Friday night was fantastic, but Saturday was just as stacked with incredible artists, and judging by the size of the early crowd, everyone knew what they were in for. I can’t tell you how incredibly happy that sentence made me as I typed it. I’ve been fearful that the pandemic would push folks to find something else to do and the music might suffer a drop off in the numbers. ALL of these reservations have been washed away over the past few weeks, and the parade of familiar faces that just kept coming at me on Saturday, was exactly what my heart needed to lift the black clouds of the pandemic. Or as Jeff Cox would say, the BANDemic. I feel ya, Jeff. I feel ya.
I also want to preface this article, as I did in the recap of Friday, that I had thrown my back out a bit the previous weekend, and I thought I was fine after a chiropractor visit, but I tweaked it again on our way to the main stage, so I didn’t get to cover many folks on the Campfire Stage. So this is my apology to them.
We spent Friday night in Corbin, so after a small delay and our short trip to Pineville, Walter DeBarr was the first act we were able to enjoy on Saturday. Walter is a very intriguing artist. He can drop a song written in any style, about any subject, on any stage, but as soon as he opens his mouth, you immediately know who he is. That’s not something you can teach. That’s a God-given talent and often times a distinct voice is what sets weekend warriors apart from a true artist.
Walter’s set was pretty short, but those 30 minutes were impactful. As I walked through the crowd to take photographs, people were buzzing about Walter. I heard at least five people ask their friends who Walter was again. That’s the reason these festivals are so important. You can discover great artists while tailgating for the acts you know well.
Walter held the crowd hostage and won them over with that big ole smile and unique voice. I thoroughly enjoyed his new single,”Blackened”, but if you’ve never heard “Oceans”, you should start there.
Next up was one of my favorite humans that always sings the same two songs to start her show. Some of ya already know who that is, for everyone else, it’s Chelsea Nolan. Chelsea always sings Roger Miller’s “Oo-De-Lally” or as most know it, the theme from the Disney classic Robin Hood. Chelsea and Roger share a birthday, so that’s her ode to Roger at each show.
She then seamlessly transitions into the Janis Joplin classic “Mercedes Benz.” Now she’s never really said why she sings Janis, but it definitely gets folks attention because Chelsea is a badass. There. I said it.
I’ve written about Chelsea a lot. Like, a lot, lot. I have no shame in that. I’m a fan of Chelsea and I always will be. Why? Because there isn’t an artist alive that is more entertaining, more transparent, more comfortable, or more compelling than Chelsea Nolan on a stage. I said recently that it doesn’t matter if Chelsea plays 20 songs or 2 songs, you will leave happy either way.
Her stories behind the songs are just as compelling as the songs they live in. Her story about how “Rock Bottom” came about is pure comedy gold. I won’t spoil it here, but I promise you that you’ll be rolling in the aisles when she tells it.
Another song that Chelsea usually gives us is her rendition of “East Kentucky Skyline”, which was written by her big brother Josh Nolan. Josh is the King of being cool, just because he doesn’t want to be cool. I mean, who else can pull off wearing a breathe right strip every day and make it look good? Only Josh Nolan, that’s who.
Chelsea threw us a new song she’s been working on too. It’s titled “Sometimes Man”, and it’s 100% Chelsea. It was definitely a surprise that I needed, almost as much as my heart needed to hear Chelsea weave her tales between songs. She blessed us with “Silver Line”, the story of and the performance of the bootleggers ballad “Big Bear’s Den”, before giving us her most popular song thus far in, “Build A Fire.” Chelsea sure is some awfully good medicine for the soul!
GO SEE CHELSEA NOLAN.
Next was the one and only, Laid Back Country Picker, or LBCP for short. The man whose mantra is “Playing Good Country Music And Treating People Right”, is an absolute legend around these parts. His mantra also happened to be the title of the first song he gave us on Saturday. LBCP gave us a new look this time around too. I’m coining it as his condiment period. Hard to beat a mustard SG guitar in a Heinz ketchup pearl button shirt!
Make no mistake though, his guitar will forever be louder than his shirt, and I’m fully okay with that. Laid Back gave us his most popular songs early on. He hit us with “Party Line” and “Magoffin County Cadillac” before making a cast from his fishing pole into the pond in front of the stage. See things are a bit different when Laid Back is trying to impress his Honey. He even wrote a song about that called “Honey Buns.” She didn’t seem too impressed to me, but what do I know.
Well, I’ll tell ya what I know, Honey is the best finger snapper in the business. She had folks out in the audience snapping in unison with her without ever saying a word. I mean, she scares the crap outta ole Shady Boggs and her charms seemed to have worked well on the crowd on Saturday. She’s an absolute force on that stage. I’m just thankful that Laid Back ain’t afraid to live in the shadow of such a strong woman.
