to inform them that this future fish biologist could show them some good spots around town to catch white bass and walleye. Janson responded with the most unexpected, best Tweet I have ever received.
The tickets were for Day 2 of Country Stampede. Stampede is the largest music festival in the state of Kansas, and brings out the big names of country. Headliners this year included Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley, Tim McGraw and Jake Owen. The Day 2 artists were Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys, High Valley, Josh Abbott Band, Janson, and McGraw. Will call was having problems finding our tickets, so we missed most of Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys.
High Valley exceeded my expectations. They had a good bluegrass feel in a lot of their songs and entertained the crowd well. They were very interactive and did not look awkward like a lot of artists that are in a similar career stage. They went full bluegrass while playing I’ll Fly Away and their talent was evident. They also showed some Florida Georgia Line-esque music with their song County Line. If they stick to their bluegrass roots they could be a very entertaining band for crowds in the future.
For me, the day really started when Josh Abbott Band took the stage. JAB has always been one of my favorite acts since I heard the song I’ll Sing About Mine for the first time a couple of years ago. The “Band” portion of the namesake put on a great show. The fiddle player had a crazy amount of talent. Unfortunately, Abbott’s voice just wasn’t there for him. I do not know if he had a cold or what was going on with him, but he could not hit the high notes that makes his range so impressive on the studio albums. In fact, he sang all of the chorus of Amnesia down an octave. As an entertainer, he was very good. He was energetic, brought out a t-shirt cannon, and made fun of the Kansas Jayhawks—always a welcome pander in Manhattan. I would be interested in seeing him again at some point to see him with his full voice.
After JAB finished, it was finally time for Chris Janson. Many people only know Buy Me A Boat, but Janson has a lot of good cuts on his debut record. The hour and a half long set let him showcase those songs as well as play some of his favorite older songs. I had heard rumors about his crazy antics on stage, so I had high expectations for his show. He did not disappoint. Janson was absolutely electric on stage. He said “you’re about to see 135 pounds of skinny white dude play a harmonica like you’ve never seen” and then he did exactly that. His vocal range was as ridiculous as his harmonica playing. He doesn’t sing high all that often on stage, but he covered Merle Haggard and hit every note in the song. He also played an oddly fun punk rock version of Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. He interacted with pretty much everyone along the stage, signing hats and talking directly with the people. While singing Buy Me A Boat, he brought four little girls up on stage and had them sing with him. He lit up the stage and looked like he had just as much fun as anyone at the festival.
The headliner Tim McGraw finished up the day. I was personally most excited for Janson coming into the day, but it hit me about five minutes before McGraw took the stage that he was someone I’ve listened to since I was two. Words to his songs were some of the first words I knew in any music. He was one of the influential artists that helped foster my love for not just country music, but music in general. When you’re a 49 year-old with 52 number one hits, you can basically send your band out there alone and the crowd will sing all of your songs for you. McGraw didn’t do that, thankfully, but he did let the crowd sing most of his old songs’ choruses. It was kind of chilling to hear how many people McGraw’s music has touched as almost every person—from 16 to 60 year olds—in the crowd knew every word. As someone who would like to get into making music and performing, it was amazing to see how an artist can transcend generations. McGraw had a lot of energy and made the concert fun, but the star of his set was his music rather any antics. At this stage in his career, it would impossible for that not to be the case.
Overall, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a wonderful day of diverse country music in the middle of a field. To me, it just doesn’t get much better than that.
Josh Abbott set list:
1. Road Trippin’
2. Live While You Got It
3. Hangin’ Around
4. All of a Sudden
5. I’ve Been Known
7. She Will Be Free
8. Where’s the Party?
10. She’s Like Texas
11. I Just Wanna Love You
12. Flatland Farmer
13. While We’re Young
14. Callin’ Baton Rogue
15. My Texas
16. Wasn’t That Drunk
17. Oh, Tonight
19. Highway to Hell
Chris Janson set list:
1. Back in My Drinkin’ Days
2. Redneck Revival
3. Eastbound and Down
4. Better I Don’t
5. Save a Little Sugar
6. White Trash
7. Country Boy Can Survive
8. Holdin’ Her
9. Love This Life
10. Dancing in the Dark
13. Yeah It Is
14. Good Hearted Woman
15. Right in the Middle
16. Buy Me a Boat
17. Ring of Fire
Tim McGraw set list:
1. How Bad Do You Want It
2. Green Grass Grows
3. I Like, I Love It
5. Southern Girl
6. Real Good Man
7. Red Rag Top
8. Here Tonight
9. Just to See You Smile
10. One of Those Nights
12. Shotgun Rider
13. How It Will Always Be
14. All I Want is a Life
15. Indian Outlaw
16. Truck Yeah
17. Something Like That
18. Live Like You Are Dyin’
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – June 11, 2016 – Xfinity Theatre – Hartford, CT
Dave Matthews Band took to the Xfinity Theatre stage in Hartford, Connecticut this past Saturday night to celebrate twenty five years of turning themselves into one of the biggest touring acts on the face of the planet. This night, per usual in New England, the show was sold out. And one of the best things about this DMB crowd was that there were people of all ages, from teenagers to people in their 60s. And that is a testament to who they have become as a touring act as they have not changed their jam band sound along the way, and it appeals to generations abound.
Each and every setlist at a Dave Matthews Band show is different and full of surprises. I have been to approximately seven of their shows dating back to my first in 1999 and I’ve always appreciated the diversity of songs from all eras of their career chosen to be part of their shows. To me, this shows true showmanship and musicianship in a live act. Nothing is worse than the artist who goes out and performs the same practiced setlist night in and night out, with no surprises or nothing to keep their fans guessing. And this night was no different.
Right off the bat, DMB sunk their teeth into Pig and Proudest Monkey, followed by one of their most commercially accepted songs, Crash Into Me, all from their earliest albums. But then the song selections jumped from their newer albums like Seven back to Grey Street, with “commercial” songs sandwiched between, like the nostalgic The Space Between. And as the night went on, the jam outs and guitar solo’s became longer and more intense. I was overjoyed to hear two of my personal favorite songs live in Rapunzel and Why I Am, while some of the die hards seemed to sing louder to If Only and Belly Belly Nice.
Dave Matthews, himself, is an unique lead man. He seems to be a bit reserved with an odd sense of humor. However, he was full of smiles and jokes throughout the night and even traded his acoustic guitar for a piano on two songs. His talented band members seemed to sit back a lot more than in shows past, as they were happy to let their lead man get most of the limelight. Either way, their musicianship surely shined bright during the band’s jam outs. And, at no time did that shine brighter, than during the encore when the band ripped into a cover of Bob Dylan’s legendary All Along The Watchtower. I was surprised that it was only an one song encore, but it was a great show nonetheless. I hear that DMB is taking off next year from touring to create a new album, but I foresee many, many more touring years in this great American band.
With the release of his new CD, Lattin 101, Pat Lattin is ready to break into the newest echelon of singer-songwriters. A native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Pat has been serious about music since he picked up his first guitar at the age of twelve. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston where he studied performance and songwriting. He formed his first bands soon thereafter and recorded several demos. After some time, he assembled a group of studio veterans and laid down an EP.
Lattin 101 marks a new direction for Pat. At the helm is fellow Berklee musician, drummer and producer Tyler LeVander. The songs range from ethereal to contemplative to no-holds-barred rock and roll. All have the stamp of something that is not just innovative, but mold-breaking.
Flying in the face of conventional artists, Pat Lattin—and his music—defies description. One may hear familiar melodic structure, but then comes the unexpected: complex, unique chord structures; songs with multiple “movements”; rhythmic adventures with wonderfully jarring changes.
Unlike some other singer-songwriters, Pat Lattin can play. Acoustic, electric, rhythm, lead, you name it. Listeners will hear subtle nuance, supple backing and scorching leads, all combining in a sound that, quite simply, breaks new ground.
“I feel new songs,” says Pat. “Some picking can become a head, a verse or a chorus. I have a simple rule on guidelines: I disregard them. Some songs are culled from others. I just assemble what sounds ‘at home’ to me.” The result: tunes that comfort, provoke, and surprise. Some veer close to a precarious edge but somehow never lose control. They can turn heads and startle, but concurrently seem to bring the listener to a landing—if not a seamless, safe one.
Pat is equally adept at playing solo as he is with his band. At every venue, he manages to invite the audience into his world—a world of wonder, texture and new horizons. Perhaps an early listener described a Pat Lattin performance best, “I don’t know what I just heard … but I need to hear it again. Right now.”
Speaking thematically, Pat Lattin compositions touch on friendly discord (“Thanks for the Advice”); a Poe-like walk through the macabre (“Mad Hatter”); the plaint of a lonely sailor (“Edge of the World”), and possibly the world’s first song about a baggage claim (“Queen of the Carousel”).
