Being a Kentuckian from the Southeastern part of the state, is something that many folks like to look down upon. Hollywood loves stereotypes, but if Tyler Childers has his way, folks will soon understand just what an honor it really is to blessed to call the Appalachian Mountains our home.
Childers is often mentioned in conversations as being the next Willie Nelson or whoever someone likes to toss out there. I’m here to say, let Tyler be the first Tyler Childers. Now having said that, there is one aspect that I too will use as a comparison between Willie and Tyler. Willie does things his way and often times his tours are filled with musicians and family members and in that regard, Willie is the epitome of “A rising tide lifts all ships.”
Tyler Childers is doing his very best to keep that tradition alive, just like Willie. That’s arguably the most important aspect of Tyler coming home to Eastern Kentucky for a three-night stand at the Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville.
Tyler had a hand in picking the opening acts, choosing old friends, new friends, influences and artists that have shown Tyler a helping hand on his way up. That is one example of why I consider Tyler as one of the most important artists our Commonwealth has ever produced. Because he knows what it takes to make it and he relishes in being able to elevate his friends. For me, his willingness to help is why he will always have my respect.
Kicking things off was a band from just across the mountain in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Their name is Slut Pill and they happen to be the Lovely Lady May’s favorite band and I know she was ecstatic to see them take their art to the biggest stage of their careers thus far. While traffic kept me from seeing Slut Pill’s first few tunes, I do know that Senora introduced the band before their set and I’m certain that moment meant the world to Slut Pill.
This was my second time seeing the trio but it was my third time seeing vocalist/guitarist Mitchella Phipps play, as she played a few songs with Senora during her set at Kickin’ It On The Creek.
As I joined the pit, I felt the band had won over some new fans, especially after their rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”, but unfortunately a few bad apples that had clearly had too much to drink already, brought out the boo birds on two separate occasions, once after “Pearl Party” and then a when Tyler thanked the crowd and mentioned Slut Pill.
Listen, I’m not one to preach to folks, but if you were one of the drunken boo birds, shame on you. I don’t see you out there sharing your art with the world. An art that has spilled over into your very own community, where these ladies’ work has helped many young folks. If you’re unaware of their work, follow this link. Then do me a favor, try and be a better human. The world has enough hate, let’s try love. Or as Lenny Kravitz once said, “Let Love Rule.”
Next up was the Larry Keel Experience. This was my second time seeing Larry within three months. The first time was also at Kickin It On The Creek, where I got to meet Larry backstage before his performance.
So I knew what to expect going in and I’m happy to tell you that the band did not disappoint. Larry Keel and Tyler Childers have played together many times over the years, so it was great seeing Larry get to the opportunity to play to a packed house. Keel is one of the best flat-top guitar pickers around and he was on fire on Friday night. He would also join Tyler for a few songs later, but more on that in a bit.
I do want to say that we will possibly have three nights of coverage of Mr. Childers, so I’m going to choose just a few highlights from each night. Hopefully, that’ll save my sanity and cut down on redundancy. (UPDATE: I wasn’t able to make the New Years Eve show, but Thomas Biggs will have photos for everyone to enjoy.)
As Tyler and the Foodstamps hit the stage, they came out swinging and never looked back as they tore through the Charlie Daniels classic “Trudy.” Trudy is one of a handful of cover songs the band likes to perform, and in my humble opinion, their version ALWAYS kickstarts the band and the energy of the crowd in every single room they play.
Tyler and the boys made an appearance on Late Night With Seth Myers recently where they performed “Country Squire”, the title track of his new album. I’ve been very blessed to see the fellas perform this one before, but as I stood directly in front of the speakers, I was in awe of just how strong, clear and rich Tyler’s vocals were.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one that felt that way because I had a cousin in attendance and she sent a text saying her friend thought Tyler had to be lip-syncing or using backing tracks. That was definitely not true, but that was a wonderful moment to prove my point.
After hearing all about Ray Dixon and how he didn’t take no lip, we were treated to my personal favorite track from ‘Country Squire’, which is “Creeker.”
