There’s an infinite number of variables that make for a good time, but on Sunday night, we found the ultimate prescription.
We took two sisters and all their beautiful harmonies, tossed in a heavy dose of the Blues, sprinkled in songs from their entire career and mixed them all together in the best cauldron Kentucky has to offer in the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg.
Rebecca and Megan Lovell are a blues-oriented, Grammy-nominated duo known as Larkin Poe. Natives of Georgia, now based in Nashville, these young ladies made their way to Prestonsburg armed with an abundance of musical ammunition in reserve. Eager to travel and share their music with the masses, these ladies did something you’ll rarely see. In 2020, they released two albums. ‘Self Made Man’ and ‘Kindred Spirits.’
Covid put the squash on a lot of touring, so in 2021, can you guess what they did? Yep. Released another album. ‘Paint the Roses: Live in Concert with Nu Deco Ensemble’ is a reinterpretation of past works integrated with elements of a symphony.
What it delivers is a HUGE full sound that should come with a money-back guarantee if you can resist tapping your toes through its entirety. I’ll go ahead and tell ya that we’d all fail miserably. That’s enough info for now, let’s get to the show!!
Before we jump into the Larkin Poe section of this article, we’ve got to take a moment to recognize The Cold Stares. These gentlemen have Kentucky ties, so I was pleasantly pleased that they were on the bill. Vocalist / Guitarist Chris Tapp is originally from Corbin, so ya know I had their performance under the ole microscope, and I’m happy to report that The Cold Stares passed with flying colors.
Sunday night wasn’t my first rodeo with these fellas. I caught them opening for Rival Sons at 3rd & Lindsley several years ago. I became a fan that night. What I remember most from that night, which was also true on Sunday night, is the first moment you hear The Cold Stares Chris Tapp hit his octave guitar pedal. You will swear on a stack of bibles that there has to be more than two people on the stage. There isn’t, but there’s always more than two jaws on the floor at any given moment.
The Cold Stares happen to have a new album out titled, ‘Heavy Shoes,’ and this one landed them a record deal with Mascot Records. After seeing their growth from Nashville till now, they’ve likely found a home for a very long time, and deservedly so. These fellas have grown exponentially over the years and it feels like these fellas are on the brink of garnering the attention they deserve.
I do want to point out that I’m kind of a snare drum snob in a live setting. The sound of Brian Mullins snare was like Baby Bear’s Porridge on Sunday night. It was juuuuusssstt right. Kudos for that, Brian!
Highlights for me included the Allman Brothers iconic jam “Whipping Post”, “In The Night Time”, “Mojo Hand”, “Going Down Easy”, “Prosecution Blues”, and “Hard Times”, but “Red Letter Blues” stole the show for me. They ended their set with that one and they were met with a standing ovation from the crowd. It was a beautiful moment that was not lost on the fellas in The Cold Stares.
Next up, was the fire that is Larkin Poe. This was my first time experiencing these ladies and their band. They were playing a festival once where I heard a few songs, but the opportunity to enjoy their show hadn’t presented itself until Prestonsburg. If I’m honest though, there’s no better venue to experience any artist for the time. The MAC is where it’s folks. If you’ve never been there, I highly encourage you to make the trip to Prestonsburg.
Larkin Poe took to the stage with a full band on Sunday night. In doing so, they took us on a journey that was one part concert and one part music history. Throwing in subtle hints and homages to their influences. Larkin Poe was relentless in their attack and those in attendance were eating out of the palm of their hands. That’s probably not a good analogy with Covid hanging around, but it fits like a glove. Hopefully, y’all will allow it this time around.
The night kicked off with “She’s a Self Made Man,” which is included on the album of the same name. Their energy was immediate and the love was flowing early. You knew the night was going to be a fun one by the time the first chorus hit. SSSHHEEEEWWWEEEE!!
I think my favorite song of the night was “Trouble in Mind.” I’ve loved that song for years and I had a tough time photographing that, I couldn’t quit dancing long enough to snap a picture! That’s probably the hardest part of being a photographer at shows. Bands come out of the gate ready to step on the gas, and ya gotta miss some great performances. Pretty cool problem to have though, huh? Lol
By the time they tore into “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues,” layers of clothing came off, then Rebecca’s shoes exited stage right. It was at that moment, that things were about to get real and that set the tone for the entire night.
As I mentioned earlier, the show was part concert and part music history lesson, and the first example was when they performed their version of the Son House classic, “Preachin’ Blues.” Shortly thereafter Larkin Poe gave us “Back Down South.” Which is an homage to their influences, where they namecheck artists and songs.