Audiences can pick up Lattin 101 on June 20th. The album will be available via all popular digital outlets. Physical copies will also drop on that date.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
BILLY JOEL – MADISON SQUARE GARDEN – NYC – MAY 27, 2016
I had the extreme privilege of seeing yet another musical icon, amidst a recording breaking run of sold out shows at the “World’s Most Famous Arena”, when I saw Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. I have been to a low of shows in my lifetime, and dozens at Madison Square Garden and can say that this venue always has a unique aura of electricity from the crowd. And this night was no different, as the sold out crowd was loud and proud to be Billy Joel fans all night long. And Billy returned the favor, treating the crowd as if he personally knew them.
Billy was seated at a rotating piano for the entire show sans the encore. During the set, he played mega-hits, such as Movin’ Out, New York State of Mind, and The River of Dreams, and expectedly received beams of applause from the dancing crowd. But, early on, he did something I’ve never seen another live performer do before. Two separate times, he announced two songs and asked the crowd to pick between the two by their applause. The winning songs were Vienna (over The Stranger) and Zanzibar (over Big Man On Mulberry Street). It truly showed how comfortable Billy Joel is as a live entertainer. At no point did anything he or his band did seem staged or practiced. It was just a man and his band going out and playing for a bunch of people who felt like they knew him. And knew his music they did.
Other highlights included Billy bringing out twenty or so members of the Navy during Goodnight Saigon. Not only was it Memorial Day weekend, but also Fleet Week in New York City. Chants of USA thundered down from the entire arena during this moving moment. On the other side of things was when Billy dedicated The Entertainer to Donald Trump. I personally think, based on the lyrics of the song, that it was done as a jab at Trump. But, the Presidential Nominee obviously did not think so since the next day he took to Twitter to thank Billy personally for the dedication. However, there was no louder portion of the show than when he ended his set with two of his most famous songs, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant and Piano Man, the latter of which the crowd did most of the singing with Billy sitting there in awe.
Billy came out to a stirring six song encore chock full of classics. And instead of sitting at his baby grand, he took to the edge of the stage with an electric guitar and jammed out. During the final song, Only The Good Die Young, you could literally feel the arena floor bouncing. All in all, the concert was a great experience and one that everyone should get a ticket to as Billy continues his run as the first ever music franchise.
ZAC BROWN BAND: BLACK OUT THE SUN TOUR
MAY 19, 2016 – HARTFORD, CT
WITH SPECIAL GUEST, DRAKE WHITE & THE BIG FIRE
Last night, Zac Brown Band kicked off their new Black Out The Sun Tour in Hartford, Connecticut and absolutely captivated a sold out crowd. This show had a little bit of everything for the music fan in everyone, from country to rock, with a little reggae and electronic mixed therein. More than anything, what separates a ZBB live show is the fact that, every night of the tour, you are going to get a completely different setlist, not the same 18 songs in the same order like most of the other acts out there touring. Of course, this was night one of the tour, but you could tell the song choices were strategically chosen and masterfully executed.
For anyone who has been to a ZBB show before, a highlight is always what covers are they going to play. Because, not only are they a band who has pumped out 15 #1 hits and 4 #1 albums, but they are probably the best cover band out there as well. In years past, I’ve seen them cover songs from Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Queen, and so many more. This night did not disappoint in the least, as they performed four amazing and very diverse cover songs: “No Way No” by Magic, “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Riley, “Wrong Way” by Sublime, and “Teenage Wasteland” by The Who. Yes, you did not read those four titles wrong.
On top of it all were the hits, like “Homegrown”, “Toes” and “Chicken Fried”, as well as a great acoustic portion which featured “Sweet Annie”, “Colder Weather”, and a rare song found on ZBB’s first album which was an independent release, called “On This Train”. Only the diehard ZBB fans know about that album, and many having been dying to hear that song live, which was a special treat. The stage was intense, with multiple levels, a new horn section, and graphics that were very high tech. During the song “Tomorrow Never Comes”, the Black Sun illuminated the entire amphitheater and turned it into an intense rave with trippy colors and the band jumping in unison. Overall, the show is a can’t miss this summer from music’s most talented live band.
And not to be overlooked in the least, was Drake White & The Big Fire, who opened the show to much intrigue and acceptance. Sometimes being a relatively unknown act without an album for fans to get exposed to your music may be held against an artist in a live setting. However, Drake White took to the stage with the performing swagger of a season veteran. He pumped out country anthems such as “Back To Free” and “Living The Dream” as well as feeding to the ZBB crowd with covers such as a Beatles classic. “It Feels Good” had the crowd grooving as Drake used every inch of the stage and showed no signs of being a rookie. I caught up with him after his show and he told me he was excited about his first album and that he is shooting for an August release date. Fans need to get ready, because he is going to be around for a long time.
Zac Brown Band’s Castaway With Southern Ground
at the Hard Rock Hotel – Riviera Maya, Mexico
with Trombone Shorty, Dawes, Michael Franti, Kacey Musgraves, The Wailers, Brett Dennen & Darrell Scot
This past January, Zac Brown Band embarked on a familiar mission of giving its fans a healthy dose of great music, food, and entertainment, but this time, in a not so familiar setting. I have been a fan of the Zac Brown Band since their beginnings. I have been a member of their fan club, the “Zamily”, since its first few weeks of its existence. So, when I heard that ZBB was putting together an all inclusive concert vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico, I was all in. While this is not the first time a band or artist has put together a concert vacation experience, and it was not ZBB’s first time (they previously did one a few years ago in Punta Cana), they are usually paired up with similar artists in the same genre. What I love so much about ZBB is that you cannot fit them into any single genre, and this was so evidenced by the acts that Zac hand picked to be a part of the four night extravaganza. Instead of your typical country music festival feel that acts like Luke Bryan or Lady Antebellum have put together in resort settings, Castaway was much more than that. With acts such as Trombone Shorty, Dawes, Michael Franti, Kacey Musgraves, The Wailers, Brett Dennen, and Darrell Scott, the music side of Castaway became a true celebration of all music.
When putting together an event like this, all details must be worked out ahead of time, and ZBB, Could 9, the Zamily, and the Hard Rock Hotel did this and more. Not only was the resort enormous and beautiful, but it was kept clean and had all the options you could think of for a resort vacation. What was very cool was they gave each resort guest a number of resort credits that could be used in a variety of ways. My wife and I used them to upgrade menu choices at some of the restaurants, private cabana’s on the beach, and for entrance to the spa as well as services there. There were various pools located at the resort where the party crowds seemed to gravitate towards, while the guests who wanted to relax and unwind had a plethora of choices along their enormous beach front. And right in the middle of it all, was a huge stage fit for any large music festival, where the musical magic went down at night.
Each night had a different line-up consisting of different artists and different set times. The first night was kicked off by Brett Dennen, an eccentric musician who has a very different delivery, but one who I enjoyed a great deal. He has had some hits that have showed up on different commercials and movies, such as “Comeback Kid” (look it up, I am positive you’ve heard it). When he hit the stage, the Castaway guests were chomping at the bit for some music, so his show was accepted very positively. With the music playing, the cool Mexican breeze blowing and the neon lights flashing in the sky, you knew you the next few nights were going to be something very special. The second act of the night was The Wailers, Bob Marley’s old backing band who has continued to tour after his untimely passing. And for fans of the old Bob Marley & The Wailers Greatest Hits, there show contained every single one of the classics. The lead singer did very well to engage the crowd as the entire concert courtyard turned into a dance party. “One Love”, “Jamming”, “Exodus” and many more were full out sing-a-longs as The Wailers played on to midnight closing out a very fun and diverse first night of music.
However, the second day was the one all the guests were looking forward to the most as Zac Brown Band was set to take the stage right before sundown. I caught up with Clay Cook, multi instrumentalist for ZBB and a solo artists in his own right, and he told me how much he was looking forward to taking the stage because the band hadn’t played together for a few months. He told me he was meeting up with Zac that afternoon to discuss the setlist because “they knew it had to be something different and special”. And different and special it was, as ZBB performed a flawless two hour set full of song from each one of their projects, including songs I had never heard live before despite the fact that I’ve seen them live more than two dozen times.
Naturally, their set began with “Castaway” and was finished off by “Toes”, two of their island themed songs. But it was tracks such as “Day That I Die”, “Cold Hearted” and “Natural Disaster” that made this set so memorable for the die hard Zamily members who paid their way out to Mexico hoping to see their favorite band celebrate their career. Of course, there were the hits such as “Free”, and “Homegrown” thrown in, because, well, ZBB has hits. But it was refreshing to hear all of their catalogue played live. And to make this set even more memorable for me, personally, was the fact that I got to watch the majority of the show from a rooftop suite overlooking the stage with the ocean in the background at sunset, thanks to a few good friends I made while on the vacation. This set, for me, will always be one of my favorite two hours of live music that I’ve ever witnessed.