Ole Laid Back broke out some of his best works about some strange things. He was a singing about things like a red Karmann Ghia, some feller named David Bowie and something about dating a nurse at a nervous hospital. He even sung us a song about a bunch of things named “Cooper.” He even hit us with some of them Jimi Hendrix licks to put the cherry on top of it all.
Next on the main stage was Cheyenne, oh wait that was in a movie I was watching. Next up was Eric Bolander. Eric always says something to the tune of thanks for coming and watching me and these a$sholes behind me. He’s said that enough that the name stuck with the band. Thankfully it was Eric singing to us about “The Wind.” Because I sure don’t want anything to do with an as$hole and wind.
All jokes aside, Eric is one of the coolest folks you’ll ever meet. He’s witty, sarcastic, enjoys good dry humor and loves “Vieeenies”, so much so that his band stickers look like cans of vieeenies. No, seriously.
Make no mistake, Eric Bolander is a serious artist and his songs reflect that. He’s an artist on many levels. His song “Cold Men” is a snapshot of the Blackjewel Miners who had to literally stop trains from leaving the tipple, just to get paid what they were owed from a company that filed for bankruptcy. That mine has had several names and owners. My Dad worked there when it was U.S. Steel, and later when it was Arch Mineral. So Eric is an important voice and he will always have my respect.
For many, Eric’s version of the Prince classic “Purple Rain” is what draw folks in, and I get that, but for me, it’s all about his originals. So I was super happy that Eric included “Closer To That Flame” on Saturday. In a live setting, that one is always my favorite. I think it’s the increased presence of Seth Murphy and his cello. Whatever it is though, it grabs me deep and won’t let go. I say we just tell Eric he has to include it from now on. Lol
Bolander ended his set with a new song that will be included on an upcoming release. It is titled “Smooth Finish” that will feature the lovely and talented Abby Hamilton. It’s a song that leans more towards a good ole sad country song and I’m now incredibly impatient to hear now. Thanks Eric. Lol
I often share insight, suggestions and just simple things that I feel can help artists. Rarely do I share those things publicly, but I’m making an exception for the next artists, The Local Honeys.
After their set, I stopped to give Montana Hobbs a quick hug and tell her how excited I am for them and that I felt their set had stolen the entire weekend. Montana seemed shocked that I said that, but I’ll tell ya, she better get used to it. Because there is absolutely NO ONE that sounds like The Local Honeys and their upcoming release is my most anticipated release in 2021.
After hearing “Hares On The Mountain” and “Dying To Make A Living” with a full-on All-Star band behind them, I was all in. Ya know what, sometimes words aren’t enough. Do me a favor, watch this video by Mr. Mark Blackwell. You’ll get it, promise!
Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs are The Local Honeys. They often trade vocal duties and they lend themselves to what the song needs. That’s what is most important to these ladies and I feel, that’s exactly why La Honda Records recently signed them. The Honeys have been such an amazing transformation to watch. Their journey is just beginning for most folks, but do yourself a favor and take a deeper dive into their art if you aren’t all that familiar. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ll be honest with ya, I’m having a tough time writing this section because my words just feel inadequate. So, I’m going to move on and ask that you take a listen to “Throw Me In The Thicket When I Die.” There’s just this vast amount of visceral material that outweighs any description.
So I’ll say it again for Montana and now for Linda Jean as well, I’m so excited for you and your set stole the show on the main stage for the weekend. Y’all blew folks minds, and I feel very strongly that you’re gonna need to get used to that.
I am a fan of great songwriting, so it should not be a surprise that I’m also a fan of John R. Miller. In the past, I’ve dubbed him as the Hemingway of West Virginia. His songs have a very distinct ebb and flow that draws you in close and won’t let go. He’s truly a master at his craft.
I first saw John R. Miller perform as an opener for Tyler Childers. This was a show in Louisville that took place shortly after Tyler released ‘Purgatory.’ It was obviously a sold-out show at a sweet little venue called Zanzabar.
Capture Kentucky was relatively new and John saw something in my writing and photography and asked if he could use some photos, I was honored. I saw him many more times over the last four years and I seemingly find a new favorite song after every performance. Luckily for me, I was treated to most of my favorites on Saturday night. I say that selfishly of course, I mean there were others in attendance and all.
Seriously though, I was hanging on every lyric. An artist like John R. Miller doesn’t come around often and I can not tell you how much I have missed his performances. We were treated to some of my favorites like “Motor’s Fried”, “Borrowed Time”, a newer single titled “Looking Over My Shoulder”, “Red Eyes”, a forever favorite in “Holy Dirt”, “Whale Party” and the country boogie that is “Been Here Too Long” and several more.
