Category Archives: Concerts

Go See the Turnpike Troubadours Live If It’s the Last Thing You Do

It’s been a weird month for me, and I’m sorry I’m just getting to this now, but trust me, I had to take some time for myself, and it was well worth it. I do expect there to be quite an influx of writing during the next few days because I’ve been listening to a lot of music but haven’t had the time to really sit down and write my thoughts on anything.

But absolutely the first thing I have to address is the live show I saw last Friday in Oklahoma City at a place called the Criterion for the Turnpike Troubadours’ album release party. I’ve now seen Turnpike three times live, and I’m so glad I finally get to devote an entire post to this. I will freely say that in September at Medicine Stone, they didn’t live up to themselves as much, and their show didn’t blow me away on the level that it has each other time, but without a doubt, the Turnpike Troubadours is the best live music experience I’ve had the opportunity to see.

It’s hard to even begin to put into words the kind of brilliance you see at a Turnpike show, but you know all that ridiculous fiddle and guitar and just generally awesome instrumentation? It’s barely contained on their albums, and then you hear it just basically come unleashed in a live setting. There’s nothing like the opening to “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” as the band just breaks out into the song, and all hell breaks loose. It’s surreal to listen to a song like “Seven and Seven,” meant to be such a deep and thought-provoking number, be screamed out among thousands of people because somehow this band managed to write it in an upbeat, concert-friendly way. This helped me to enjoy some of the new album more–you’ll see my thoughts on that shortly, by the way–because songs like “The Housefire” work better in a live setting, and suddenly a serious song becomes lively and fun. And then you get moments like “Pay no Rent,” where the songwriting of Evan Felker is on full display, and even if you came here looking for a party, you can’t help but be hit by the genius in these lyrics.

Even having seen Turnpike twice already, “Long Hot Summer Day” is a moment I was looking forward to, just hearing the fiddle over and over for the chorus. At Medicine Stone, they had tended to do this as an encore, but here, they did it as the finale, to ridiculous applause. The encore featured Jamie Lin Wilson, who had been the opener and is another great live performer, and she was there for “Call a Spade a Spade,” a song she appears on in its studio version. The night ended with “The Bird Hunters,” which is amazing in and of itself, because that song is a five-minute, waltzing heartbreak song, and yet, the Troubadours manage to make it something lively enough for the end of a concert. It’s truly special to hear everyone singing along to this, and it makes me go back to Jamie Lin saying that Evan Felker somehow manages to write “deep, thoughtful songs that also make you want to party.” This is extremely rare, and it means both that this band’s writing might be a little underappreciated and also that they’re accessible enough for everyone.

They’re certainly being given greater attention now, but the Turnpike Troubadours are still massively underrated. Trigger addressed this a little on SCM, but it’s a shame that artists like Turnpike and others are struggling to find live audiences outside Texas and Oklahoma because they should be on the level of Isbell and Simpson. NO question. So go out and support the best band making country music today if you have any interest in live music at all.

Highlights from Medicine Stone 2017

It’s a great thing as a proud Oklahoman to see what the Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have started in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with Medicine Stone. It’s a wonderful three-day experience of music and fellowship on the Illinois River, and I recommend going if you like Texas and Red Dirt music, or even just live music in general. The people are great too, and I was glad to go back for a second year. Last year, I tried to cover as many bands as possible–though it is physically impossible to see all of them because some of them play on different stages at the same time–so this time, I wanted to write something a little different. I thought overall, the fifth Medicine Stone was even better than the fourth, and I really enjoyed almost everyone I saw. So rather than reiterating that for a bunch of different artists, I thought I’d highlight some of the lesser known artists that impressed me, and maybe introduce some of you to their music. We all know Randy Rogers and Boland and Turnpike can put on a good show–that’s why they were the three headliners–so I want to focus more on some of the other names. (Also, if you want to see me gushing about Turnpike’s live performance ability, you’ll likely get that in a month when I attend their album release party.) Anyway, the point to be taken here is that I probably enjoyed artists I’m leaving off this list–these are just some that stood out and deserve some recognition.

Suzanne Santo

Medicine Stone came under some fire in 2016 for only having two women on the lineup. This was taken into account, and several more women were included on the 2017 list, many of them highlights of the whole weekend. I didn’t know Suzanne Santo before she took the main stage to open things Thursday night, but I am a fan now. She has a new album out that you will find a review for shortly.