After ZBB’s set it was announced by T-Bird, the Zamily’s Manager, that Brian Collins was going to be performing at one of the bars on the resort. I had never heard Brian Collins’ music before but my friends urged me to go and see him and I am happy I did. Brian has a true Southern Ground type feel to his music and he performed a stirring acoustic set with his guitar and harmonica, as well as help from ZBB’s Daniel De Los Reyes and John Driscoll Hopkins. The catchy song “Healing Highway” really stood out to me and made me buy his album when I got back home. And I unfortunately did not get to see Michael Franti’s performance that night, but from what I heard, he had some of the best energy of any of the performers and hope to catch him in the future.
The next day we were treated to a songwriting seminar with Coy Bowles of the ZBB and a guacamole cook off with Chef Rusty Hamlin, the band’s touring chef. The seminar with Coy was outstanding as he spoke on how the band comes up with lines in songs and musical breakdowns. For instance he told us that the band goofily created the song “Castaway” based off a dance some older women were doing in the front row of a ZBB show. Or how the intro to “Colder Weather” was just stumbled upon at 5 am by Clay Cook at a piano at Kid Rock’s house, while he was still half asleep. To hear how some of the songs ZBB fans love were created was truly priceless. I even got to meet the lead singer of Dawes, Taylor Goldsmith, at the bar that afternoon. Overall, it was a solid day with lots of fun and personalized options for the fans.
That night we were treated to shows by Dawes and Kacey Musgraves. For me, aside from the ZBB sets, the two hour set by Dawes was the most memorable of the four nights. I had never heard their music before they were announced as a performer at Castaway and I spent the months leading up to the vacation, experiencing their four albums on vinyl. And wow, was I blown away by their live performance. I would describe Dawes as a folk-rock-jam band as they take a folk like approach to their songwriting with a lot of rock rifts, but then jam out for minutes at a time on almost every other song. “My Time Comes”, “Things Happen”, and “All Your Favorite Bands” are probably their most well known songs, but it was other tracks such as “I Can’t Think About It Now” and “Somewhere Along The Way” that were most impressive live because each of the band members absolutely owned their instruments with bombastic jam outs. They completely won me over and I will now see them live every time they are in my area.
Up after Dawes was country sweetheart, Kacey Musgraves. She put forth a low energy, free flowing set that paired very nicely with the breezy Mexican night. Kacey’s first album, “Same Trailer, Different Park” has become one of my favorite albums, although her second album did not really connect with me the same way. Her stage persona has changed a bit as she used to be very earthy, but now dresses in a strange tutu as her bandmates dressed in pink suits. It all comes across as a bit cheesy to me, but her songs, nonetheless, are pure country and of much quality. I watched half the set with the crowd and half the set from my friend’s rooftop with a cigar and some whiskey, which really brought together the relaxing atmosphere that Kacey creates.
The final day of Castaway included tequila tasting seminars, a dance class with Daniel De Los Reyes, and a Tropical Sunset dinner prepared by Chef Rusty with acoustic music from Darrell Scott. The food was amazing as Rusty cooked up suckling pigs and some freshly caught fish along with lots of authentic Mexican food. Darrell Scott performed on a stage that was in the middle of the ocean with help from ZBB band member Matt Mangano. It was a perfect kick off before the final pairing of Trombone Shorty and Zac Brown Band.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue performed on the main stage first on the final night and they put forth an equally impressive and energetic set. Trombone Shorty himself is a dynamic performer who uses every inch of the stage while he sings, raps, and plays a number of instruments, most notably, the trombone. His band members were extremely skilled as his guitarist ripped filthy solo’s and his horn and sax sections had their time to shine as well. Trombone Shorty had everyone dancing and grooving from start to finish and was much more than just a warm up for the finale of the vacation. I even got to hang with him in the crowd during ZBB’s set and he was incredibly personable.
ZBB performed the finale set of the Castaway experience with another two hour set chock full of hits and rare cuts from all of their albums. Incredibly, they did not repeat a single song from their previous Mexican set two days earlier, which I dare you to find me another act who can do that. “Quiet Your Mind”, “Settle Me Down”, and “Different Kind of Fine” were some of the rarely heard live songs that were performed, along with hits such as “Keep Me In Mind”, “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “Beautiful Drug”.
A few highlights included Darrell Scott coming out for the song he co-wrote with Zac, “Remedy”, fiddler Jimmy De Martini’s face melting solo on their cover of “Neon”, and the “Broken Arrows” performance that Zac is featured on with the EDM artist, Avicii . Over all, the show was high energy and Zac and the boys were amped up throughout. Fittingly, the four night concert experience was capped with ZBB’s breakout hit, “Chicken Fried”, which made the courtyard feel like a family style sing-a-long. It was a masterfully executed event on all fronts as the music, food, resort, and personal attention were impeccable. Zac told the crowd he wanted to do this again next year right back at the Hard Rock. Mark my words, if they do it again, I will be there. It truly was easy living down in paradise …
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
February 10, 2016
The River Tour
XL Center – Hartford, CT
Thirty Five years ago, Bruce Springsteen released an album which catapulted his career to new heights, that album was The River. Bruce has often stated that The River was the gateway to his future writing. The songs on this project were created during a recession in America, where a lot of people were struggling just to make it by. The twenty songs that make up the album fully showcase why people consider Springsteen a voice of the blue-collar, hard-working people of this country. And last night, at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, Bruce and his E Street Band performed the entire album, in order, to a sold out and boisterous crowd.
I’ve seen Bruce live now almost a dozen times and no show of his is just the “greatest hits” that so many artists go out and perform the same set night after night. It is a three and a half hour celebration of his entire career. So if you come to one of his shows, you need to come prepared with an appreciation for his full catalogue. However, the first two hours last night was a beautiful rendition of the classic The River album which had a mixture of energy, pain, and truth. Whether he was crowd surfing during Hungry Heart or playing a flawless harmonica during The River, or showcasing his band’s many talents in songs such as Sherry Darling or Cadillac Ranch, the full understanding of how each of that project’s songs tied together really brought the performance to a special level. I thought the most moving moment of the night was during Point Blank where most of the stage was dimmed and the dark lyrics really shined through and captivated the entire arena.
And in true, Bruce Springsteen fashion, once the entire The River was performed, he blasted into another twelve songs which had the crowd up, dancing, and jumping around. This double encore of sorts, included hits such as Born To Run, Thunder Road, and Dancing In The Dark. One of the best parts of the evening was seeing the interaction between Bruce and his new saxophonist, who happens to be the late Clarence Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons. Jake’s uncle would be very proud of him as he did his best to fill the void that Clarence’s death left on the Band and the music community as a whole. And he was very impressive as he used every bit of the stage and belted out tons of sax solo’s to the crowd’s absolute delight.
All in all, I have yet to attend a Bruce Springsteen show that disappoints and this was no exception. In fact, due to the fact that the entire two track The River was performed in its entirety, made the night even more special. Bruce shows no sign of aging as both his voice and his energy on stage seemingly have not changed in forty years. I hope he and the E Street Band continue to do more tours celebrating their storied past while continuning to give their fans new music during their journey as living legends.
Erik Dylan – Live at the Wolf Den, Mohegan Sun – November 19, 2015
A multitude of music fans were treated to an impressive ninety minute set this past Thursday night, by one of Nashville’s up and coming singer-songwriters, Erik Dylan. For those of you who say you have not heard his name before, that could be entirely true. However, based on what is on Erik Dylan’s current plate, that is all about to change. Erik took a few days off from his busy schedule on Nashville’s Music Row, where he is busy writing songs under his publishing deal with Cornman Music, as well as putting the finishing touches on an album he hopes to release in the first half of 2016. Backed by a full band at the intimate Wolf Den located in the heart of Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, Erik showcased songs about his Kansas roots, love and relationships, life’s struggles and losses, and a few tunes about having some good old fun.
This was Erik’s second time playing Mohegan Sun, but my first time seeing his live show. I was very familiar with his music from the songs available for download on iTunes and the numerous clips from his die hard fans on YouTube. His set flowed seamlessly starting off with a touch of party mixed in with a couple classic rock covers, including mash-ups with songs from Steve Miller and Tom Petty. And his fans, who filled the Wolf Den to almost capacity, seemed to know each and every word to songs such as “Where The Party At”, “Beer For That”, “Hot Thing” and “Living For A Friday Night”, the latter of which has been getting steady airplay on Country 92.5’s morning show, the Electric Barnyard with Broadway. Erik has a very relaxed stage presence that is both smooth and soulful. The way he annunciates his lyrics is done with genuine confidence that would make you think he has been on the big stage for decades.
