The year 2020 can kiss my a$$, and up until Saturday night, 2021 could kiss it as well. There, I said it. Let’s just lay it to rest and focus on the future.
As the weather begins to warm up, the hope is that the musical opportunities do so as well. That’s what drug me out of hibernation, and after receiving my 2nd vaccination shot, I’ve been waiting patiently on an opportunity to jump back in here at Capture Kentucky. Now is not only the right time, but it’s also the right show.
If you’re new to the band or the site, allow me introduce ya. Back in 2017, I heard the first notes from a fairly new band that shook me to my core. That band was Magnolia Boulevard.
Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Maggie Noëlle, guitarist Gregg Erwin, keyboardist Ryan Allen, drummer Todd Copeland and bassist John Roberts. Magnolia Boulevard are the perfect blend of musical influences and seasoned players that make up a powerhouse band led by an immediately recognizable voice and timeless guitar work with a funky and super solid rhythm section.
Based in Lexington, the band has been honing their craft over the last few years and have established themselves as a must-see act. On Saturday night, that was clearly evident by their sold-out performance at The Burl.
The crowd gathered early, flashing smiles that seemed so alien after a year behind a mask, but I’ll be danged if they weren’t more beautiful than ever!
I saw and hugged Roger Combs, y’all. Do you know how long I’ve waited on that big smile and hug? Too damn long, that’s the only answer.
Now, a Saturday night at The Burl is always a safe bet, but when it’s “An Evening With” a band that you believe in, it’s just that much more special. Those in attendance were seated at tables for social distancing, but they were also ready to experience, not one, but TWO sets from Magnolia Boulevard. Yes, please!!
Having said all of that, I’m going to ask for a tiny bit of leeway on my coverage here. I’ve missed live music so incredibly bad, that my mind and heart needed a few minutes to soak in the experience and help heal the aching and longing that has filled my heart during this pandemic.
No excuse, just an explanation. I have a feeling that y’all will know exactly what I mean and will completely understand. I’m likely a bit rusty on the ole writing as well, so if I have songs out of order or a detail or two a bit off, my apologies. Lol
As the sun began to dip below the horizon, the Distillery district came alive and all the pent-up energy of the past year began to fill the air. I may still be infatuated with the fact that I’m finally able to EXPERIENCE live music, but the joy, elation, and flat-out love that filled the parking lot of The Burl was absolutely palpable. Everyone could feel it and believe me, Magnolia Boulevard was hell-bent to put all that energy to good use on a chilly Saturday night.
Magnolia Boulevard came out swinging, and in all honesty, they never looked back. Mixing several cover songs with many original songs, most of which are currently unreleased, the band had a purpose and that was purpose was kickin every a$$ in attendance on Saturday night. I’m delighted to say that mine was one of ’em.
From the slow churning funkiness of “Planting Seeds,” to the epicness of several surprise guests, Saturday night was flat-out the best performance I’ve witnessed from Magnolia Boulevard. That’s no small task, as I’ve seen the band many times, but for the majority of the three-hour window they played, they were clicking on all cylinders.
The first surprise guess was the Uncle of keyboardist Ryan Allen, Mr. Scott Allen. Scott enjoyed the opportunity to share the stage with the band, and so did I. Scott is a veteran of the Kentucky music scene and clearly a huge influence. Mr. Allen joined them for a blistering rendition of the Allman Brothers classic, “One Way Out.”
You may wonder what song I first heard back in 2017. Well, that was “Ride.” I remember really enjoying the funkiness, the soaring vocals, the amazing guitar work, and what really hooked me was the songwriting. The structure was fantastic and I’m happy to say that “Ride” has simply gotten better over time and seeing many folks dancing and singing along was a highlight on Saturday night.
One of the most important aspects the band has improved upon is adding harmonies to their set. Not only do they add depth to the strong vocals that Maggie delivers, but they will also ease the burden and strain for Maggie’s voice over time. They also add another layer of professionalism that will elevate the band as their journey continues.
Those harmonies were first evident during “Bell Bottom Blues.” A song written by Eric Clapton during his time with Derek And The Dominos. Ryan and Todd joined in, adding a welcoming depth that really rounded out their entire sound. This was also the moment where the Red Bull must’ve kicked in for guitarist Gregg Erwin. The young man played out of his mind and allowed us all into his world for just a few minutes. Shew!
