Friday night in Ashland saw Country superstar John Anderson blow into town like a “Seminole Wind,” ready to delight all those in attendance. The magnificently beautiful Paramount Arts Center was the setting for a wonderful night of music.
John Anderson has had 40+ year career thus far, so all knew going into Saturday that it would be a fantastic time with a grand soundtrack. With several top 10 hits, Anderson has been a constant presence as an influence for many of the Country stars we enjoy today. For proof, look no further than the recent release of the John Anderson tribute album, “Something Borrowed, Something New.” With the inclusion of stars like John Prine, Kentuckians Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, Luke Combs, Jamey Johnson, Eric Church, Ashley McBride, Sierra Ferrell, and Bluegrass legend Del McCoury make my point for me. You aren’t given a tribute album with such huge stars by chance. You’ve earned that.
Check out my favorite from the tribute album. Sturgill Simpson – “When It Comes To You”:
With that, the anticipation of an intimate acoustic performance of some of Anderson’s biggest songs had Ashland in a fever pitch. There was truly a feeling of electricity in the air, and the crowd lined up early to get through the doors. That’s a rarity when all the seats are assigned and the weather is rather chilly. A great indicator of what was to come.
Opening the show was Boyd County native, Cole Chaney. A young man that you know well if you’re a reader of this site, but if this is your first time here, welcome, you’re about to be introduced to a young man that is well on his way to becoming a household name in his own right.
When I recommend Cole Chaney to folks, and believe me I do so often, they always ask, “Who does he sound like?” My answer? Cole Chaney.
I say that not as my usual sarcastic self, but because it’s true. Are there hints of influences here and there? Absolutely, but the thing is, Cole writes in a very unique way and he truly doesn’t sound like anyone else. His melodies dance around his words. That’s not a typical style in a world where ever other line needs to rhyme. Cole is able to draw you into a song like few can. He has a way of quietening the world around you, and in that moment, his story is all that matters. He’s like a living, breathing copy of your favorite book that you just can’t put down.
On Friday night, Cole delivered seven songs (I think), and what they were really makes no difference for what I’m trying to convey here. I’ve been blessed to watch many, many great artists in my 20+ years in music. I’ve seen what it takes to become successful. I’ve seen artists grow from locals to stars. So I implore you to listen when I say that Cole Chaney is the real deal. Go see him in small venues while you can, and NEVER miss any artists hometown show. They’re always special. Always.
So to prove my point, I going to take an old cliché to the next level. They say a picture is worth 1000 words. Right? So I’m going to say that the audio you’re about to listen to, is worth 1,000,000 words. BUT, before you push play, I want to give you an assignment. Listen intently and notice how quiet the crowd is when Cole is talking. Hear his charm and feel that tug that I mentioned when he pulls you into a song. Feel his calmness. There’s no nerves. There’s no hesitation. Think about how important the story he is telling you is to his family, hell, his own existence. Then I want you to realize that Cole Chaney is only 22 years young.
The song is called “Charlene.” Enjoy and we’ll discuss it after you listen.
See what I mean? I don’t really need to say another word, you get it now. BUT, I’m going to tie this up with a pretty red bow for ya, using the photo below to help convey what Friday night was all about.
Rarely do you capture an image more fitting than the one above. Why do I say that? Because on Friday night, Cole Chaney walked out onto the stage at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, and delivered exactly what you see in the photo. Strength, courage, growth, ability, class, beauty, simplicity, openness, talent, humility, and comfort.
An absolute master class from a young man that delivered a performance that outdid many folks twice his young age. Just Cole, his guitar and his stories, and in all honesty, he didn’t need anything else.
This young man has shared the stage with many folks over the last couple of years, and he has absorbed the best of them all. Through osmosis, Cole Chaney’s musicianship and showmanship have caught up to his songwriting abilities.
I could not have been more proud of Cole, and he DESERVED every single second of his standing ovation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Cole Chaney has arrived.
The setlist included “Another Day In The Life,” “Mercy” (You could have heard a pin drop during that performance), “Leave,” “Charlene,” “Ill Will Creek,”Coalshooter,” and “Back To Kentucky.”
One last thing, during Cole’s standing ovation, he took about three seconds to take it all in before saying his goodbye. For me, that was the best part of the entire night.