The most impressive part of the set, in my opinion, was when Erik and his female guitarist were the sole people on stage for an acoustic set. The songs chosen for this portion were fan requested and it really highlighted who Erik Dylan is as an artist: a masterful songwriter who can paint a picture with lyrics. The songs “Experts On Sin” and “13th Floor” are as good of a song as I have heard all year as they touch on topics most songwriters won’t go near: the self reflective and suppressing feelings. “Fishing Alone” tugs at the heart strings as much as any tune out there, and “That Girl That Got Away” is relatable to virtually everyone. Erik performed a phenomenal cover of Garth Brooks’ classic, “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old”, but it was his version of “Comeback Kid” that had the crowd singing the loudest all night. Erik co-wrote the song with Jeff Hyde, Ross Copperman, and Kip Moore and it is featured on Kip’s sophomore album, Wild Ones. Erik explained that each songwriter connects with that song in a different way and that he wrote it with his wife in mind. In fact, the version he played that night featured a different second verse than the one that appears on Wild Ones. The entire acoustic set was masterfully executed and made the fans feel like they could have been sitting at a table at the Bluebird Café in Nashville.
Erik cranked things up for the last portion of his set, which was highlighted by a stirring cover of “Copperhead Road” by one of Erik’s favorite artists, Steve Earle. His band hit on all cylinders complete with soaring guitar rifts backing Erik’s poignant vocals. The final two songs “Your Way Down” and “Hearts on Desire” are on two totally different spectrums both lyrically as well as sonically. But, it speaks to the versatility that Erik Dylan possesses. I caught up with Erik after the show where he shed some light on his upcoming project. He said the party tunes will not be a part of the album and, instead, there will be songs that really reflect who is as a person and where he came from in Kansas. He has been working with some of the best musicians and producers in Nashville and says that it is getting a lot of buzz on Music Row. He hopes to release it in the first half of 2016, but is not sure of the exact date yet. He also said a bunch of Nashville’s current radio mainstays, such as Eric Paslay, Justin Moore, and others he could not yet name, are cutting his songs and will be on their next albums. But, if Erik’s live show indicated anything, it shows that he has the chops to be one of those household names himself.
The 2015 CMA Awards: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?
Two times per year, I sit down at the TV excited to watch a country music awards show only to be usually very disappointed by who ends up winning the awards. The CMA Awards and ACM Awards have become a political ass kissing fest, where the actual artists most deserving of the awards get slighted by the ones who play the games the Music Row wants them to, as well as have the “right” label backing them. That being said, the Awards show are fun because the multitude of performances, including an array of collaborations. The CMA Awards are usually much better than the ACM’s, in my opinion, because Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood are phenomenal hosts and their opening monologue is usually hysterical. I know a lot of “bloggers” do a similar post like this, so I am not reinventing the wheel here. But, rather than bitterly posting tweets about the award winners on twitter, I thought I would get out my arguments and anticipated frustrations ahead of time, so that I can enjoy a bottle of bourbon and country music on my television in peace tonight. Here it goes, whether you agree or disagree, does not matter in the least to me:
SONG OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Girl Crush. It was a polarizing and controversial song, for some reason. I guess because people either did not listen to the lyrics or did not understand them. But this song will most likely win this category.
Should Win: Like A Cowboy would get the vote from me. The song paints a great picture when you listen to it and that is what makes the best country songs. Plus, the way it is written allows Randy Houser’s voice to soar on it.
Side Note: How in the world is Take Your Time nominated? It’s not even a song that is sung by Sam Hunt, it is basically spoken word. Awful.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Will Win: I Don’t Dance
Should Win: Talladega would get my vote, but would not mind seeing Lee get the award either. Both songs are about nostalgic moments in life and both are meaningful and reflective. Talladega, to me, seemed like a song everyone was talking about all year.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Traveller – Chris Stapleton.
Should Win: Traveller – Chris Stapleton. It is, hands down, the best album from start to finish, of the year. It’s got unbelievable lyrics and soulful vocals on each and every song. As DeeJay Silver told me earlier this year: “if this album was released 20 or 30 years ago, we would still be talking about it today as one of the best of all time.” I think the voters will get this one right, but maybe I am giving them too much credit. But with Chris being nominated for three awards and performing with Justin Timberlake, I think this is the Award he most deserves.
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Sam Hunt. The women love him and do not seem to mind that he is 0% country and wears leggings on stage. But, this is probably one of the most predictable awards of the year.
Should Win: I would like to make an argument for Stapleton but the radio just did not play him and his album sales were not as big as Hunt’s. I would not vote for Hunt and would vote for Stapleton, but I can see why Thomas Rhett deserves some votes as well. He has had numerous hits, been on big tours, and has had an album that sold pretty well.
VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Florida Georgia Line. This one is obvious however much I dislike their style of so called music. They would also win the award for Douches Of the Year as well.
Should Win: Maddie & Tae. These two females came blazing on the scene with a song attacking bro-country and I respected them for that. Their follow up songs have not been as popular, but since FGL puts out the same damn song time after time, I think M&T would get my vote her for being unique, at the least.
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Little Big Town. Apparently being a perennial opening act, selling a small amount of albums, having one polarizing song, yet having the right label to politic for you, wins you this award. They certainly do not deserve this award from a strictly statistical position. Both ZBB and Lady A have had more success this year than LBT, in sales, hits, and touring combined. They will win this again, but it is an absolute joke.
Should Win: Zac Brown Band. Did any of the other groups sell out 3 dates in Fenway Park, 2 in Citi Field, 2 in Wrigley Park, or Coors Field? Did any of them play live on HBO with Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl? Did they have 3 #1 songs, one even on the Rock Charts? Did any of them sell more than 200,000 copies of their album in the first week? No, I did not think so. But Zac and company don’t do ass kissing well, thus won’t win. And that’s what really grinds my gears.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Luke Bryan. Big tour, big sales, politically correct. He wins or Blake takes it because Music Row loves him as well.
Should Win: Dierks or Church. I can make arguments for both and absolutely loved “Riser” and “The Outsiders”. They both had big tours and lots of hits. They produce quality and have integrity. Stapleton did not have any of the “stats” the other four had, but I would love to see an upset here. If I was voting, it would be for Dierks or Church, with Eric probably edging him out.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Miranda Lambert, because she always does.
Should Win: Carrie Underwood. All of recent songs have been big hits and she deserves at least a split of these awards that Miranda seems to somehow get 100% of. I would love to see Kacey win in an upset, but I do not see that happening.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Will Win: Luke Bryan. Same reasons as above.
Should Win: Kenny Chesney. To me, Entertainer means live performances and touring. Kenny and Garth had the biggest tours of the year. Kenny sold out stadiums nationwide and had huge names open for him. He won’t win and I could see Garth winning here in an upset. But how Kenny does not win this every year with the Touring numbers he puts together is beyond me.
Thomas Rhett & Brett Eldredge’s Suits & Boots Tour – Terminal 5, NYC – October 29th, 2015
Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge brought the opening night of their co-headlining “Suits & Boots” Tour, sponsored by CMT, to New York City’s Terminal 5 this past Thursday and put forth two very different yet rousing sets. Both artists are coming off of new album releases which have both sold very well in the initial weeks. Eldredge released “Illinois” and Rhett followed that a few weeks later with “Tangled Up”. Both albums showcase different shades of today’s country music with Eldredge staying within the borders of today’s version of traditional country music, while Rhett stepped outside the genre and predominately made a pop album with a touch of twang. Their sets followed suit and the crowd responded emphatically all night long.
Thomas Rhett performed before Eldredge, but got a much bigger response from the crowd throughout his set. His setlist was full of hits from his first album as well as multiple cuts from his newest release. That being said, the crowd seemingly knew every word and danced and sang along with the country pop star. He opened with “Anthem” and was dressed with a suit jacket, white t shirt and jeans. He danced around the stage doing his best Bruno Mars/Justin Timberlake impression, but it was not forced or done so in a cheesy way. His country-pop persona comes across very authentic and his set was very professional, with no lulls whatsoever. The lyrics to “It Goes Like This”, “Make Me Wanna” and “Get Me Some of That” were so well known by the crowd that TR didn’t even have to sing at points. And songs such as “Die A Happy Man” and “Playing With Fire”, the latter of which featured tour opener Danielle Bradberry, created a good change of pace from the otherwise non-stop party. But, by the time TR finished his set with “Crash & Burn”, the crowd was fired up and having fun. And in turn, you could tell Rhett was as well. It was a spirited set throughout that was equally impressive and, simply, a lot of fun.