I want to mention another cover song here real quick. Magnolia Boulevard has been covering “Sugaree” by Jerry Garcia for a while now, but I want to mention this one because I feel that “Sugaree” is the perfect cover song for the band. So much so, that the first time I saw them play it, it sounded so much like Magnolia Boulevard that I didn’t realize it was a cover. Check it out below, I bet you’ll agree.
After a short intermission, Maggie and Ryan took the stage to perform a song written for their fallen friend. “Little Bear” was written by Ryan and it is always an emotional moment in any Magnolia Boulevard set, and one that is more often than not, a song that only us locally will get to enjoy.
R.I.P. Little Bear.
I will say that “California Love” was not a song I was expecting to hear, but believe me when I say this, it was one of the best unexpected moments that I have ever experienced. Granted this version resembled the Phish version more so than the 2Pac version, but what an absolutely delightful surprise!
“Strong-Willed Women” is always a highlight of any Magnolia set. Honestly, I’m not sure that Magnolia Boulevard has a more important song in their catalog. The powerful anthem happens to also hold my favorite lyric from Maggie; Regrets are just memories that we don’t want to keep. Preach on!! Preach on!!
Listen, I love when Magnolia Boulevard steps on the gas, but there’s just something about a slow groove, a sultry vocal delivery, a choir of harmonies, and an overload of dynamic playing that a tender tune brings out in these folks. It’s truly what sets them apart from the pack, and in my opinion, THAT is exactly what will make their music live on forever.
Next was “Loving Me.” A song that sits dead center in the vocal sweet spot for Maggie. She sounds great and it comes so easily that she often takes a bit to really enjoy the moment. Soaking in the wonderful band behind her, a happy Maggie is an absolutely INCREDIBLE Maggie. Keep your eyes and ears open for this one at future shows. You won’t be disappointed!
“More” is a song that Maggie wrote for her daughter, who recently turned two, and again, it’s in that smooth and easy range of her voice. Add in the fact that “More” is so personal and you have a magical moment in every performance. That’s a win-win.
The band was then joined by Wes Smith from the band Brother Smith. Wes joined them for a total of four songs. The first of which was their rendition of “Little By Little,” originally written by Blues great Junior Wells. Magnolia Boulevard often receives comparisons to The Tedeschi Trucks Band, so it’s no surprise that their version leans more towards Susan’s version of this classic. The energy delivered in this one is always electric and Saturday was yet another example of what a great band can create with such a great song.
Next came a medley that will forever be the moment in the set that I look forward to most. “Call On Me” is my personal favorite Magnolia Boulevard song and the band has combined that one with the John Prine penned, “Angel From Montgomery”, which was also released by Bonnie Raitt. With Wes still onstage, Maggie welcomed Abby Hamilton to join the performance. As you can see below, I wasn’t the only person enjoying this incredible moment. Just look at the absolute joy on Wes’s face. I’d wager that mine and most every other person in attendance looked rather similar.
Next up was one of the band’s newest songs. “Mother Design”, is a song penned by bassist John Roberts. I could write an entire book on this performance, and I may still, but for now, let’s just sum it up as simply as “HOLY $HIT!!” New songs often ignite the fire of a band, but with Wes Smith standing toe to toe with Gregg Erwin on the solos, very much in the vein of the Allman Brothers, well…HOLY $HIT!! If you were there, you know. If you missed it…I truly feel sympathy for you.
One more for the road? Alright, HOLY $HIT!!
After performing another unexpected, yet bada$$ cover in the Elton John classic, “Benny and the Jets,” Magnolia Boulevard ended the night with “Sister.” A song penned by Maggie that saw the subject of the song sitting front and center. It was not only an incredible performance, but it was undeniably a moment that will be cherished for a very long time.
After a year-long pandemic, the band is again building momentum, and 2021 looks to be the year that Magnolia Boulevard launches onto the radars of the rest of the world.
I’m incredibly thankful to have been able to witness their evolution, but now is the time for Magnolia Boulevard to take flight. Selfishly, that means fewer shows for us locals, but it means much more success for Magnolia Boulevard. So count me in and do yourself a favor, go see Magnolia Boulevard. Your heart and soul will thank you. I promise.