Shane Smith & the Saints

Friends, if you’re not listening to Shane Smith & the Saints, you’re doing it all wrong. One of the best things I saw both last year and this year. Phenomenal harmonies, ridiculous fiddle playing, good songwriting, interesting production…just get on board with this band. Massively underrated. I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about them. And for the ones who are already in on the awesomeness, go see them live. Also, you’ll be glad to know they are working on a new record!

Shinyribs

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Shinyribs aren’t going to be for everyone, as proven by my cousin’s reaction to this. But they should be, and I do hope they will keep coming back to Medicine Stone. I’ve been wanting to see them live since I discovered their latest album, and yeah, it lives up to everything you hear about it. Just fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and I like that. Get on board with them as well.

Sunny Sweeney

This was Sunny Sweeney’s first time at Medicine Stone, and all I can say is, please bring her back. One of the best performers as far as the more country side of Red Dirt goes. And really good interaction with us all. Also, just saying, she needs to record that lovely song she sang for us called “Whiskey Richard.” Just saying. She said it won’t get cut, but I think it should. I’d also like to point out that as a huge Sunny Sweeney fan but not necessarily a huge Trophy fan, I actually liked the songs from that album much better after hearing them live. Her personality made them come alive a lot more onstage.

Red Shahan

I’d like to apologize to the entire Medicine Stone community for not seeing Red Shahan last year–as I said, it’s physically impossible to see everyone, but I heard a lot of people tell me I should have seen him, and you know what? They were right. Good Lord, this is just a cool artist. Just as I said Sunny stood out among the more country artists, Red Shahan stood out among the artists with more rock leanings. He definitely needs to come back.

jaime lin wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson played at a smaller stage this year, and I was upset at first because she’d been on the main stage in 2016–but she shines in this intimate setting. She was one of the standouts last year, and she was even better this time. Also, I may have gotten to hear a song she wrote that Evan Felker added a verse to, and yes, it will be on the new Turnpike album. And Jamie Lin, we need some more new music from you soon.

Kaitlin Butts

The opposite of what I said about Jamie Lin applies to Kaitlin Butts–she was moved from a smaller stage to the main stage, and this is much better for her. All that attitude and energy is freer in this setting. She said she’s been to Medicine Stone all five years, and she should keep coming. Another one of these that’s massively underrated. Maybe not quite as much now after her song with Flatland Cavalry, but still. Get to know her, she’s one of Oklahoma’s best-kept secrets.

Jason Boland & the Stragglers

Okay, I’m breaking my own rule. Last year, Turnpike blew me away,and this year it was Jason Boland, and even though I’m trying to focus on lesser-known artists, I can’t ignore the outstanding live show that Jason Boland & the Stragglers put on. Best headliner I saw, and a tie between this and Shane Smith & the Saints for the best thing I heard all weekend. Something especially sweet when you get to sit there as an Oklahoman watching an Oklahoma-based band absolutely murdering the song “If I Ever Get Back to Oklahoma.”

Travis Tritt Endorses Chris Stapleton and “Honest to God Country Music” in Live Show

First, let me say that you need to make it a point to see Travis Tritt live if you get the opportunity. I got the chance Friday (7/14), and it’s an incredible experience. You’ll get country, Southern rock, and even some blues, and you’ll leave amazed at the vocal ability and range of styles covered by Tritt, not to mention impressed by his own guitar picking and the talent of his whole band and drawn in by his infectious attitude onstage.

AT some point during many country shows lately, you’ll usually get some reference to the crappy state of modern mainstream music–Jason Eady made mention of this to considerable approval–and/or nods to older artists and perhaps covers of these artists’ songs–both Jason Eady and Dwight Yoakam covered Merle Haggard at recent events I attended. In these respects, Travis Tritt was no different; he asked us all if we were fans of “honest to God country music” and then quickly stipulated that he didn’t mean “a lot of what you hear today.” He went on to cite artists like Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn before introducing his song “Outlaws Like Us,” previously recorded with Hank Jr. and Waylon. He apparently doesn’t rate Luke Bryan too high on the list because after a couple minutes of downright impressive guitar picking, he finally broke into the song with a cheerful, “Eat your heart out, Luke Bryan!” to ridiculous applause.