But it was two new songs and a song that John R. released as a member of Prison Book Club that took this performance to a completely different level. “Shenandoah Shakedown” and “Faustina” were unbelievable. We were all still reeling from those when John R. hit us all with the knockout punch that is “Coming Down.”
I’m delighted that Rounder Records saw the potential in this song and John R. will finally get this diamond the audience it deserves.
I also want to add a little shout-out to Chloe Edmonstone. Her fiddle is always perfect, but sometimes it’s her taking the lower end on the harmonies to allow John R. to go higher that deliver the chills. She’s a rock star and John R. once told me that he couldn’t do what he does without Chloe. I second that.
Ending our night at The Main Stage was Arlo McKinley. Arlo is someone that I’ve always believed in. He knows that. His band knows that, but it sure as shit is nice to see so many more folks sharing that sentiment these days.
A few weeks ago, I saw the best Arlo show I’ve ever witnessed. It was his first show in roughly nine months and his spirit and energy were incredibly refreshing. I was hoping to see that same focus and determination on Saturday, and I couldn’t be happier to say that the Arlo train is on the right track. You can check out that article here.
On Saturday, Arlo and the fellas in The Lonesome Sound came into Pineville knowing that the crowd would largely be filled with many of his fans. Many folks in attendance have experienced Kickin’ It On The Creek on the Roberts family farm before. They’ve witnessed Arlo’s rise through shows at The Burl. This was his home crowd because as he stated in Fallsburg a few weeks ago, “Kentucky has ALWAYS had his back.” With that, there was zero pressure and we all got to witness an incredible artist perform with a heart full of love.
In between the crickets and the frogs, the band delivered a great set, but as it always seems to be, the magic happens when Arlo stands front and center with his guitar, and of late, the steel guitar. More on that in a second.
Arlo and the fellas rolled through “We Were Alright” as Arlo stepped back to allow the crowd to help him finish the choruses. That’s the moment that I knew just how special Saturday was going to be. Arlo knew it too. You could see it in his eyes. The train rolled through fan favorites like “This Damn Town”, “I Should Have Known”, and “Whatever You Want” before tossing out a little Waylon. “Waymore’s Blues” hasn’t sounded that good since Waylon showed us all how it’s done.
The band also helped Arlo with another cover. One that has been a recent addition to their set. John Prine signed Arlo to his label, Oh Boy Records, before he passed. He believed in Arlo. His stories. His pain. His heart. That’s what makes the inclusion of Prine’s classic “Storm Windows” so compelling and poignant. Every performance seems to serve as a reminder that one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known believed in him, so he should too. It’s almost like Arlo is conjuring up John Prine’s spirit to help him deliver the saddest of his sad songs. Reliving the pain and conveying it to the audience is undoubtedly exhausting, but no one does it better.
By that time, the drinks were flowing and the train pulled into Heartbreak Station where Arlo showed us all why the shirts that state “Arlo Made Me Cry” exist.
Arlo has seen his share of troubles. He’s lived a rough life that has shaped him into the artist he is now. Without those experiences, it’s quite possible that none of us would even know Arlo’s name. Through those trials, those tribulations, the broken hearts, the losses, Arlo knows pain. He knows pain and he knows how to make it relatable. There’s no other way to acquire that wisdom, other than to live through it. That’s exactly why the latter half of Saturday’s performance was so incredible.
As Arlo performed songs like “The Hurtin’s Done,” the crowd was completely silent. The crickets and frogs provided a magical band like something you’d see in a movie. It was just unbelievable. Unbelievably beautiful. There were several moments where Arlo stepped away from the microphone and the crowd took over completely. Those moments will never grow old.
Arlo also slipped in his version of the Ryan Adams classic “September.” Arlo lost his Mother in 2020, so he’s been dedicating this one to her. The song may not have been written by Arlo, but in my humble opinion, no one does it better.
The most memorable moment, which saw the loudest sing-a-long of the entire weekend happened as Arlo stepped away from the mic, to the front of the stage and invited the crowd to join him during “Bag Of Pills.” My favorite part was that Arlo kept his eyes closed. He was finally able to experience the fruits of his labor and share it with around a thousand of his best friends. I have chills from just writing that.
As I saw the band about to join Arlo, I took the opportunity to make the trek to the Campfire Stage to catch Cole Chaney. I knew I was going to miss the band go nuts, as they did in Fallsburg, but Cole was someone that I simply could not miss. You can relive those moments above, thanks to Mr. Blackwell again.
Chaney is relatively new to the Kentucky scene. The now 21-year-old released his debut back in mid-May. ‘Mercy’ is my favorite release of 2021 so far. This young man is Kentucky’s newest rising son and his journey is just getting started.