That track also features Rebecca’s husband, Tyler Bryant. His band is Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown. They also have a Kentucky connection, as their drummer, Caleb Crosby is a native of Winchester. I’ve had the opportunity to see those fellas a few times as well, with the last time being another Rival Sons show in Nashville. If ya dig Larkin Poe, you’ll likely dig them as well.
Another lesson was the absolutely fantastic performance of the Bo Diddley classic, “Who Do You Love?” With my son in Gainesville, Florida in Law School, I’ve really been doing some digging into Bo’s catalog of music. Just like Tom Petty, Bo was a Gainesville native. So this one was definitely a personal favorite on Sunday night.
I’m going to switch the article up a bit here. I pride myself on writing a truthful and accurate representation of whatever event I’m covering. Three things happened, that became very important for me on Sunday. Hopefully, you’ll agree with me.
First and foremost, I want to recognize the courage these ladies have, as they performed “Mad As A Hatter.” The song was written about their Grandfather who had his battles with mental health, as he lived with an undiagnosed bout with schizophrenia. Mental health is often taboo for many, but these ladies opened up their creative hearts and minds to make a wonderful tribute to a man they clearly loved deeply. The song is essentially the journey of watching someone with dementia slip away. That can’t be an easy song to perform.
Secondly, certain shows become something entirely different for artists. When the circumstances they find themselves in creates an experience that becomes memorable for not only themselves but the crowd in attendance. Those are the moments that bring out the true passion and showcase true artistry.
I firmly believe Sunday night was one of those shows. Let me explain. The MAC is a large theater that seats over 1000 people. If a show isn’t sold-out, it quickly becomes apparent. Many shows are hit or miss in this pandemic, so it isn’t an uncommon thing to see empty seats. Larkin Poe invited everyone to move closer to the stage, most did so. Many even decided to line the front of the stage, which is something that I’d never seen at the MAC.
So let’s recap where we’re at at this point. Rebecca removed her jacket, and then her shoes. Megan removed her jacket. The band brought the crowd to them. The energy the crowd gave Larkin Poe was consumed and given right back to them. It was palpable and it even evoked a comment from Rebecca, she said, “I didn’t know Kentucky had it going on like this. This is great!” How. Flipping. Cool. Was. That?
The last thing I want to discuss is Larkin Poe’s love for music and how important it is to put instruments in the hands of children. I’m not sure she was aware of the history of the MAC, but that’s exactly what Billie Jean Osborne fought for, and she eventually landed the grants and funding to create the building they were performing in. Either way, it was wonderful to witness.
Read more about Billie Jean Osborne here.
Larkin Poe even took it one step further, specifically, Rebecca took it one step further by traversing the stage, stopping in front of the kiddos in attendance. Handing them guitar picks, playing it up for several measures as the kiddos were filming on their cell phones. You think those kids will remember that night as impactful? You know they will. The same can be said about the band’s performance. It was special. They “let their hair down” and just enjoyed the humanity and the connection that music brings. Shows like these are the driving force behind my love for music, and honestly, Sunday night’s performance was one of my favorite shows that I’ve ever seen. Humanity, humility, and positivity are awfully powerful when they work together as they did on Sunday night.
There were several more songs performed, but I just sat back and watched what transpired. I’ll give “Freedom” my vote for the best riff of the night. I really enjoyed “Black Echo”, “Blue Ridge Mountains” which was really awesome watching Megan work her slide, and “Wanted Woman” was more than we deserved. Holy crap they brought the house down with that one. They ended the night there, or so they thought. The crowd wasn’t done, and honestly, the band wasn’t either.
After a short-lived exit, Larkin Poe returned to the stage as the fans were begging for just one more song. It was awesome, and the stripped-down version they gave us of the Robert Johnson “Come In My Kitchen,” was absolutely incredible.
That performance served as the final punctuation mark on an absolutely beautiful concert, and a music history lesson. A night that I told Joe at the MAC, that I probably didn’t have the time to write a robust article for. Now 1800+ words later, I guess I was wrong. Sometimes though, something is just too inspiring and the words just fall out of me. I live for those times.
So, there ya have it. A Sunday night spent with friends that had a great soundtrack, and per usual, amazing lights and sounds at The MAC. Buy a ticket to a show at The MAC, make the trip, thank us later, and if it happens to be a Larkin Poe show, well that’s even better!