Before we get into this article, I want to take a moment to ask for your help. Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia are facing a terrible opioid epidemic. Organizations like Healing Appalachia assist folks with recovery, as well as setting up programs to help prevent addiction.
As an Eastern Kentuckian, much like Mr. Tyler Childers, I want to help where I can. I was asked to donate some prints which were sold at the event. Here is where you come in. If you weren’t at this show, please consider donating online. Together, we can make a change.
If able, please donate here. Thank you.
We were also asked to photograph Healing Appalachia for Hope In the Hills, and it was an honor that I simply couldn’t pass up. So we loaded up and headed out about 7:30 am. We arrived in Fairlea, WV around 1 pm. The Half Bad Bluegrass Band (HBBB) warmed up the stage as folks from all over filed in. Setting up their lawn chairs and picking the perfect spot to enjoy the benefit. We chose to set up a bit further back, diagonally from the sound booth, about five rows behind Tyler’s parents, who also made the trip.
The sun was unrelenting at times, but that didn’t slow down HBBB. They played a mix originals and traditional bluegrass songs. Folks were treated to great performances of “Jackson”, “House Of The Rising Sun”, “Jolene” and “Little Maggie”. All of which had rotating vocalists. Their energy was as contagious as it could be, but crowd participation was based solely on the amount of cloud cover. Folks definitely became sedentary as the clouds revealed the hot sun, myself included.
The music would start back up after a powerful speaking presentation about addiction and recovery from Healing Appalachia. The presentation featured several speakers with different aspects of what addiction meant to them. It was chilling to hear from a foster parent who cares for recovering folks, a mother of an addict and a recovering addict. I truly admired the courage it took for those ladies to step on that stage.
Next up was The Wild Rumpus. These fellas are local West Virginians and I’m gonna save you some time, they’re flat-out awesome! I was told that these guys don’t play together often, so I’m really glad we caught them. Their version of “Working On A Building” was one of the many highlights of the day. Their recordings don’t do them justice, because this band was 100 times better up on that stage.
There was a second discussion between sets and this one was even more motivating and featured a member of Hope In The Hills, a young lady who helps with prevention and a drug-free babies program, as well as a pastor. These conversations should have taken place years ago, but I truly thank God that they’re happening now. Hope In The Hills and Healing Appalachia are making a positive impact, a measurable, yet immeasurable contribution to their communities and we were incredibly humbled and honored to be a small part of such a wonderful cause.
Fellow Kentuckian, Justin Wells, absolutely destroyed the stage. I don’t say that lightly. If you read my Kickin’ It On The Creek article, you know the high praise on the addition of Robert Frahm, Colin Palmer Kellogg and Daniel Mohler to Justin’s band. If not, let me just say that Justin has always been amazing, but if I’m totally honest, these guys have taken Justin to a whole new level of awesomeness.
Justin’s set was littered with new songs and a few older ones as well. “Ruby” is a new song named for his Grandmother that was amazing. Justin’s set also included “The Dogs”, “Goin’ Down Grinnin'” and the classic Dire Straits track, “So Far Away”. I’ve always been a Justin fan, but THIS lineup could very well be the lineup that takes him to the next level in his career. I couldn’t be more proud of our hometown fellas. You’ll have a hard time finding any better folks than Justin, so if you enjoy what we do here, put your support behind a great individual and an awesome band.
The next speakers were a family. Two young ladies, who are now married, brought their daughter onstage to discuss their battle. It was a very somber, yet inspiring chat about the dangers and the awful situations that addicts often put themselves in. I’m proud of those young ladies and with the help of organizations like those involving today can save, not only their lives, but many more like them. I was able to personally thank them backstage for their courage and THAT moment was my favorite of the day. They had no idea who I was and I’m fine with that, but I simply wanted them to know that I appreciated them.
Next up was yet another Kentucky native, Kelsey Walden. Kelsey and Tyler Childers did a short run together not long after Tyler’s ‘Purgatory’ dropped. (February I think.) Their desire to make a difference has forged a great friendship and Kelsey was delighted to be a part of this event. I too, was happy to have Kelsey. She’s a bright light in a sometimes dark world. Her love for Kentucky and her people is nothing short of amazing and I love her and her music dearly.
