Just like your favorite fishing spots, music venues often draw you back in on past successes. Once you figure out where the good stuff is at, you visit as often as you can. While this was my first visit to The Bell Theater in Pineville, it was not my first show promoted by Jon Grace. Jon is the tourism director for Bell County, which is where Pineville resides. He produces many shows throughout the year, with highlights being the Laurel Cove Music Festival and the Cumberland Mountain Fall Festival in Middlesboro. To put it quite simply and bluntly, he knows his $hit. In fact, I’d go ahead and make plans for the Cumberland Mountain Fall Festival if I were you. I’m planning on being there if at all possible. You can’t beat the price of $0 and just check out that lineup!
This Ian Noe show was originally scheduled for the Laurel Cove, but the heavy chance of thunderstorms (Which waterlogged Pineville about halfway through the show) forced the show inside the Bell Theater. While I love the Cove, the Bell is one heckuva substitute. Why? The worst seat at the Bell is still closer to the artists than the best seat at the Cove. BUT, the Cove will always win over more hearts with its’ choir of crickets and bullfrogs. That’s an insurmountable obstacle for any venue, in my humble opinion.
Trust me though, you can’t go wrong with either location. Capacity at the Bell looked to be around 225-250. Pick the Cove for ambiance, pick the Bell for intimacy. You’ll win every single time. You have my word on that.
First up was a young lady that I’ve been watching for several years. Saturday night though was the first time I was able to see Madison Lewis perform. She now performs professionally as Laurel Lewis these days, but she can go by whatever name she wants, I’ll recognize that voice immediately. I’ll be a fan of this young lady for a very long time. I introduced myself before her set, and she said something to the effect that she knows exactly who I am. I am forever surprised when that happens, but it sure does validate the efforts for whatever this Capture Kentucky thing is.
While her set was limited as an opening act, she packed in a ton of great music, most of which was brand new, or at the very least, reworked. Flanked by two musicians, whose names I, unfortunately, didn’t catch, Laurel was captivating. I can count on one hand, when I’ve been in the presence of someone who has the vocal control that Laurel possesses. There wasn’t a single flat note, not a shaky note in her entire performance. I’ve said this before, but Laurel’s voice is YEARS ahead of most anyone her age. She will be a star as she continues to grow as an artist.
One song in particular really caught my ear on Saturday. I believe the name of the song is, “Imaginary Lover.” There’s this beautiful sadness, which I realize is an odd thing to say, but the journey, the longing, the loneliness, the tenderness, the hope, the conclusion just felt inherently real. Completely in a therapeutic way, this song feels like a very personal victory. I can’t wait to enjoy the lyrics and hear the recorded version, which is slated for a release this Fall.
I had been waiting for quite some to see Laurel Lewis perform. I fell in love with this young lady’s voice about four notes into the first video I saw of her. That’s not hyperbole. That’s honesty, and as Laurel ended her set, the crowd at the Bell Theater in Pineville erupted with love after sitting nearly silent for her performance. By the end of her show, the crowd had become just as smitten as I was after those first four or so notes. What a beautiful experience.
So do me (yourself) a favor and watch the video below until the end.
Next up was a young man from North Carolina. Mr. Caleb Caudle made the trip to Pineville for a second time, all because of that Jon Grace fella. Told ya he knows his shhh…. I’ve been a casual fan of Caleb for some time. Since Kentucky artists are my priority these days, I often miss out on the rise of folks outside of the boundaries of our Commonwealth. I did hear a few songs that I recognized, and those were even more delightful in person than the recordings for me. Why? I’m a huge fan of stripped-down, acoustic music. If music can move you with the bare bones, then it will only get better with all the bells and whistles that follow with time in a studio. Folks think I’m crazy, but I familiarize myself with the music long before I remember a single line of lyrics.
The first song that I was familiar with, was “Madelyn,” probably my favorite song from his 2018 release ‘Crushed Coins.” I would argue that “Madelyn” is the perfect starting point for getting to know Caleb and his music. You’ll find that the tempo and cadence are Caudle’s lane. His comfort zone if ya will.
I really enjoyed “Borrowed Smiles” as well. That tune is a little more upbeat than “Madelyn”, and with the dobro replacing the steel guitar that’s on the recorded version, we got an incredible version on Saturday night.
Caleb also gave us a new song on Saturday. One that he has been working on for a while. I believe it was called “Red Bank Road,” and judging by the players he will have on the recording, you already know it will be a doozie! When you’ve got Kentuckian Sam Bush and the incomparable Jerry Douglas playing on a track produced by John Carter Cash, you better bring the A-game. And that’s exactly what Caudle has done. He better enjoy playing that one, he’s gonna be doing it for a long time. Check it out.
One of Caleb’s more popular songs is “Carolina Ghost,” it was easy to see and hear why, as it was my personal favorite performance from Caudle. The melody and delivery just went together like peanut butter and chocolate, or bourbon and Coke since we’re in Kentucky.
After performing “On Top Of The World,” which was made most popular by the one and only Doc Watson, Caleb gave us “Monte Carlo,” to close out his set. As you’ll hear for yourself, it was inspired by his Grandfather’s car and the memories that were made in it.
Caleb reminds me a bit of Brent Cobb. Both have a very unique delivery and they aren’t afraid of their accents. In fact, they both use them heavily to stand out from a very crowded singer-songwriter field. When they sing, you know who it is immediately, and that’s something you just can’t teach.
