February 28th, 2020. A date that will be looked back upon as historians continue to tell the tales of both Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers. Time will determine which artist becomes more legendary, but make no mistakes, both will be Kentucky royalty for the foreseeable future.
While both artists have paved their own pathes to success, their names are often synonymous with each other. Is that fair? Only slightly. Sturgill Simpson did help produce both ‘Purgatory’ and ‘Country Squire’, but until this ‘Good Lookin’ Tour’, no one could ever say that these two Kentuckians rode one another’s coattails.
In fact, before this tour, I have only known of two instances where they’ve even shared the same stage. We were fortunate enough to witness both instances. The first happened in Iowa, as Simpson, Childers and Wheeler Walker, Jr. joined forces for a couple of songs at the Hinterland Festival. The second was during Childers Ryman debut with Margo Price. Simpson joined Tyler and The Food Stamps for their performance of “Whitehouse Road”.
You can read the Hinterland article here, and the Ryman article here.
As you may have noticed by now, we do our best to live and breath all things Kentucky music, so when this tour was announced, we were as giddy as a school girl who just landed a spot on the cheer team. So you may ask, “Why does all that equate such an important relevance in the grand scheme of things?” And I’m glad you asked. See these two artists cut their teeth in Lexington. You could walk ten minutes in any direction from Rupp Arena and find a venue or address that these Kentucky Gentlemen once played.
In his Sunday Valley days, Sturgill Simpson played many venues that no longer exist, and he did so to smaller crowds than he deserved. I once saw Sunday Valley in a tiny hole in the wall called High On Rose. If memory serves me right, there may have been 15-20 people in attendance. When Sunday Valley did pack the house, it was almost always at The Dame, which also no longer exists.
Tyler Childers path was similar, but the final year or so before the world knew his name, his following grew pretty rapidly. You can count me in the latter section, as that was when Capture Kentucky was created and Tyler was one of the first artists that folks suggested that I check out. Tyler spent many nights singing and picking, honing his craft at Al’s Bar, but he really took off when Willie’s and The Burl became his Lexington venues of choice.
Collectively they each built a similar following over time, but headlining arenas was never a thought that either really envisioned playing the Dame or Al’s. Yet there we were, a sold-out crowd of over 16,000 strong packed inside Rupp Arena to enjoy two Kentucky Colonels that trace their roots back home to Southeastern Kentucky.
A show like the one on Friday, in a nutshell, is the epitome of why we do what we do here at Capture Kentucky. We try and provide a bed of belief to help artists grow and help foster the arts whenever we can. However, don’t get wrong here, I’m certainly not taking any credit whatsoever for either of these young mens successes, rather that the idea of a musical community that’s more like family will eventually lead to an end result like this one.
Lawrence County native Tyler Childers was up first on Friday night and one would imagine that this will be one of the last times that he will be an opening act on an arena tour. Based on Spotify numbers alone, Childers has nearly double the amount of monthly listeners as the headliner Simpson. (Simpson – 947,083 as compared to Childers – 1,765,927) That’s certainly not a knock towards Simpson, it is simply more of a validation for my reasoning that Childers will deservedly be headlining arenas himself soon enough.
Childers astronomical rise has grabbed country music by the nether regions and flipped it on its’ ear. It’s been a journey that has restored a bit of faith in humanity for me, in the fact that above all, great music will find a way into the ears and ultimately the hearts of fans that seek out non-mainstream artists. You may hear Childers or Simpson on satellite radio, but rarely will either Childers or Simpson receive any airplay on terrestrial radio.
This despite the fact that Simpson and Childers were both nominated for Grammys. Simpson has three nominations and even took home a Grammy of his own for ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’ for Best Country Album. Childers didn’t walk away a winner in his only nomination, as the one and only Willie Nelson took home the trophy back in January. I mean, who is gonna argue over Willie winning?
Tyler took the stage to a wonderful ovation, that seemed to only get louder as the night progressed. He began his night with his current hit in “All Y’ourn.” So much for saving the best for last huh? That’s actually something that I really, truly and deeply respect about Tyler. All his stories are equal in his eyes, so he does what he feels and, I mean, who am I to argue with him?
Next up was “Feathered Indians” and I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention that the song was recently certified as a Gold record by RIAA. In fact, it’s well on it’s way to being certified Platinum. Those facts were on full display as seemingly every soul in Rupp Arena sang the lyrics back to Childers, many at the top of their lungs, and ya know what? It was f’ing beautiful.