The young lady from Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky delivered a powerful set that delighted the casual fan, as well as the hardcore fan. She played songs that spanned her career and she did so with a fantastic confidence but kept her humility intact. In my opinion, that’s simply what being from Kentucky means. It’s who we are at our core and I was incredibly proud that three of the five bands featured here in West Virginia were Kentuckians. That’s no slight to WV, but it is definitely a nod towards the talent that the bluegrass state has to offer.
The man of the night was now onstage to shine. Mr. Tyler Childers, who once lived in the neighborhood where this performance took place, delighted the crowd with his unique visions and observations. Tyler mainly performed songs that weren’t on his albums. That’s right, he played to a massive crowd and only sung roughly three or so songs off his albums. That. Is. Amazing. The fun part? Most folks were still singing along. What?! That’s right. We saw some rarities like “Country Squire”, “Matthew”, “Gemini”, “Ever-Lovin’ Hand”, “Take My Hounds To Heaven”, “Shake The Frost”, “Messed Up Kid”, “Peace Of Mind” and my personal favorite “House On Fire”, just to name a few.
I really thought that I’d want to talk a lot more about Tyler’s set, but sometimes things happen that change your perspective. In this case, that’s exactly what happened. After performing a wonderful 45-minute set before a short break, that’s when the real Tyler showed up. He took a moment to thank all those in attendance, but breaking up into tears, Tyler made a brave statement that shows his heart. He said, “As many folks are here tonight, I can’t help but think that we could fill this place with tombstones, a hundred times over. So many potential lives, wasted. If you’ve got a friend going through a rough spot, you should check on them. We’ve all got to be there for each other. It ain’t an overnight thing. It ain’t a couple years thing. Because it took years and years and years and years to get here.” WE need to make a change and I couldn’t agree more and I am incredibly proud of Tyler dedicating himself to such an uphill battle. You could read my words for the next two hours, but what I have to say is minuscule to what we’re facing and I’m going let Tyler’s Instagram post finish this thought for you:
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Thank you to everyone who came out to the fairgrounds last night for Healing Appalachia. It was a pretty emotional night, thinking about how we could have filled that field 100 times over with tombstones of all the family, friends, and potential beauty our small towns have lost to opioid addiction. I’ve heard the whole “drug addiction isn’t a disease…” argument over and over. I’ve heard ya. I also think if that’s the side of the train you sit on, you’re a dick lacking any empathy whatsoever. But you might be right. It’s not a disease. It’s a dark lonely hole any of us could so very easily find ourselves in, attempting to fill the void brought on by depression and a whole slew of other mental illnesses. It’s a cancer on our communities. Most of us are no more than one degree of separation from its impact. It’s our big ugly monster to deal with. Together. We didn’t get here as a region overnight, and we won’t be out of it overnight neither. If you have a person in your life struggling with addiction, ya ought to call them up today and let them know they aren’t unloved. And if you’re going through it your own self…You ain’t no accident, and you’re a fine soul deserving of love and all the good things. You’re worth it bro. Again, thank you to everyone who came out and supported the good fight. Thanks to all the amazing musicians who came out and shared their music for this night of fellowship. Thank you for the support @john_prine and all the fine folks @ohboyrecords have given our attempt to help do something about it. I hadn’t seen the music video y’all had put out for “Summer’s End” until last night, and it absolutely ripped my heart out. Also, afterwards we all went to the bowling alley in Lewisburg and got down…and I was reminded how terribly terribly awful at bowling I am.
Even living Legend John Prine recently released a video to coincide with this show and we were treated to a screening of his track, “Summers End”, between the two sets that Tyler performed. The last thing that I want to say about the performance is that Tyler ended the night as appropriately as he ever could with an acoustic version of “Nose On The Grindstone”. A simple, powerful statement to let everyone in attendance know, that this is a battle he is ready to fight.
So please, please, please, love your neighbor. Be compassionate. Donate if you can. Seek help if you need it. There are way more wonderful people in this world than the media would lead you to believe. Listen to John Prine, “blow up your TV”. Go be a human with other humans. The world needs that more than ever.
I’m going to end this article here. I love you folks, but this thing is bigger than us and bigger than Tyler. Please, donate if you’re able. Tyler, The Food Stamps, Kelsey Waldon, Justin Wells, The Wild Rumpus, the Half Bad Bluegrass Band and myself will forever be grateful.
Hug your loved ones. Help those who need it. Let’s build a future, together.
Donations can be made here.