On a chilly Sunday evening, I got the chance to do one of my favorite things on Earth. I got to see one of the many talented performers that our great Commonwealth has produced, back home here in Kentucky. Dwight Yoakam played to a sold-out crowd at the beautiful Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, KY.
This was my first trip to the Paramount and it was also my first time seeing Dwight Yoakam. Neither would disappoint on this night. The Paramount is a beautifully preserved theater. It’s like walking back in time to a 1930’s era “Movie House”. It’s a bit art deco with beautiful murals adorning the walls and ceilings. It’s also home to the friendliest staff that I’ve ever worked with. They truly made me feel at home.
I wasn’t aware that there would be an opening band. Upon my arrival, a fellow photographer by the name of Marty Conley informed me that a band called King Leg would be playing. I had no clue who or what they were and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
Let me explain. King Leg (Bryan Joyce) isn’t a band for everyone and that’s totally a compliment. See, art is just that. It’s meant to be subjective. It’s a reflection of our society from the artist’s viewpoint. What I saw was an artist that knows exactly who he is and he has fully embraced his art. King Leg lives and breathes his music. From the image to the songwriting it all works, because it’s honest and I walked away as a new fan.
After doing a little research once home, I found out that Dwight Yoakam actually co-produced the King Leg record. Rolling Stone Country named King Leg to their 10 new country artists to watch list, calling King Leg a Dwight Yoakam protege. He certainly has the skinny jeans and dance moves to back up that statement. You can read the article here.
Now about this Dwight fella, I’ve been a fan since I first heard his Johnny Horton cover, “Honky Tonk Man”. I grew up listening to a Johnny Horton record that my Grandmother owned. I was about 12 years old and I was just beginning my love affair with music. So when I recognized “Honky Tonk Man”, I fell completely in love with Dwight’s music.
Dwight Yoakam needs no introduction from me, but a little history won’t hurt. Dwight is one of the most unique and recognizable artists that Country Music has ever seen. He was born in Pikeville, KY. Which is roughly 100 miles from Ashland. What makes that significant is the highway that leads to Pikeville. Route 23 is known as the Country Music Highway. Artists such as Loretta Lynn. Patty Loveless, Billy Ray Cyrus, Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, The Judds, and more recently Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers were all born and raised along that road. Dwight, of course, had a hit called “Readin’, Writin’ and Route 23”. He spoke fondly and at length about being born in Pikeville and growing up in Betsy Lane, KY, and Southern Ohio.
Dwight has also had some very memorable movie roles. None bigger than the classic “Sling Blade”, but he’s truly a great character actor. I really enjoyed him, more recently, in “Logan Lucky”. So yeah, we know who he is, but how was the show?
I’m glad you asked. The set was a mixture of hits, covers and conversations. A virtual audible time travel of his entire career and it was everything that I could’ve hoped for. If I sat down and made a set list for Dwight, it would’ve been exactly what he played. My favorites on the night were “Wild Ride”, “Little Sister”, “Streets Of Bakersfield”, his tribute to Merle Haggard was certainly a highlight, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and of course the aforementioned “Honky Tonk Man” blew the lid off the place.
For me though, the one song that I’ll take from this performance and store as a great memory, was “You’re The One”. From the first mandolin note to the last, I had chills. It was hauntingly beautiful. Which is right up the alley of the Paramount’s resident ghost, Paramount Joe. I didn’t see him, but I saw his seat. It was right next to the soundboard. No seriously. Joe is a good ghost that haunts the Paramount. He’s good friends with Billy Ray Cyrus. In fact, Billy signed a poster specifically for Paramount Joe that still hangs in the box office. You can read more about Paramount Joe here.
“Fast As You” brought the crowd to their feet and Dwight became Dwight. He was dancing, posing, spinning, shuffling and just having an enjoyable moment with many folks that were cut from the same cloth as himself. It was a great night and one that ended with his encore performance of the song that Elvis Presley made famous, “Suspicious Minds”. The entire theater were on their feet and you could see just how happy Dwight was. That’s what going home can do for ya.
From one Kentuckian to another, thank you, Dwight. Thank you for the music, the movies and the memories.