Eldredge came out for the start of his set in a suit and tie, obviously taking the name of the tour quite literally. His set did not garner the same crowd reaction as Thomas Rhett’s did, but I thought his performance was quite steady. The setlist had some ups and downs as it was clear the crowd did not know the newer songs as much, but when he sang his many hits, such as “Beat of the Music”, “Mean To Me”, and “Lose My Mind”, the crowd reverted back to sing-a-long mode. He seemed to really be excited about his new single, “Drunk On Your Love”, stating it was the catchiest song he’s ever written. But, his song “Don’t Ya” had arguably the biggest reaction of any song that night. Brett’s genuine charisma signed bright on that song as the tall and lanky singer stomped and flapped around the stage with a big old smile. His final song choice, “The Shadow”, was rather head scratching as I find it to be one of the worst songs on his new album and did not connect with the crowd whatsoever. I was a bit surprised that he did not sing the title song from “Illinois” nor “One Mississippi” as both ballads are some of his strongest songs to date. That being said, his set was also fun and showcased his likeability perfectly.
For the encore, both Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge came back out and sat on stools to do an impromptu acoustic set in which they each choice random songs and sang snippets. I thought this portion of the show really fell flat as it seems very unrehearsed and quite sloppy. They did way more talking than singing which made the whole encore quite choppy. They sang songs such as Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon”, and Frank Sinatra’s “How You Look Tonight”. However, I hope as the tour progresses, this portion of the show cleans up quite a bit. Otherwise, I really found the two stars’ sets to be enjoyable and well worth the money. On the major down side was the venue itself. The head seemed to be cranked to well over 100 degrees and way more tickets were sold than standing room was available. Everyone was sweating quite profusely and I saw many people walk out saying they just could not see the stage. Terminal 5 really did not deliver on that front.
Zac Brown Band – Citi Field, NYC – August 21, 2015
When Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde album was released, most of the so called “critics” gave mixed reviews due to the diversity of the genres they attempted to cover. However, if any of those critics were present at New York City’s Citi Field this past weekend, they would have completely understood ZBB’s mindset with that project. I was in the pit for the first night of their two night stand, and witnessed a band truly transform into a Jekyll + Hyde monster. One who could sing country music songs with the best of them, but could also jam out, rock, and get people raving to EDM without missing a beat.
I’ve seen ZBB live numerous times before and have been at every one of their NYC shows, starting with Bowery Ballroom, and working their way up through Terminal 5, opening for Kenny Chesney at MetLife Stadium, opening for Dave Matthews Band at Citi Field, and headlining gigs at Madison Square Garden and Forest Hills Stadium. The best part about seeing this band time and time again, in comparison to most acts, is that every night they put forth a different setlist. Friday night was no different, as they opened with “Sweet Annie”, a song that just sometimes makes their setlists.
What followed was a first half of the show that included hits such as “Toes”, “As She’s Walking Away” and “Knee Deep” as well as covers from Led Zeppelin, Charlie Daniels Band, and Billy Joel, as well as a bunch of the new songs, highlighted by the moving tribute to our military with the Jason Isbell penned “Dress Blues”. During that song, two Marines came out to salute the crowd atop the third level of the ambitious stage ZBB is illuminating stadiums with on this tour. Jimmy De Martini, the band’s amazing fiddler, broke into an emotional rendition of taps mid song, and Coy Bowles had a rockstar moment as he jammed out following the fiddle. Zac Brown, who is far from chatty at his shows, took a few seconds to thank the US military post-song, as the sold out crowd berated the band with chants of” USA”.
After a few t shirts were shot into the crowd by the band members, an acoustic set took place at the front of the catwalk. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and the emotional song for all dad’s who have little girls like myself, “I’ll Be Your Man” (backed by a gospel choir) showcased the true musicianship that ZBB possesses. Whether its classic rock, country, or just good old songs that tug at the heartstrings, I dare someone to show me a better live performing act in any genre of music today.
After a ten minute intermission, the band upped the ante and brought some high energy excitement to the Mets Ballpark. Whether it was the EDM inspired “Beautiful Drug”, which happens to be their new single, or the recent chart topper on the rock charts, “Heavy is the Head”, Zac’s face started to change to complete intensity. The gospel choir came back out for a beautiful rendition of “Remedy” and Zac ripped into Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” mid way through the mega hit “Keep Me In Mind”. ZBB kept the crowd guessing with what was coming next and, boy, was it fun.
The last three songs of the set before the encore are a perfect testament to what kind of band ZBB is. For all you critics out there, you need to listen up, this is not a country band. You cannot label them as so. Just sit there and watch them do a 21 minute version of “Who Knows” complete with Clay Cook absolutely shredding a guitar that would make Brad Paisley and Keith Urban jealous. Then watch them pay homage to a band they opened for just five years ago in the same stadium, as they performed “Stay” by the Dave Matthews Band flawlessly. Then watch them get every single person in the entire stadium singing along to “Chicken Fried”. The live performance beast monster that they are touches on every single genre, just as their new album does. It’s meant to create a spectacle live, and they do it better than anyone else.
ZBB’s encore consisted of Zac coming out with his third different hat of the night, this time a throwback Mets hat, as he walked through the entire pit shaking hands and slapping five as he belted out “Colder Weather”. And the band finished up with yet another full on sing-a-long as “Homegrown” was performed to perfection. I heard people walking out stating it was the best show they’ve ever seen and it just made me smile. The people who see ZBB live get it, this is not a country band. It is a unique creature that executes on stage better than anyone else out there today.
Jason Isbell – College Street Music Hall – New Haven, CT – 7/22/15
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the Jason Isbell concert at the pristine College Street Music Hall in New Haven, Connecticut and ended up witnessing one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. I unfortunately missed the opening act, Blake Mills, but got there a few minutes before Isbell took to the stage. I found my way to the left side of the front pit and settled in for what I expected to a great night of music. However, my expectations were blown out of the water with the live vocal presence of Isbell, as well as the true artistry he and his band, The 400 Unit, displayed throughout the night.
It took him no time to get going into some of my favorite songs from his catalogue. He kicked things off with the funky “Palmetto Rose” and quickly transitioned into the folky “Stockholm” followed by his new single, “24 Frames”. All three opening songs truly displayed the diversity that Jason Isbell has to offer. What I did not expect was the exceptional skill that he possesses with the guitar. He seemingly changed guitars each song with a more impressive one after another. And the guitar riffs, solo’s, and jam outs were plentiful and masterfully executed.
And there was no lull to the show as he kept the crowd guessing what he was going to perform next. Whether it was the accordion backed bluegrassy “Codeine” or the impressive acoustic performance of the award winning “Cover Me Up”, the show was a rollercoaster of emotions, with the real star being the honest lyrics that Isbell creates. It was very clear to me last night that Jason Isbell may, in fact, be the best musical storyteller of this generation. From the sad military ballad, “Dress Blues”, which Zac Brown Band covered on their Jekyll + Hyde album, to the angry “Decoration Day” to the clever and witty “If It Takes a Lifetime”, there was truly no topic that Isbell could not make his lyrics connect with the crowd.
The almost two hour set concluded with one of my least favorite songs, “Super 8”, but that did not bother me at all because the entire night was truly so impressive. The overall setlist included songs spanning his entire career, including several songs from his time singing lead vocals for the Drive-by-Truckers. Most of his new album Something More Than Free was also performed flawlessly and had concert goers flocking to the merch table to get their hands on some autographed copies. All in all, my expectations were surpassed and has made Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit a must see act each and every time they will come back to the Northeast.
I caught up with Kip Moore this past Friday before his performance at New York City’s 1st ever Farmborough Festival on Randall’s Island. He sat down with me and spoke about two of the tracks on his upcoming album, Wild Ones, to be released on August 21, 2015. Check out what to expect from the songs “Wild Ones” and “Comeback Kid”.
“I can’t wait for people to hear this. The intro is just super stripped and we geeked and geeked until we found the most killer drum tone for it. When people see what I’ve been up to behind the scenes with this song, people are going to flip. It’s just raw and has emotion behind it. I wrote it for my fans, but people are going to flip when hearing this and the rest of the album.”