Next up was the headliner of the night, Mr. Ian Noe. If you’re not familiar with Ian yet, I hope this article intrigues you into exploring his music. His songs are incredibly well layered with some of the most intricate stories weaved upon his audible tapestry. Think of Ian this way, he’s Kentucky’s Bob Dylan. He has honed his craft and we’re lucky to have him call Kentucky his home.
I reviewed Ian’s ‘Between The Country’ back in 2019, and I mentioned something that is worth repeating here before we get into the music. I said, “You don’t go to see Ian Noe in concert because you want to line dance, you go see Ian Noe because you want to feel and you want to be surrounded by those that share these similarities. Those type of artists don’t come around often and that’s exactly why you should care about Ian and his art.” I’m a humble fella, but I hit the daggum bullseye with that one.
Onto the music, Ian began the set all by himself. Stepping up to the mic, plugging in his guitar and just unleashing his arsenal of songs. The first bullet fired was “Assassin’s Blues,” which set the tone for the first part of the show and immediately hushed the crowd. Their focus was nearly as sharp as Ian’s on Saturday, and there sure as $hit wasn’t anyone in attendance to do any line dancing, that’s a fact!
My personal favorite of the early acoustic performance was “If Today Doesn’t Do Me In.” I didn’t watch this one. Nope. I closed my eyes, soaked it all in, and sang along under my breath. That performance was just what my soul had been missing. My batteries were fully charged and I felt alive again. Ain’t no pandemic ever gonna stop us when moments like that exist in this ole world.
We were treated to several new songs on Saturday night. The first being “River Fool”, and it was a song that only Ian Noe could write and it was delightful. It was really fun one to watch as Ian was truly enjoying performing a new song. He even had a little extra bounce in his knees, while he tapped his toes with each time the chord measure turned around. Check it out for yourself below.
Ian mentioned losing his Grandfather before he dedicated “Ballad Of A Retired Man” in his memory. It was beautiful. Especially since Ian is oftentimes very intense in his performances, “Ballad Of A Retired Man” gave us all a look at the tender and loving side of this young man. A rare glimpse at his vulnerability and the perfect way to end the acoustic set.
After that, Pineville got a good ole fashioned a$$ whoopin’ once Ian welcomed the band to the stage. “Letter To Madeline” began with Ian singing the first line by himself, “Looked like a hundred guns trained on me,” then the band hit and the crowd fell completely silent. Lord knows I wish that every crowd was like that. I’m a broken record, but you just don’t want to miss a local show of any artist you enjoy. There’s just no comparison to a show where the artists are home, loved, and giving that energy from the crowd right back to them in their performance. It is always magical.
Pineville has had a long history of flooding, so since it was raining and we were in Pineville, Ian dedicated an older, yet still unreleased song in “Road May Flood.”
As the set kept gaining momentum, it reached a fever pitch as “Between The Country” came in hard and rattled the foundation at the Bell Theater. It was absolutely incredible, and it WAS my favorite performance of the night, until we got to “Junk Town.” “Junk Town” is in my top three of favorite Ian Noe songs, and the energy between the crowd and the band was buzzing. It was electric, but in moderation. As you’ll see in the video below, the crowd is absolutely silent before erupting in ovation. That, my friends, was a large part of what made Saturday night so special. We were all music lovers and the music was truly all that mattered.
That electricity didn’t stop any time soon though, and my favorite performance just kept changin’ with each flippin’ song! What a fantastic problem to have, folks! It just doesn’t get any better than “This Kind Of Life.” Or does it? Who knows at this point? I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky myself, so the ole shade tree mechanic that’s central to this story, was a reflection of the life that I have lived and we’ll call it nostalgia, but this one connected with me on the very first listen and it was flat-out perfection from start to finish.
Next, I’m going to let you enjoy the next brand new song for yourselves. This is “Lonesome At It Gets,” and it’s my gift to you folks reading this. Enjoy.
Now I have declared my favorite performance multiple times, but it sincerely kept changing until we reached the performance of “Dead On The River.” With this one, the band shared the spotlight, and as the captivated crowd was soaking this one in, Ian’s guitarist Stephen Daly brought the house down with his guitar work. I legit don’t have any words that are adequate to describe how elevated that performance was. You’ve often heard someone say that something is “next level,” but what does that even mean? Those in attendance, myself included, now know exactly what that means. SWEET. HONEY. BARBECUE. That was incredible!
We were also treated to “The Last Stampede”, which makes for the perfect opportunity to share this Jam in the Van performance. Remember how I said that Ian is an intense performer? This will punctuate that.
The last song I want to mention is another unreleased one. It’s not technically a new song, as I heard it for the first time back in June of 2019, but Ian and the band broke out “P.O.W. Blues” once again on Saturday night. If you’ve never heard the song before, make sure you’re setting down. It’s a flat-out rock song and by far the heaviest music that I’ve heard from Ian. If the vibe doesn’t stir your very soul, you may wanna see a doctor, or maybe even the coroner. You’ll hear someone shout something towards the beginning of this song, and it captures the vibe and the moment absolutely perfect, so I’m gonna steal it…”Wooooooo, son!!”
So as the set wound down and we reached the end of the night, the crowd made it clear that they weren’t done. Nope. They were not having it. They all but demanded that Ian give em more. So, that’s what Ian did. He gave em more as he came back to the stage alone with his guitar. There he dropped yet another new song. This one was written about an old highway in his hometown that he’s traveled countless times. “Highway 52” was the perfect ending to a terrific night of music and an emphatic statement that Ian Noe is back y’all. Strap your boots on, he’s about to take us all on one heckuva ride!