But there is one new artist that Travis Tritt not only respects but actually covered later in the show. After remarking on the newer artists in country music and saying that it makes him feel good when they say he influenced them, he said, in order to honor that, he’d do a song from his favorite new country artist. That’s not something you see every day; it’s one thing for him to cover one of his own influences, but to pay respect to a younger, newer artist by covering their song at your show is the ultimate stamp of approval. And with that, he announced “a little Chris Stapleton song,” “Nobody to Blame.”

It’s not just that it’s Chris Stapleton he picked, although that’s certainly noteworthy in itself given Stapleton’s lack of radio support and traditional leanings. It’s that he’s showing leadership by choosing to cover a new artist’s song at all, especially one that doesn’t fit the mainstream mold. Like I say, it’s no small thing for an established artist to cover a newer one, even given the incredible streak Stapleton’s been on. And when he’s out there saying stuff like not all country that’s around today is real, and “eat your heart out, Luke Bryan,” he’s not just approving of Chris Stapleton, he’s setting Stapleton apart and saying that here’s an artist in 2017 who’s doing it right. That in turn sets Tritt apart from the “old farts and jackasses” who want country to stay in a box and never move forward. We all know Tritt has been vocal in the past about things like BeyoncĂ© being booked on the CMA’s, but this support of an artist like Stapleton proves he’s not just here to complain. It’s a great way of doing his part to show leadership in the genre. Cool stuff, glad I got to witness it!

So Yeah, Put Seeing Jason Eady Live at the Top of Your List

So I had the opportunity to see Jason Eady at his album release show Friday in OKC at a cool little listening room called The Blue door, and I thought it was worth highlighting here.

This is indirectly going to be an endorsement of the blue door as well as Jason Eady because in order to explain the intimacy of this setting, I have to explain The Blue door. It’s known as “the best listening room in Oklahoma,” and that’s what you’re getting–it’s not a bar or a club or something where they play some live music and you get some drinks and maybe dance, it’s a room that holds about a hundred people, and it’s made for, yeah, listening. IN fact, this listening room is well-known as a “BYOB establishment,” and it’s perfectly normal to see people walking into The Blue door with ice chests and YETI cups. But it’s this laidback, intimate atmosphere that really lets Jason Eady’s mellow, thoughtful type of songwriting shine.

That’s not to say the whole night was mellow and laidback. In fact, much of it was quite upbeat, from the opener, “drive” from Eady’s new record to older songs like “Go Down Moses and “Back to Jackson.” But it’s in a setting like this where songs like “Barabbas” and “Black Jesus” really hit you, and where you can hear all the personal implications for Jason in songs like “Not Too Loud” and “Forty Years.” Eady told us he’d do every song on his new self-titled album, and he delivered, along with quite a few older ones from other albums and covers of Guy Clark and Merle Haggard. He even ended the night with a bluegrass song completely stripped down and allowing the listening room to fully live up to its name because, as Eady stated, “not every place is like this.” at that point, it wasn’t like he was on a stage singing for us; it was pretty much like Jason Eady was just sitting around in the living room with his guitar, and we were all singing along together.

I don’t want to speak too much about this or get into a long review, as it were, it’s just something I had to write about because you have to make it a point to see Jason Eady if you can. I can’t really pick a highlight of the night either, and that’s simply because the entirety of it was that brilliant. This is one of the best live music experiences you will be giving yourself, and I have to say I’m thankful to be here in Oklahoma where it will probably be easier to see him again. And while we’re on the subject, I’m going back to The Blue door too because let me tell you, that is one of Oklahoma’s best-kept secrets.

Concert Review: The 4th Annual Medicine Stone

Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to attend Medicine Stone, known by its web site as “the fastest-growing Red Dirt experience in Oklahoma.” Started in 2013 and organized by Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland, Medicine Stone is a three-day event held on the Illinois River in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, featuring Texas/Red Dirt music in all its forms–from the more traditional country sound of Jamie Lin Wilson to the rock sound of Cody Canada and the Departed, and everything in between. The sounds in Red dirt music and at Medicine stone are quite diverse, but there is a common thread running through it all, the quality of the music and the care that these artists put into their songs.

It was impossible to see everyone, due to artists playing in different locations at the same time, but I tried to experience as much as possible. I’ll only cover the artists I heard, but here is a link to the complete lineup of artists. It is quite an impressive and diverse list.