Check out the intro and first verse of “Wild Ones” from the Farmborough Festival this past weekend:
“I have always felt like the underdog my entire life. I have always had to scrap and claw for every single inch. I think that has given me a chip on my shoulder for most of my life. When I have seen things handed to others, when I have had to work so hard for it. But for that, I have a different thankfulness than other people do and I have a sense of gratitude. But, I’ve always had a supreme confidence when other people have doubted me. I always think I am going to get where I am going to get. It’s like a thing of destiny, but you are the only one in on that thing so that no ones knows where you are going, but you. I think that song, man, it is just 100% me and its going to resonate with a lot of people not just here in America, but around the world. It’s for all the people who scrap and claw with every inch” – Kip Moore
A few months ago, I sat down with songwriter, Erik Dylan, who also discussed the song (see “Who’s Next: Erik Dylan”: http://millertimemusicspot.com/whos-next-erik-dylan/). He had the following to say about his relationship to “Comeback Kid”:
“I wrote a song called “Comeback Kid”. There are actually four writers that wrote it, Ross Copperman, Jeff Hyde, myself and Kip… It was written for Kip but each of the writers related to the song from a different place with what the song means… My wife worked a day job for seven years and as a songwriter there are times you question whether you are good enough or if it is all worth it. You need that someone there to support you. So the song in my mind was all about my wife because I was the Comeback Kid… Meanwhile, Kip is the Comeback Kid in a different way because he had his share of ups and downs and so many people told him he would not be a country music singer and look at him now.” – Erik Dylan
Who’s Next: Chris Stapleton
For the past year I have been doing a monthly segment which I’ve entitled “Who’s Next”. This month’s post is a bit different because its dedicated to an artist who I feel is going to break out as a solo artist, yet has seen various forms of success over the past decade. He has penned over 150 songs that have ended up on major artists’ albums, such as Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Dierks Bentley, Adele, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, and Gary Allan. He was the lead singer of the bluegrass band, The Steeldrivers, for a few years, and even founded a rock band called The Jompson Brothers.
However, on May 5, 2015, Stapleton released one of the most refreshing albums I’ve heard in years, entitled “Traveller”. The album has such an organic and traditional sound filled with songs that are edgy, dark, and moving. The present day’s climate of country music makes the genre seem more like pop music with many of the artists making songs that are shallow and meaningless. Yet, with “Traveller”, Stapleton wanted no part of the bro country phase and instead created a masterpiece from start to finish complete with songs with meaning.
I got to sit down with Stapleton for a few minutes while I was on official assignment for countrymusicislove.com before he performed at New York City’s 1st ever Farmborough Festival on Randall’s Island (you can see my recap of the Festival here: http://www.countrymusicislove.com/country-music-news/the-big-apple-goes-country-with-first-ever-farmborough-festival/). Check out my interview below:
MTMS: Do you take a different approach to songwriting when it comes to your solo career as compared to making a song for other artists?
Chris Stapleton: Not really, I just try to write the best song I can each day. That is unless I am writing with another artist specifically for a project. But, I do not sit down with any other intent than to write the best song I can write for that day. Some days you get lucky and make one that someone wants to cut or can be a hit. Other days I just take it as practice at writing a song.
MTMS: When did you start writing songs?
Chris Stapleton: I’ve been writing songs since I was teenager. Professionally, I got my first publishing deal when I was 23 in 2001.
MTMS: Have you recorded any of the first songs you ever wrote?
Chris Stapleton: You know, some of the songs that are fourteen, fifteen years old are on this record. “Fire Away” and “Might As Well Get Stoned” are in that range. I have songs that other people cut that I wrote before I even moved to town. Like “Nobody’s Fool” that Miranda Lambert cut, I wrote that when I was 18. Songs hang around and they will find a way if they can do the job.
MTMS: Did you expect the huge critical response you’ve received from “Traveller”?
Chris Stapleton: I don’t think you can ever expect anything like that. You just have to try to write the best songs you can and sometimes you get lucky. I will say this was a really wonderful and beautiful experience and probably the best one I’ve ever had. It all flowed together organically and if you step back and look at things, it all came together.
MTMS: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Chris Stapleton: They are all my favorite songs because I don’t look at them as individually songs, I look at them as a body of work. They span such a long range of time so they are pieces of phases until they ended up on the record. I really can’t pick one because I think they flow together. I really like albums as a whole as much as I can appreciate individual songs, so these all tying together meant a lot to me.
Dierks Bentley – Sounds of Summer Tour – June 5, 2015 – Raleigh, NC
Guest Blog by Carrie Srebro (@corbers)
The summer concert season got off to a hot start (literally and figuratively) as Dierks Bentley kicked off his “Sounds of Summer” tour in Raleigh, NC on Friday, June 5, 2015. This is Dierks’ second year headlining the major amphitheaters across North America, and he, as always, gave fans a high energy show that packs a ton of punch!
Canaan Smith kicked the night off promptly at 7 pm with a 5-6 song set which included his current hit single “Love You Like That,” as well as “Two Lane Road” and a cover of Nick Jonas’ “Chains.” Canaan’s music isn’t really my cup of tea, but he put on an enthusiastic and energetic performance to get the night started. I met him before the show out at the box office, and he was very nice!
Maddie & Tae were up next, and delivered an energetic performance. I find these girls to be refreshing – their backing band includes a fiddler!, and they both played instruments including acoustic guitar and dobro through the performance. In fact, the only time they put the instruments down was for a rousing cover of Dolly Parton’s “9-5” which the crowd loved. The girls have tight harmonies and sounded great live, and never stopped smiling through their set. The set included songs that are on their current EP (“Fly,” and fan-favorite “Sierra”) as well as some new music that will be on their upcoming full-length August release. “Shut Up and Fish” is a cheeky song about dating a city boy who won’t – well – shut up and fish, and a lot of fun. And of course the crowd went crazy for the duo’s first #1 hit “Girl in a Country Song.”
Maddie & Tae Setlist:
Promptly at 8:15, Kip Moore took the stage, opening with the rousing anthemic song “Wild Ones,” the title track off his upcoming album. He then threw it back, so to speak, to his debut album with “Crazy One More Time” and “Reckless” before getting the crowd worked up with his hit single “Beer Money,” followed by an awesome cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle!” I’ve only seen Kip one other time, at the Grand Ole Opry for a 3-song set, and was really looking forward to this longer set. Kip didn’t disappoint – his gravelly vocals sounded fantastic on “Hey Pretty Girl” which he then blended into “Stand by Me”. New songs included were his current single “I’m to Blame,” (which feels even shorter in a live setting), “Come and Get It,” and “Magic.” The set closed with Kip’s quirky #1 hit “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” (which coincidentally was Dierks’ walkout music for the Locked and Reloaded Tour in 2013!), which the crowd loved!
Kip Moore Setlist:
There had been a lot of press leading up to the kickoff of the tour this week, and the word of the week was “pyro” which admittedly had me a little worried. I’ve followed Dierks since his debut, and I’ve seen him over 35 times live, and I’ve just never felt like he ever needed to put on a big production to remain competitive in the live world. But, I guess they felt like it was time to pull out all of the stops this year! Thankfully, I didn’t really think anything was over the top, and even though the production is bigger, it still feels like a Dierks show – which means it’s super high on energy and crowd interaction. His 90-minute set kicked off with “Sideways,” “Am I The Only One,” and “5-1-5-0” and we got our first taste of fireworks at the end of “5-1-5-0” (the only time I felt like it was gratuitous, but I suppose in hindsight it was to close the big opening of the show). During the first three songs, Dierks was all over the stage, on the catwalk, giving high fives and fistbumps constantly, pointing out little white tank tops and pilot hats (obvious nods to his uber-popular “What Was I Thinkin” and “Drunk on a Plane”). He took a break to address the crowd leading into “I Hold On,” expressing his delight in opening the tour in Raleigh, commenting how far he’d come since 2005 when he played the 500-seat Lincoln Theatre, and mentioning his late father and telling the crowd “he’d get a kick out of this, y’all.”
He also made a point of calling out all of the faces he recognized down front, his long-time followers, and exclaimed “We did it!” “I Hold On” turned into a massive singalong, with the crowd positively screaming the song back to Dierks. The tour showcased the live debut of “Sounds of Summer” which included another singalong, with Dierks remarking that was his “favorite sound of summer.” Upcoming single “Riser” was absolutely a highlight of the evening, as Dierks was lifted into the air as part of the stage came up. His performance was strong, stirring, and triumphant.
On last summer’s “Riser” Tour, Dierks utilized a B-stage at the back of the reserved area, close to the lawn seats, and he continued that this year as well. Much to the delight of fans, he walks out to the B-stage taking selfies, giving high fives and hugs while singing the fan-favorite “Come a Little Closer” as he… comes a little closer. He sang the anthemic “Home,” and then the band joined him for a “banjo-fied” cover of Nick Jonas’ “Chains” (which sounds strange, but it works) – and he joked about Canaan singing the song earlier in his set, too – and “Settle For a Slowdown.” They then worked their way back up to the main stage for “Up on the Ridge” where they really turned up the heat – flames shot out of the back of the stage for the latter half of the song, and if you’re down front, be prepared for the warmth! It was a cool effect and I felt like it added to the spooky kind of bonfire-esque feel of the song. His “regular” set ended with his most recent #1 single “Say You Do.”
Of course that meant that he hadn’t done the two biggest songs of his career, and sure enough, a video started to play of he and band members Cassidy and Dan attempting to “hood slide like Bo Duke.” It was pretty hilarious, especially when the General Lee and “Bo Duke” himself showed up. Of course that meant that “What Was I Thinkin” was coming, and the crowd was whipped into a frenzy once again. But nothing could top the response to show closing “Drunk on a Plane.” It was one massive sing along, and ended with more fireworks.