Childers was well aware that those in attendance were there for him and he was not going to disappoint them. With every mention of Kentucky, Lexington or weed, those in attendance were collectively losing their minds and it was absolutely glorious to witness firsthand.
After “Whitehouse Road” and “Country Squire”, Tyler and the Food Stamps broke into my personal favorite tune in “Creeker”. The dynamics and lyrical message of “Creeker” has clearly made quite the impression on his fans as well. The crowd became an army of backing vocalists as we all screamed along, “Lost as a baaaaaaaaaaaaaaall…in a field full of corn.”
Next was “House Fire”. The song has evolved into an experience with an extended jam session that gives each member their own moment to shine. It’s also a bit of a hat tip to the many jam bands that influenced Tyler and The Foodstamps. Much like “Creeker”, I hope both songs stay in the setlist for many, many years.
Finally came the moment that’s been festering and growing into a part of the show that every fan is always ready for. That’s when the band drops out during “I Swear (To God)” and when more than 16,000 people scream along with “G*d D@mn, Fire In The Hole!!”, it’s loud, very loud, but it’s also very memorable and that’s a moment that goes home with everyone in the venue.
I see you repping your students Mr. Wells. Catch a buzz!!
After slowing the pace a bit with an absolutely perfect performance of “Shake the Frost” that saw a HUGE sing-along, Tyler and the boys stepped on the gas with their rendition of the Kenny Rogers & The First Edition classic, “Tulsa Turnaround”. This song, much like “I Got Stoned And I Missed It” earlier in his career, has become a set staple and if you’ve seen it you already know how amazing it is, but don’t take my word for it, check out the Red Rocks performance below.
The fellas breezed through “Tattoos”, “Honky Tonk Flame”, and “Universal Sound” before ending on two very different performances.
“Trudy” originally by The Charlie Daniels Band, may as well be a Tyler song now, because they leave every single stage in nothing more than cinder and smoke. You can easily tell that performing “Trudy” is fun for the band and their energy is always contagious because of that.
To end the night, Tyler took to the stage all alone. With his father in attendance, Tyler delivered one of the heartfelt performances that I have witnessed in “Nose to the Grindstone”. The sorrow, the hurt, the pains of a coal miners life were conveyed with every single note. Tyler is the only man that can step in that spotlight, sing about the struggles, the losses, and just anything and everything that it takes to make it, all the while delivering an entire performance that you believe every single word and note delivered.
Anna ClineRoss is a good friend of the site and she sent me a little note that I simply had to include. Anna writes, “No matter the size of the venue, it’s a big ole family reunion every d@mn time Tyler performs. I ran into friends and folks that I just now met, that now are my friends. I got to high five my fellow TimmyTy fan club fans, that up until now were just in my computer. While the sweet smell of weed wafted around us, I also saw a number of overalled fellas hugging and drinking and singing together. What a beautiful night!” I concur Anna, I concur and I do believe Tyler would as well, based on his thank you to end his set.
It was now time for Breathitt Countian Sturgill Simpson to take the stage. This was my fourth Simpson show and I went into this one a bit apprehensive. I had read many posts in fan groups and message boards that were simply disheartening. Folks were saying that a vast majority of patrons left after just a few songs from Simpson. That put me on high alert to observe and report if there was any truth to those opinions and rumors. I’ll say it here and I’ll say it loud, in Lexington, that was total bs. By the end of the night, sure it was a lot thinner, but that’s any concert where folks want to get a head start on traffic. Especially when it’s snowing outside!
As Sturgill and the boys took the stage, Sturgill greeted the crowd with one sentence that sums him up as succinctly as possible. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, y’all get the f*ck up!” Yep. That’s Stu. I jokingly told a friend that my review was simple, so I’ll share that here. That way if you don’t feel like reading, you’ll get the down and dirty scoop here. “Tyler Childers is beloved. Sturgill Simpson is a f*cking rock star and doesn’t give a sh!t how you feel.” I’d say that sentence and Sturgill’s greeting go hand in hand quite nicely.