It was now time for the man himself, Mr. John Anderson. Accompanied by his long-time guitarist Dan Reeves, Anderson sat down, thanked everyone for making it out, and then delivered hit after hit for roughly 75 minutes. Sharing stories along the way, Anderson spanned his entire career.
All were great performances, but I want to highlight a few that I will help put you there with us. The night started with “I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday.” The song that garnered John a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Country Vocal Performance was the perfect song to prepare everyone for the musical journey.
When Anderson began “I’ve Got It Made,” you could notice a beautiful change in his voice. Just like an old truck, it took John’s voice a minute to warm up in the cold weather. His trademark vocal warmth was as smooth as butter and that made “I’ve Got It Made” one of my favorite performances on the night. The familiarity of Anderson’s voice had lit the nostalgia in my heart and it was wonderful.
Once “Money In The Bank” rolled around, we got our first loud sing-a-long. The syllable repeating hook of bank was sang back to Anderson loudly enough that he backed off the mic and let us all take the lead vocal. Man, what a fun moment!
Anderson’s inclusion of “Freedom Isn’t Free” is one that I hope is a staple of his set for another 40+ years. It’s a moment for him to thank all the members of the Armed Forces for their sacrifices. It’s also a stark reminder for everyone to understand the importance of those among us that give us the freedom to enjoy a night like Friday night. If you are affiliated with any military branch, thank you for your service.
“Would You Catch A Falling Star” was fantastic. It was probably my favorite stripped-down performance on the night. It’s been really hard to put my finger on the exact reason why, but the melody just fell out of John with so much ease. I found myself covered with the ole chicken skin several times during this one.
“Black Sheep” is just fun and probably the most easily relatable song in Anderson’s career. At one point or another, we’ve all felt like the black sheep of our families, so it was a blast to be surrounded by a room full of oddball folks like myself. I thought we all sounded pretty good together. 😆
Anderson took a moment to speak a bit about his old buddy, Waylon Jennings. It was one of a couple moments where Anderson spoke about mortality and losing his friends. He gave us the story of how Waylon asked Anderson to join him for what would be his final album. A live show at the Ryman. You could tell that his inclusion meant the world to him before he delivered “Waymore’s Blues.” If we’re gonna get a cover song, I’ll certainly take that one every single time. Such a beautiful moment.
There was one omission from the setlist that a few folks were grumbling about after the show. “Straight Tequilla Night” wasn’t played, but ya know what? “Chicken Truck” was played, so that’s a win in my book. It’s a song that I had completely forgotten, well, until that wonderfully goofy chorus same around. Had I hit the aisle way to do a little dancing, it would’ve been during “Chicken Truck.” So you’re all welcome. You almost had to witness that. 😆
Up until Anderson began “Swingin,” most folks had kept their cell phones turned off. And it was refreshing that our views hadn’t been obstructed, but all that went out the window for this one. I get it, it was awesome and folks wanted to take home a memory. No biggie, but hopefully folks did see the stark differences and the trend of fewer phones will catch on. Oh yeah, “Swingin,” there is no way you can hear that song and not enjoy yourself. You’d even be hard-pressed to ever find a song that makes an artist any more instantly recognizable. When you hear “Swingin'” you KNOW it’s John Anderson. There’s absolutely zero doubts and it was perfection.
The last two songs need no introduction, but I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about them.
“I Wish I Could’ve Been There” was up first. From a personal standpoint, this is the song that solidified me as a lifelong fan of John Anderson. I was 18-years-old when this song was released. I was learning to become a man. (My would say I’ve been a slow learner on that front. Lol) I remember having some friends in bands and they had these huge dreams of hitting the road and never looking back. Once I heard this song, it really hit me hard. The scenarios that played out in John’s song had never occurred to me. It made me think, and I fell in love. And as the years have passed, the songs importance has continued to grow with me. That’s why “I Wish I Could’ve Been There” was by far and away, my favorite performance of the John’s set.
I’m certain you’ve guessed that “Seminole Wind” was the song that ended the night. The song that revived John Anderson’s career will forever be a fan favorite and will almost always be situated at the end of his set. It was perfection and I don’t think I’m alone when I say, that’s a moment I’ll cherish forever.
So John, if you ever find your way to this article, thank you. For everything. You’re a legend and we were all blessed to be able to spend our Friday night with you.