Dierks said he wanted to make sure the “Sounds of Summer” Tour was the best tour of the summer, and I would say he’ll make good on that promise for many fans. He continues to put on a high energy show full of crowd interaction and look like he’s having the time of his life the entire time. He’s also good to his openers, inviting Kip Moore out during “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” and Maddie & Tae and Canaan joined him for “Free & Easy.” All four acts seem to get along really well, and even on night one there was an ease among them. If you have the chance to catch this tour, I highly recommend it!
Dierks Bentley Setlist:
Zac Brown Band – Jekyll + Hyde Tour – June 6, 2015 – Hartford, CT
Guest Blog by Kellie Lambert (@kellie3lambert)
Throughout my entire life, I have been a rocker chick. My tastes may have drifted in and out of various genres, loving all types of music, by my heart lies in the sweet sounds of classic rock, of guitar-slinging musicians and poetic lyrics that far outweigh what is often offered on modern mainstream radio.
In the past year, I’ve delved much deeper in the county realm, as I discover how rock and roll it can be. And that’s how I discovered Zac Brown Band – a group that is as much rock as country, a musical chameleon that can change and morph into just about any style on stage. I became, shall we say, a little obsessed with how simple, yet how complicated, some of their songs were. Lyrics that seemed to be poignant and positive and accompanying layers of music with hooks that I could not shake from my head.
When the band put Hartford on its list of “Jekyll + Hyde” tour dates this summer, I knew I would beg, borrow or steal to land in that audience on June 6. Luckily, my writing gigs allow me the chance to see concerts – as I often review them – so I was lucky to be at the Xfinity Theatre on Saturday to check out what has become one of my all-time favorite bands.
When Zac and company took the stage and launched into “Homegrown,” off its new album, the audience was clearly ready to join in the musical adventure. The band – which features eight core musicians – was set up on a two-tiered stage set with a walkway jutting into the general admission pit. The percussion and horn section was not hidden in the back, as in a standard concert set-up, but showcased on a higher level to be seen in its full glory. By the impressive structure, and large video screens within it, fans in every corner of the arena could appreciate the visuals.
But beyond the flashy visuals was the completely organic, audio pleasure: Musical surprises tucked into the set list. Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” leading into Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” a traditional mash-up with the band’s own “Free.” The Beatles’ “Let it Be,” performed in the vein it was intended. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an impressive undertaking yet the musicians’ paid homage to the classic. And The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” an alternative throw-back that was unexpected to the audience. Zac Brown Band is, in my opinion, one of the world’s best rock cover bands. Except you still appreciate them for their own twist on each cover.
However, Zac Brown Band is not just about performing other’s classics: The group’s own music is just as notable. The band played a bunch of tracks from “Jekyll + Hyde,” including the breezy “Loving You Easy,” as well as “Bittersweet,” “Castaway” “Tomorrow Never Comes,” and “Dress Blues,” the Jason Isbell song honoring our military, which featured a poignant, patriotic moment where a U.S. Marine came out on stage to salute.
The encores lasted deep into the night, ending two and a half hours of tunes, as the band pulled out many of its greatest hits for a sing-a-long with thousands of fans reaching up onto the dark lawn. “Knee Deep,” with its happy summer lyrics, pleased the Parrottheads, but the band turned the mood on its side with the next track, one appealing to the rock contingent: the heavy-hitting “Heavy Is the Head,” the Chris Cornell duet on “Jekyll + Hyde,” which was a total treat since it had not appeared regularly on this tour’s set lists yet.
Confetti cannons filled the night air with paper snow as the band ended the concert with its classic hit “Chicken Fried,” the perfect finale choice with its simple, homegrown life lessons, quotable lines that remind us to appreciate our blessings – musical and otherwise – on this planet. It is funny how it’s the little things in life that mean the most, like a great concert by a talented band under the stars outside on a Saturday night.
The “Jekyll + Hyde” tour is in full swing this summer, and if you get a chance to grab a ticket, don’t hesitate. It’s worth every penny.
Kellie Lambert is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous publications in print and online. She has been writing about the Connecticut music scene for more than two decades. She has a weekly music column in the Waterbury, Conn. newspaper, The Republican-American, and a weekly entertainment column in the Observer newspapers, in Bristol and Southington, Conn. She blogs about her life at thepeapodblog.wordpress.com, and can be found on Twitter @kellie3lambert.
Bergen Performing Arts Center- Englewood, NJ – June 3, 2015
Last night, Merle Haggard & The Strangers brought their legendary songs to the stage in the hometown I grew up in, Englewood, New Jersey. This show was the night after Merle released a new album with Willie Nelson, entitled “Django and Jimmie” which he later announced as his first #1 album in twenty eight years. His son, Noel, started things off with a short set as he sang some classic style country music that was easy listening without any spark. But, at approximately 8:45, The Hag took to the stage with a black hat, sunglasses, and electric guitar and the match was immediately lit.
Merle kicked things off with “Big City” and followed it up with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” which had the sold out crowd stomping along right from the start. I had seen Merle live just once prior and he seemed to be much more animated this night, as he ripped into guitar solo’s, made jokes throughout the night (especially about hearing aids and marijuana), and even did some stationary dancing on stage.
I read some reviews of Merle’s recent shows and saw the setlists from those nights. I was expecting an identical setlist, but was very surprised and happy that it was not. He sang some of my personal favorites on this night, such as “The Bottle Let Me Down”, “Silver Wings”, “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and the legendary song “Pancho & Lefty”, originally recorded with Willie Nelson on their first duets album. He even sang a song, “Unfair Weather Friend” from the new Willie & Merle album, which he performed seamlessly. It was a dream setlist and Merle’s vocals were spot on all night.
Not to be forgotten was his impressive band, the Strangers, who had multiple chances to show off on their fiddles, steel guitars, saxophones, madolines, drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars. His son, Ben Haggard, showcased one of the more impressive electric guitars I’ve seen in recent years. But when Merle pulled out a fiddle himself and ripped out a solo, everyone in the crowd got up and gave a standing ovation (see the video below thanks to Country 92.5’s Broadway of the Electric Barnyard, who was also in attendance at the show):
I have had the pleasure of seeing various artists live who have achieved legendary status, such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Carlos Santana, U2, Roger Waters, Jay-Z, and Paul McCartney. Merle’s performance and vocals stacked up to the best of the icons I have seen live. He finished the night off with the epic songs “Fighting Side of Me”, “Working Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee”. Everything Merle did that night was just that, in my eyes, perfection. And sitting in the 8th row in an intimate venue in my hometown, made me appreciate what he has done for music history, that much more.
Aaron Watson – Mercury Lounge, New York City – May 13, 2015
Last night, one of Texas’ finest entertainers brought his act to New York City for the very first time. Aaron Watson and his band put forth a spirited and active hour and a half set, full of stories and songs that showcase exactly who he is and where he comes from. As the title of his album, The Underdog, suggests, Aaron certainly has proved all of his naysayers wrong recently, by becoming the first independent artist in Billboard Chart history to have the #1 Country Album and headlining a show in the Big Apple. It was a special night capped by a phenomenal show.
It was my first ever Aaron Watson live concert experience despite listening to his songs for many years. I had the chance to interview Aaron last week (see: http://millertimemusicspot.com/whos-next-aaron-watson/) and he is easily one of the most humble and real artists I’ve ever met. His live show matched his personality as he was full of smiles and energy throughout. He spoke genuinely about the stories behind the songs he has written. Whether it was “That Look” that he wrote for his wife or “July in Cheyenne” after losing his baby daughter, the openness that he has with his fans is truly second to none.
More than anything, Aaron was born to perform. He was a true showman as he worked the stage, backed by his bombastic band highlighted by a very talented fiddler. Aaron posed for pictures, interacted with fans, and even stripped it down for an acoustic set full of deep cuts from his 10 plus years making music. A nice touch was the fact he was wearing a Babe Ruth shirt which kicked off some “let’s go Yankees” chants by the raucous Big Apple crowd.
And the set list jumped around without missing any era of his discography. Whether it was “Freight Train” or “Fencepost” from the new album or “Summertime Girl” or “Real Good Man” from his past, the crowd seemingly knew every word. Women were square dancing in the corner as the men raised their beers and whiskey during the Military Anthem “Raise Your Bottle”. As the night went on and Aaron sang song after song, it was clear that he had the New York City crowd in the palm of his hand.
There is something to be said for an artist who tries his hand at his dream and is told he cannot be something or should give up. That was exactly the case many years ago when Aaron went to Nashville, Tennessee. Lucky for all of us, Aaron bucked the odds and kept working at his craft. On “Fence Post” he described that very story and everyone in the crowded clapped and nodded along in approval. Aaron described that song as his “sticking it to the man” song and it was clear everyone in that building that night could relate to it somehow.