Cole’s allotted time was just 30 minutes, but Laurel Cove moved Hill Country Devil to the main stage to close out the weekend. That gave Cole the option to play more if he chose to. He didn’t make that choice though. The crowd did.
Allow me to explain. The Campfire Stage was set up for around sixty or so people under the tent. Those were filled well before Cole began. As were the areas on both sides and the parking lot. There were folks lining the road to see Cole. There were at least 150, probably closer to 200 people in attendance. Let me remind you that Cole’s set was roughly a 10-minute walk, each way from the Main Stage. His set continued on as the headliners, Lost Dog Street Band were playing. No one left. And as Cole’s 30 minutes were up, the crowd would not relent. He had no choice but to keep going and it was a performance that I’ll never forget.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Cole won’t either.
As Cole finished up his soundcheck, he asked if anyone there liked Sturgill Simpson. Obviously, he knew the answer to that one, so he decided to treat everyone to his rendition of Sturgill’s “Oh Sarah.” From there, it only got louder and rowdier, but totally in a good way.
I’ve read several folks say that Cole’s performance was like an old-school tent revival. It’s hard to argue otherwise because, underneath that big top, Cole Chaney was spitting fire and brimstone to his followers. He may not have been in the business of saving souls on Saturday, but he certainly moved folks’ spirits. At one point, my entire body became one big ole goosebump as the gravity of the situation began to sit in. We were witnessing history and with each standing ovation, with each sing-a-long, with each song, Cole’s legend grew larger.
All in all, Cole gave us eleven songs. We were treated to two covers, nine originals and one unreleased track. I’m gonna touch on a few, and say that if you’d like to hear the entire show, you can join Cole’s fan group on Facebook to download it. I knew it would be a special night and as somewhat of a Kentucky music historian, I wanted to document it. If for no one other than Cole.
“Another Day In The Life” was the first original song of the night and to say that it set the tone for the night would be an understatement. Folks started singing along immediately. IMMEDIATELY. And they never stopped. Seriously.
One funny moment happened during Cole’s performance of “The Flood,” he’d just finished telling us how Logan Halstead had covered the song during one of his two sets on the weekend. As Cole began the performance, one of the seemingly 10 million bugs landed on Cole’s neck. He stopped to try and smack the bug away and joked that a Mothra had landed on him. You can check out that moment below.
After the attack of the Mothra, Cole asked that the light be either turned off or at least pointed away from him. Let me say that was the ONLY light under the tent. This created an unintended effect where Cole became a silhouette, and that was just another layer of ambiance to the legend.
After blasting through his originals like “Silver Run”, “Humble Enough To Hear,” and “Mercy,” Cole played the song that he assumed would end his set in “Ill Will Creek,” but as I said earlier, he had no choice but to keep playing.
Folks sang every single word back to Cole and ended up giving him the largest of many standing ovations on the night. Just a reminder, under a tent, 10 minutes away from the Main Stage, while Lost Dog Street Band were performing. Unbelievable.
Saturday was my son’s first time seeing Cole, as he’s been in Florida at Law School. His favorite, and probably my favorite as well, is “Coalshooter.” So after giving in to the pressure to perform more songs, Cole gave us “Coalshooter” and we could’ve walked away extremely happy at that point, but once again, the crowd demanded more.
That led to the last original on the night. I intentionally left “Back To Kentucky” off of my review of ‘Mercy’, which you can read here. I like to leave some room for discovery in reviews and let me say, the folks on Saturday sure as shit discovered “Back To Kentucky,” because it was almost deafening under the big top in the choruses. Cole set that tone before he ever sang the first note. He said, “I don’t know about y’all, but I’m pretty f*cking proud to be from Kentucky.”
Hell yeah, praise Dale!! That performance will never be forgotten by myself, or those in attendance. That’s a promise.
Once again, the folks chanted “ONE MORE SONG! ONE MORE SONG! ONE MORE SONG!” That’s when the spirit of Dr. Ralph Stanley entered the party as “Rank Stranger” ended the weekend for us. Shew! What an amazing time!!
Cole played nearly an hour and with the walk time back to the stage, as well as my tweaked back, I decided to forego catching Lost Dog Street Band and Hill Country Devil. I have seen Lost Dog Street Band several times, so the trek back for a shortened set was just too daunting of a task. Getting a head start on the 2h 15min trek home made all the sense in the world.
Thanks so much for stopping by the site. That closes the chapter on the 2021 version of the Laurel Cove Music Festival. An event that set the bar so high that they’re gonna struggle to live up to the lofty expectations. BUT, I have zero doubts that Jon Grace and his crew will pull it off.