The aforementioned rumors stem from the fact that Sturgill has been playing his new record, ‘Sound & Fury’ from front to back to begin the show. What I saw was something completely different. The sold-out crowd consistently jammed out, doing what I dubbed the Hillbilly Bop. It wasn’t a full-on headbang, just a nice smooth, groovy head bob. The crowd acted as if they were hearing the album for the first time and in a way, they were. For ‘Sound & Fury’, Sturgill made an artistic choice to use a distorted vocal on the entire record. He does not use that during a performance, and in my humble opinion, it COMPLETELY changed the way folks now feel about the entire record.
Folks were obviously more familiar with the two singles, “Sing Along” and “A Good Look”, but for me personally, I deeply enjoyed “Make Art Not Friends”, “Mercury In Retrograde”, and “Best Clockmaker on Mars”, but Holy Sh!t Batman, the guitar work during “Fastest Horse in Town” was one of the best performances that I’ve ever witnessed.
I think in part because of the tones that Sturgill is able achieve. He plays through a few amps, Hi-Watt and Naylor being the main ones, and his tone cuts through everything like a hot knife in butter. It’s ridiculous just how good he sounds in a live setting.
Check out the video below to see his performance on a much smaller stage and I think you’ll totally get what I’m saying.
When we saw Sturgill in Iowa, he had completely reworked most every song he had written. He explained it like this, “If we’re not having fun, you’re not having fun. So we want to keep things fresh, because if we’re stale, you will be too.” That may be true, I believe it to be so, but the main complaint that I overhear or I read about, is the fact that the songs that made him famous sound nothing like they do today, but Sturgill Simpson will always be Sturgill Simpson.
Four songs in the remainder of the set, made every penny spent worth it. See, Sturgill was incredibly focused on Friday night, often times closing his eyes and just letting the music flow.
The first of the four songs was “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”. This song has served as the set opener in the past and there is a very good reason for that. The song is an extended jam that Sturgill uses to showcase the band and his own guitar skills. Ya know what, just watch it for yourself. The video will convey the awesomeness way better than I could ever do.
As a Dad myself, I will ALWAYS enjoy “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)”, but it was the performance of “It Ain’t All Flowers” that took my breath away on Friday night. For me personally, this performance was my favorite. The vibe was great, the sound was loud but d@mn near perfect and the crowd screaming back “Woo-Hoo-Hoooooooo” was AWESOME!!
Sturgill’s reworked version of the Buford Abner penned “Long White Line” is one of my favorite covers of all-time. I often use “Long White Line” to introduce folks to Sturgill. There is just something magical going on with that song and Friday night proved my suspicions that I’m not alone in my thinking.
On Friday night, the performance and vibe of the song exposed some of the roots of Sturgill’s sound and in a live setting, I felt the energy resonating through the Rupp Arena crowd. It was absolutely incredible.
Sturgill spent most of his teen years living in Versailles and on Thursday the town renamed a street in his honor. Big Sink Pike became Sturgill Simpson Way and it was around this time that Sturgill introduced his drummer, Miles Miller.
Sturgill spoke candidly about his relationship with Miles and how appreciative he is of his talent and friendship. He also mentioned that Miles also hails from Versailles and that from now on, every February 27th is now “Miles Motherf*ckin Miller day” in Versailles. That honor and a key to the city were presented to Miles during the same event honoring Sturgill.
He touched upon Miles love and dedication to the University of Kentucky basketball team and his determination to get to a television if the Cats were playing. Saying, “Miles will straight up punch you in the d!ck to get to see a Cats game.”
Sturgill also spoke about cutting his teeth musically in Lexington. How things didn’t work out so well, but he felt his time here was part of something special, and it was. The Dame was THE place to play or catch a show. He then went a bit deeper, thanking Lexington for many things, including meeting his wife here, marrying her here and he thanked everyone for their continued support. He ended his thank yous by saying he loved every single person in the building.
We love you too bud.
The end of the night was closed out with a spirited performance of “Call to Arms”, that transitioned into “The Motivator”. This performance is where, if you had any doubts, Sturgill shows you he’s a d@mn rock star and that he isn’t going to let anyone change his course. Much like his Saturday Night Live performance of “Call To Arms”, Sturgill left his all on that Rupp Arena stage.
Kentucky’s gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s name is synonymous with the saying “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” I feel that Sturgill should also be synonymous with those words. Take the chance. The Simpson train may not take you where you thought you were going, but the journey is d@mn sure worth the price of admission.
Thanks for spending your time with us here at Capture Kentucky. Love y’all!