Aaron vowed to return to New York City again as it appeared that his set had to be cut short due to venue time restrictions. After the show he made good on his statement that he would wait out and meet every single fan who attended the show. Not many artists show the graciousness and respect he does to his fans. I hope this is just the beginning of Aaron Watson traveling out to the Northeast as everyone should rush out to see the Honky-Tonk-Kid with the Underdog Success Story.
I’ve been doing this segment I like to call “Who’s Next” for the past year with a plethora of up and coming country artists. I really debated calling this post by the same name because Aaron Watson is already an A-List name in the Texas music scene and already had the #1 album in country music earlier this year. But, after speaking to him, it is apparent that he is set to take over the national grid on a large scale. So, for those outside of Texas that do not know who he is quite yet, meet Aaron Watson and why he is “Who’s Next”:
MillertimeMusicSpot: I hear you started off playing guitar, but were primarily a baseball player. Is that accurate?
Aaron Watson: Yeah, baseball was my first love growing up. It was definitely my boyhood dream just like every American boy. I had some chances and went on to play baseball in college, but my career was cut short by an injury and that’s when I picked the old guitar up. So when one door closed another opened. But, what is cool is I played home run derby just yesterday with my two sons, Jake and Jack. And playing like this with my boys can rival anything those Major Leaguers are experiencing.
MTMS: Being from the tri-state area, where the country fed to us via radio is mainly pop based, I first heard of you when Real Good Time was released. Do you consider that album your national breakthrough moment?
Aaron Watson: I’ve tried real hard not to be concerned with the mainstream country world. I am just lost in my old little world here in Texas. You can literally play 150 shows a year and make a good living never leaving the state. About six years ago we decided to franchise outside of Texas, to the Midwest and West coast into the mountain states. And now we have our sites on heading out East. So, Real Good Time probably got my first national exposure that set the table for the success that The Underdog had.
MTMS: Willie Nelson, Pat Green, Elizabeth Cook, John Anderson, and more were featured on Real Good Time, what made you decide to go away from the collaboration aspect and just go straight solo in The Underdog?
Aaron Watson: I kind of had an idea that this one had something special on it and wanted to make a statement as an artist, songwriter and singer. I did not want people saying of course he did this because he had this guy helping him. I wanted to ride in solo on this one.
MTMS: Well, it certainly worked out for you. It hit #1 on the Billboard Country Charts. How did that news hit you and your family?
Aaron Watson: It was pretty cool. I try to stay even keel about music and try to get excited about family things. But, I had taken my kids to school and came home and got the phone call in the kitchen with my wife. I may have done a couple double back flips and spun her around with a big kiss. I cannot speak for half of the artists, but this is my job and how I take care of my kids. So, it was more special from a Daddy and Husband point of view.
MTMS: The Underdog speaks to me on so many levels from a songwriter and story point of view. I just had my first child this year and the song “The Underdog” has such a positive message to your children. Did you write that yourself?
Aaron Watson: Yes, all of the songs on the album except two were songs I wrote. That song I wrote for Jake and Jack. I have a little girl too and I’m working on her song. The princess gets her own song she won’t have to share. I’m trying to raise the two boys into good Christian men who will raise their families with good examples. I am trying to be the same kind of dad to them my dad was to me. Life is tough and maybe when they go to college and they will put on that song and finally get it or maybe after I’m gone. But, it was a special song.
MTMS: How did you get the idea to take that approach for the song?
Aaron Watson: My middle boy Jack was upset because he was never winning races he had at school. So, after school we would run sprints in the backyard from the porch to the fence. And one day he came home like he won Game 7 of the World Series. And that taught him if he wants something he has to go earn it and that is how my career has been. No one has handed me anything on a silver platter. There’s been more discouragement than anything, but it just fuels my fire.
MTMS: Was the process in making the record different than the others especially with a new producer and from the indie aspect?
Aaron Watson: Originally the first song on the record was going to be “Freight Train” and one day, it hit me that that wasn’t supposed to be the first song. Along the way leading up to this album, we had some interest from some labels, but ultimately I told my wife that we were going to leave this album in God’s hands. I should have put all the Glory in his Hands because this went number one and I think I am the first artist ever to hit number one from an independent stand point.
MTMS: Sonically, the song “The Prayer” is as good as any I’ve heard thus far in 2015. And it is a deep song, what can you tell us about that track?
Aaron Watson: I wanted the first song to sum up what I’m about. And I read this book by Johnny Cash called “The Man In White” and it’s an obscure hard to find book he came out with in the 70’s. He takes Biblical accounts of the Apostle Paul and makes up stories around those. And Johnny Cash one year was having a bad year and went into a cave near his house trying to kill himself. So, I made “The Prayer” as if it was something Johnny would say in the cave from the point of view Johnny was doing in the book.
MTMS: With that being the first song on the album, the last one is “Fence Post”. I was a song that when I heard it, I just smiled and said this guy is enjoying with what he is doing. Is that also from a true story?
Aaron Watson: Totally. It’s about sticking it to the man. I wrote that song while driving to a political gig in Austin. I’m not a political guy, I have my beliefs, but will argue baseball, not politics. And I drove to this gig at night in my Jeep by myself and wrote it then. I finally finished it when I was doing edits for the album with a young engineer at Keith Stegall’s studio at 2 in the morning. I said “hey man, set me up with a microphone”. He did not want to because he said Keith wouldn’t like it. I told him he wouldn’t lose his job and he set up a microphone. I sang it twice that night and sent it to a buddy in East Texas to play a little guitar and fiddle on it to make it sound like we were messing around on the porch. It’s just a fun song and I’ve enjoyed how people relate it whether you are from Texas or not. Everyone has their fence post moment. No one should give up or be discouraged, it really has that Underdog message in it.
MTMS: Despite Nashville not opening its doors to you, I know the Grand Ole Opry did a few weeks ago. How was that experience for you?
Aaron Watson: I am always playing shows and take them day to day. I never try to think about the next one and did not really realize the extent of the opportunity that the Opry was for me. We got out there and I had my wife with me. My parents were celebrating their 40th Anniversary and I could see them. It was a magical night for me and I was very nervous. But, when I got on that stage I just flicked the switch and played ball. What added a few butterflies was seeing Steven Tyler and Charlie Daniels on the side of the stage watching me. It was incredible.
MTMS: How is your relationship with Nashville today?
Aaron Watson: The thing is I have not rejected Nashville, its Nashville that hasn’t accepted us. And I am not mad about it because maybe this is what God has planned for me. Maybe Nashville will come around and I won’t have a problem working with them. I have great friends and allies in Nashville like my booking agency and distribution agency. But, I will never ever ever ever sign a record deal who betrays who I am. Every song and decision I make, I will make sure I stay true to my Faith, Family, and Fans. I may have been born thirty or forty years too late though. If you watched the ACM’s a few weeks ago you did not see many cowboy hats in the crowd. And I think Nashville knows we are a force to be reckoned with. They can’t say I am not a country singer. We had the #1 record in the nation and I had Nashville executives tell me that was impossible.
MTMS: What I love about your music is the attention to songwriting and actual real life moments, not just a party with a truck and beer.
Aaron Watson: Exactly. The song “Bluebonnets” is about how my wife and I lost a little girl. That’s the song I wrote for her after she passed away. People deal with heartaches. I can write about my situation and how I got through it and maybe it will help someone. Music helps me and is therapeutic. And I’m making a new album now and it needs to be different that my past albums. Songs should be little movies, like little short flicks. That is what brought me to music, guys like Guy Clark. And while I write this record, I will not listen to mainstream country radio. I want no influence. I do not care if I get played on the radio and will keep working as hard as I can for my fans.
MTMS: And your fan base is growing bigger and bigger by the minute these days, no?
Aaron Watson: I have the best fans in the world and I try to treat them like a million bucks. After every show I stay to meet every single one of them. And they know when they buy an Aaron Watson album they are buying my little girl a pair of shoes, or a new baseball bat for Jake Watson. Or my wife, who shops online and has a serious spending problem, so they help me pay off her credit cards each month. But, my fans love my wife who is obviously my better half. It’s almost like we have a Mom and Pop Diner and we have fans who are loyal to come support our family business.
MTMS: I’ll be reviewing your show in New York City next Wednesday at the Mercury Lounge. Is this your first New York City gig?
Aaron Watson: You bet it is.
MTMS: What does playing New York City mean to you?
Aaron Watson: Well, I’ve already been informed by my boys that I have to pick up something New York Yankees for them. But, they like the old Yankees not the new Yankees as much. We are talking Mantle, Ruth, Berra, and DiMaggio. And I am just excited for New York overall. I mean, I am from Amarillo, Texas so I am excited. It is an honor.