The event kicked off on Thursday with artists playing in a bar on site before the main stage area opened. I was impressed with my first exposure to Bleu Edmondson, who performed his Red Dirt hits such as “$50 and a Flask of Crown.” Shane Smith & the Saints, of Austin, Texas, opened on the main stage–with their harmonies, smart lyrics, and unique sound, they were definitely one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Shane Smith mentioned that they had come to Medicine Stone in 2015 and played in the bar, and that they had been invited to play on the main stage this year because of the tremendous amount of positive feedback and requests to hear more. I think they have a bright future in the Texas scene, and I highly recommend getting to know this band. William Clark Green and Stoney LaRue followed, both of whom have been established in the Red Dirt scene for years. Green performed many of his hits, as well as snippets of the Beatles and the Rolling stones. Stoney laRue made his mark on the event with what he described as the song that made his career, “Oklahoma Breakdown.” There is something special about hearing this live in Oklahoma, with thousands of fellow Oklahomans all singing along to it. The night closed with the excellent Randy Rogers Band, a more laidback, country sound after the rock leanings of both William Clark Green and Stoeny LaRue. The thing that impressed me the most about the Randy Rogers Band was how much their live music sounds like their recordings; it is a testament to the commitment to live music throughout this subgenre of music.

Friday offered the best lineup, and the attendance reflected this. Before the main stage opened, I had the opportunity to see two artists I’d never heard of, Kaitlin Butts and Midnight River Choir. Kaitlin Butts is a name you should check out if you like more traditional country–she sang many times with just her guitar, and when her band broke into Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” she had the entire crowd dancing. Midnight River Choir is a name you should check out if you like the more country rock sound of Texas music; I regretted that their performance overlapped Kaitlin’s because most people missed one or the other, and both were unsung standouts of Medicine Stone.

The main stage opened that night with the increasingly popular Jamie Lin Wilson, whom I also had the pleasure of interviewing during the festival; you can read that interview on Country Exclusive in the coming days! Wilson’s set was the most country of the weekend on the main stage, and a highlight of her time onstage was the murder song “Roses by the Dozen,” before which she advised us, “If you need someone to come creep out your festival, just call me.” Micky & the Motorcars followed, bringing a mix of country and rock, with more upbeat material. Reckless Kelly, another household name in the Red Dirt scene, came out next and performed many songs from their new album, Sunset Motel, released Friday and available for the first time at Medicine Stone. This band was another standout, singing everything from Merle Haggard to Bruce Springsteen covers and doing justice to both. They easily offered the most diverse sound within their set, and because of this, everyone could have found something to like from them. The Americana band American Aquarium, from Raleigh, North Carolina, followed; they seemed slightly out of place among the many Texas and Oklahoma-based artists, and theirs was the only set that I didn’t enjoy throughout. However, the quality and care in their music was much the same, and they showed it on highlights like “Losing Side of Twenty-Five.” The lead singer, BJ Barham, stated that “if we can get 6,000 people to come to the middle of fucking nowhere just to listen to some music, it proves people still care about music.” The night closed with Turnpike Troubadours, and I could have devoted an entire article to their performance alone–all I can say about them is please, please go listen to them live. Nothing I can say will do them justice. From the moment they kicked off with “Doreen,” until they closed with “Long Hot Summer Day,” they had the attention of everyone in the crowd. I heard a lot of great music each day, but the Turnpike Troubadours are on another level.

There were several artists on Saturday that I didn’t experience. I got to hear Cody Canada and the Departed, the most rock-leaning group there, and probably in the whole Red Dirt scene. It impressed me how many different sounds the organizers of Medicine Stone incorporated into the event. The Departed played some new songs and some of the Cross Canadian Ragweed hits. Also, I just want to point out, as rock influenced as they are, fiddle and steel were featured prominently in several of their songs–take note, mainstream Nashville. The night closed with Jason Boland & the Stragglers, another band you should absolutely see live. They, like Randy Rogers Band, sound very similar live to their recordings.

Texas/Red dirt is very hard to define. It can be country or rock and is usually a unique mix of the two. Cody Canada said onstage that “it is a community of people who share each other’s songs and love for music.” However you define it, there is something common in all of it, raw honesty in songs, the quality of the material, and the unwavering commitment to live music. Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have accomplished a great thing by creating an event to celebrate this unique subgenre, and anyone with a love for country, rock, or just real, quality music should consider attending Medicine stone.