I’ve got an admission to make. Tyler Childers has blossomed into a genuine star and he has done so, right under my nose. I ran UnsungMelody.Com for years, but stepped away to ready my son for college. In that nearly two year span, Tyler and his band, The Food Stamps, have toured relentlessly and built a huge underground following.
Now, I wasn’t totally oblivious to him, we did manage to snap a photo of him at the one and only “Buckle Up Fest” held in Cincinnati. (You can see that coverage here.) BUT, until I began Capture Kentucky back in April of this year, he had slipped off my radar.
As I began researching for my coverage of the 2017 edition of The Moonshiner’s Ball, I rediscovered Tyler with a little nudging from another photographer, Jennifer Buckler. She assured me that Tyler was a do-not-miss performance and I’m forever grateful to her for that.
At the Moonshiner’s Ball, Tyler performed a stripped-down acoustic set that allowed me to truly experience his voice in a very laid back setting. It was an early set and not that many campers were stirring yet, so it was a very intimate set on a large stage. A true rarity. The very first time he unleashed his voice that day, chills ran up and down my spine and I had an hours worth of the ole chicken skin. I was hooked and I felt that I just experienced a young man about to explode in popularity.
Fast-forward a few weeks and the news that another of Kentucky’s sons, Sturgill Simpson, had lent his name and talent to produce Tyler’s forthcoming release, ‘Purgatory’. At first, I was a bit worried, if I’m honest. Tyler’s songs are stories and his genius lies within his lyrics. They’re relatable, genuine and often times brutally honest. That doesn’t always shine as it should with a big production. To his credit or genius, Sturgill recognized that same point and allowed Tyler to shine. ‘Purgatory’, as I said here in my review, is a catalogue of songs that encapsulates the people and the struggles that Tyler has encountered in his young life. He is the voice of our people, or at least any Eastern Kentuckian.
Now along the way, I found another Kentucky band that I immediately fell in love with. That band is The Wooks. That’s important to the next part of our story. See, The Wooks and Tyler Childers go way back. Often times, The Wooks have filled in or sat in with Tyler. So when things really took off for Tyler, he called upon “The Professor” Jesse Wells. Jesse was mainly the fiddle player in The Wooks, but he is a master of most stringed instruments. Jesse is the newest permanent member of the Food Stamps. I have seen Tyler twice now since Jesse has joined and the growth musically has been astounding. Jesse plays a mean Telecaster, a Baritone Tele and the fiddle for Tyler. The wall of sound that his addition has added is what you may say is “next-level.”
Now, when I saw them with Jessie for the first time in Louisville, Jessie’s impact was definitely noticeable, particularly with the fiddle, but it wasn’t a true game-changer. The band has since had a few days off and their hard work was immediately notable at the performance at the MAC Center in Prestonsburg this past Saturday. Before I get ahead of myself on that show though, we have to take a moment and speak about Luna and the Mountain Jets first.
Luna and the Mountain Jets are lifelong friends and mentors to Tyler. David Prince played guitar all over “Bibles and Bottles”, Tyler’s first release. Tyler often covers a Luna song titled, “That Thing You Said.” (More on that in a moment.) So having them open the night was more than a friendly gesture, it was a show of respect and a gesture of his love and appreciation for what they have meant to him on a personal and professional level.
Luna and the Mountain Jets performed a set that was a mixed bag of styles, much like the personalities of both Teresa and David. Unique in many ways, my favorites on the night were “Pepsi Girl”, “Firefly” and “It’s Okay.” The latter of which felt like it belonged in a Quentin Tarantino film. In fact, if David Prince and that track showed up in a Tarantino film, I’d be the least surprised person you know.
Luna and the Mountain Jets also have alter egos and on this night, they both made an appearance. The Laid Back Country Picker and Honey converged onstage to perform Laid Back’s “Magoffin County Cadillac.” Essentially recreating the music video onstage and much to the delight of those in attendance. Music with a side of humor is always a bonus in my book, so I was certainly happy to catch their performance!
Next up was the moment that 1,044 people had been waiting for. The arrival of the Kentucky son and nearby Lawrence County native, Mr. Tyler Childers.
As Jerry Clower and his rat-killing skit played over the speakers, the anticipation grew and grew until it manifested itself into a loud eruption of both love and admiration. As witnessed by the long lines for merchandise in the MAC lobby, these are Tyler’s people and they have his full support.
Tyler and the band certainly were appreciative of that love, as their performance was as spirited as I’ve seen them. From the smiles to the stomping, these boys were having a great time and it was most rewarding for me, to see Tyler step back, watch and listen to what Jesse had added. He was not only enjoying the music, he was proud.
The night was definitely one for the ages. So many great songs, both new and old, filled the ears and hearts of everyone at the MAC. Even though a few had obviously been tailgating in the parking lot, the crowd was there for the music and in a world gone mad, it was an experience that I know I won’t soon forget.
Performances of songs like “Bus Route”, “Country Squire”, and “Woodward Creek” fit seamlessly with set staples like “Shake The Frost”, “22nd Winter” and “Deadman’s Curve.” Newer songs, like my personal favorite, “Cinder and Smoke” and the ever-evolving “Peace of Mind” complimented several songs from ‘Purgatory’. The ever-popular “Feathered Indians”, “Tattoos”, “I Swear To God” and “Honky Tonk Flame” helped round out the set, but I want to focus on a few different tracks.
One, in particular, was the aforementioned “That Thing You Said”, by Luna and the Mountain Jets. Tyler brought Luna (Teresa) and the Laid Back Country Picker (David) back onstage for a duet and it was absolutely incredible. After witnessing that first-hand, I think that duet needs to happen on the next record. Tyler and Teresa have a similar writing style, with Tyler being on the more extreme end of things, but they both have a tendency to start with a high melody and allow the melody to fall or fade. It creates a fantastic dynamic and on this performance, their voices blended so perfectly.
Another cover song helped blow the roof off the place. “Trudy”, originally by the Charlie Daniels Band has been refined over several years of the band covering it, but I’ll be dadgummed if it ain’t just funky enough to nearly pass as an original. There were many a yeehaws let out during this one.
The Laid Back Country Picker stayed onstage to help out with “Trudy” and the song that’s become the set-closer, “Whitehouse Road.” Many die-hard fans prefer the acoustic version of this one, but since most will only know the Sturgill Simpson produced version, that’s what ya get and if you’re there for a good time, that’s the version you’ll want with a cold beer in your hand.
After leaving the stage, only Tyler returned for an encore and judging by the volume of the crowd singing along, no one was one bit disappointed. Quite possibly the loudest sing-a-long of the night was, “I Will Follow You To Virgie”, which of course is located in nearby Pike County. Which led into “Nose On The Grindstone” that also mentions Pike County. That particular song is one that I have been hoping to witness live, so on that note, my night was officially made. He closed out the night with the tender ballad, “Lady May”. Which was written for his wife of two years, Senora May Childers.
It was a night full of love, admiration, respect, music and family. Much like the music the man himself writes, the night was damn near perfect. If you can catch a show before it sells out, as a Kentuckian, you owe it to yourself to see Tyler Childers in concert. You will certainly not be disappointed.
For more information, including tour dates and merchandise, check out Tyler’s website here.