Up too that moment in time, the lyric “Lost as a baaaaaaaall in a field of corn” was the loudest sing-a-long of the night and it was nearly deafening. While my hearing likely took a loss there, my heart gained a huge shot of adrenaline and it was time to let go and enjoy the show with a few thousand friends. What an unbelievable performance!!
As I’ve been able to watch Tyler and the boys grow into the juggernaut they are, four songs have stood above and beyond the rest as far as commercial appeal goes. Those are “Messed Up Kid”, “Feathered Indians”, “House Fire”, and “All Your’n” which snagged Tyler’s first Grammy nomination.
From the very first guitar notes I ever heard of “House Fire”, my hairs stood up and my gut said, “$hit just got real!” I KNEW this song would be huge and I thank the good Lord above that I was right. “All Your’n” may have the Grammy nod, but “House Fire” blazed the trail (pun totally intended) to get there.
Next was my personal favorite performance from night one of “Take My Hounds To Heaven.” This unreleased gem falls into the category of “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie” by Hank, Jr., yet even more country. It’s a song dedicated to one of Tyler and his families favorite past time, hunting with his hounds.
If you’ve never heard this gem, check out this video from our dear friend, Music City Maven, or Crystal Rhoten if you prefer. Her YouTube channel is a personal favorite of this site. So go check it out, hit that subscribe button and find out about many artists before most anyone else knows their names.
Next up was the loudest moment of the night that I foreshadowed. During “I Swear To God”, it has become a tradition at a TimmyTy show, as the music drops out, the crowd takes over and screams at the top of their lungs “GD, Fire in the hole!” I have seen this happen many times and in all honesty, it NEVER gets old!
If you know, you know, but if you don’t know, seek out a performance of “Shake The Frost” and I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut that you’ll be glad you did.
Tyler then welcomed Mr. Larry Keel to stage, as he would perform as an honorary Foodstamp for the next three songs which included “Highway 40 Blues”, “Honky Tonk Flame”, and “Universal Sound.”
Let’s take a moment to talk about “Highway 40 Blues.” The tune was written by Lawrence County native, Larry Cordle. The song itself enjoyed too wonderful runs of success by Cordle and of course, fellow Lawrence Countian Ricky Skaggs. As somewhat of a historian myself, I absolutely LOVED that this performance took place.
If you’re unaware of Cordle, this blurb from his bio should be enough to send ya down a YouTube rabbit hole. “Eastern Kentucky was not only home for Cordle, but also for his childhood friend and neighbor, musical prodigy, Ricky Skaggs. Upon hearing Cordle’s new song, “Highway 40 Blues”, Ricky promised that he would one day record it. In the summer of 1983, it was the number one song in the nation, helping to launch Larry’s songwriting career and skyrocketing Skaggs’ already solid country music career.”
To close out the night, Tyler took to the stage all by himself. He wanted it to feel personal and the crowd was fully aware of that as Tyler performed “Nose On The Grindstone”, “Lady May” and “Follow You To Virgie.”
Two of those three songs were written specifically about Pikeville and Pike County. With “Nose On The Grindstone”, Tyler tells the story of hia Dad that once mined Pike County coal and “Follow You To Virgie” is about laying to rest someone very special to Tyler, in Virgie. Which is just about 16 miles from Pikeville.
To say that the last three songs filled Appalachian Wireless Arena would be the understatement of my writing career.
So there you have it. Night one of Tyler Childers triumphant return to Eastern Kentucky. It was as beautiful as you can imagine and an absolute honor to be able to share my story and photos.
I hope you enjoyed our journey and stay tuned for our coverage of night two!!
I know folks love to see setlists, so here ya go!
Intro (Train 45)
Take My Hounds To Heaven
I Swear To God LOUD NOISES
Shake The Frost
WITH LARRY KEEL:
Highway 40 Blues
Honky Tonk Flame
Nose On The Grindstone
Follow You To Virgie