Eastern Kentucky native and current country superstar Chris Stapleton brought his tour to Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati recently. The show was scheduled for earlier this year, but had to be rescheduled due to an injury that Mr. Stapleton had that required surgery.
The original bill included rising star Brent Cobb, Anderson East and of course, Chris Stapleton. Scheduling conflicts forced Brent Cobb off the rescheduled date, which allowed Lucie Silvas to open the show.
Lucie Silvas hails from “across the pond”. The British native has an incredibly clear and powerful voice. I had briefly skimmed a few of her songs before this show and found them to be a bit on the pop side of things. After seeing her live, she completely changed my perspective. Am I going to run out and buy her complete catalog after seeing her? No. Was I impressed enough to dig a bit deeper? 100%.
Lucie’s personality was a huge part of what drew me in. Her words were not empty and her smile was genuine. Her eyes were like diamonds in the lights and her spirit was kind. For that, she has a new fan.
Next on the bill was a man that I was nearly as eager to see, as I was our very own Chris Stapleton. The blue-eyed soul singer from Athens, Alabama, Mr. Anderson East. If you aren’t familiar with Anderson’s music, let me happily introduce you real quick.
Anderson took to the stage dancing. That’s usually I sign of one of two things. First, the performer is feeling it on that night and he or she is ready to perform. The second, the artist feels terrible and they’re trying to force things to happen. I waited for the first notes to determine which applied on this night, hoping for the former over the latter. Thankfully, those notes had a magnetism. An enchanting growl. Like a naked soul baring it all with each note. With an unassuming, non-chalent delivery, Anderson East proceeded to blow my mind for the next 45 minutes.
Anderson seemed to make many new fans that night, especially after his stirring rendition of the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic, “Gimme Three Steps.” That caught the attention of the patrons, but it was Anderson’s originals that kept them captive. In particular, his newest single, “All On My Mind”, which closed out his set. That track is one that was co-written by Ed Sheeran, of all people.
His voice can sound strained at moments, but by the look on his face, it truly comes fairly easy for Anderson. You truly felt every single note he sang and he brought chills upon my arms and back multiple times. His voice is an experience. It’s not just an instrument. One must hear it in a live setting to truly appreciate just how unique his voice really is.
I am a huge fan of Otis Redding and the first time I heard Anderson, my mind went straight to Otis. I am saddened that I will never have the opportunity to see Otis live, but let me assure you that Anderson East is the next best thing. With a genuine, soulful roughness in each of their voices, both are now permanently cemented as two of my favorite voices ever recorded.
Here’s a bold statement for you, I’ve witnessed over 1000 bands in my time and the best voice I have witnessed live, is Anderson East. Honestly, it’s not even a close debate.
Onto the main attraction, Mr. Chris Stapleton. This was not my first time experiencing Mr. Stapleton. I actually reviewed and photographed his hometown show in Prestonsburg, KY at the Mountain Arts Center. That review was when Chris was a relative unknown in comparison to his fame these days. You can read that review on my old outlet (Unsung Melody) here.
With that experience and after witnessing his explosion onto the scene the last few years, I was anxious to see if the fame had changed anything. I’m very happy to say that the only thing different about Chris Stapleton now and Chris Stapleton then, is he has a bigger production and the crowd sings much louder.
On a beautiful day that began to dissolve into the night, Chris Stapleton brought his A-game and delighted the sold-out crowd. Sure he performed many of his hits, but for my money, the greatness on this night was his tributes, acoustic renditions, his love for Morgane and his big ole heart.
For example, Troy Gentry of Kentucky country duo Montgomery Gentry, was killed earlier in the day in an unfortunate helicopter crash, Chris and the band played a bit of Montgomery Gentry’s “Hillbilly Shoes” before eventually dedicating his own song, “Broken Halos” to Troy Gentry and his family. That was the first of many moments where the “real” Chris Stapleton showed up on this night.
His acoustic version of “Whiskey and You” brought the biggest sing-a-long of the night, at least up until that point. He then went into dedicating “More of You” to his wife and bandmate, Morgane. Chris often times stands facing Morgane and during the set, especially during “More of You”, their connection and love for one another was so beautiful to watch.
Chris made the statement that, “She’s the beauty that tamed this beast”, and I truly believe him.
Before performing his massive hit, a cover of David Allen Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey”, Chris used the melody of the song to sing about and introduce each band member. It was a hilarious moment and one that showcased the big personality of Chris. He may be a bit reserved at times, but after seeing this interaction, it was easy to see that he’s a man that doesn’t take himself too seriously and loves those in his band like family.
During the performance of “Tennessee Whiskey”, Chris invited a young man to the stage. The band had met him before the show and was told the young man had sung onstage with many artists, so of course, they invited him up on this night. Connor led the crowd back into a chorus and helped finish out the song. It was a moment that young man will never forget and a moment that Chris and Morgane seemed to enjoy just as much as Connor did.
That incredible moment ended the main setlist. The band left the stage for a quick break, before coming back out for a three song encore.
The encore was especially emotional for me. Also on this day, my personal favorite country artist, Don Williams, had also passed away. I knew that Chris was heavily influenced by Don and I also knew from seeing him before, that he has covered Don in his live set many times. So I came into tonight fully expecting to hear a Don Williams tribute. What I didn’t expect, was just how emotional it would make me.
As Chris and Morgane belted out Don’s hit “Amanda”, for the first time in my life, I cried at a concert. They then played Don’s “Tulsa Time” and I cried some more. Call it fate, call it luck, call it divine intervention, but I was meant to see this show and on this day.
*RIP Don Williams. I took this photo at one of his last Renfro Valley concerts.
Let me explain. As I mentioned before, this show was rescheduled. Just so happens it was rescheduled on my wife’s birthday. I felt awful and honestly thought about letting my son go to the show with a friend, rather than myself, but my wife was having no part of that. She knows how much music means to me. Then Kentucky native Troy Gentry passed and then I got the news that Don Williams had passed and in my little brain, it all made sense. Fate wanted us at this show, on this night and for that, I am forever grateful.