‘The Tulsa Revue’ showcases Oklahoma artists

Multiple Oklahoma artists played the ISIS Music Hall stage in Asheville Friday night – 10/25/2019

Oklahoma is home to red dirt music and while the tag falls in line with other genres, in terms of attempting to label musicians and their particular sound, it’s also a representation of independent artists making music the way they want to make it. Instead of performing songs simply for a paycheck and the sole enjoyment of others, these individuals and bands entertain by telling stories their own way with each set seemingly benefiting both the performer and audience – a catharsis in a setting rarely replicated by those considered to be “main stream” performers.

Last Friday night at ISIS Music Hall in Asheville, ‘The Tulsa Revue’ featuring John Fullbright, Jacob Tovar, Paul Benjaman and Jesse Aycock was a perfect example of the musical hotbed that is the “Sooner State”. Four extremely talented musicians who each have their own solo projects, deciding to join forces and take their combined skills on the road with the end result creating a perfect musical conglomerate.

Opening with a brief introduction by Fullbright, who jokingly discussed how all the group members were friends wanting to, “put their friendship to the test”. The solution was to pack all of their gear and necessities into the smallest van available for a tour. With eight stops across five states in less than a month, to whoever decided these guys should play together outside of Oklahoma – we salute you.

Tovar, who was featured for his set at Medicine Stone earlier this year, opened the show with his unique honky-tonk sound. Utilizing clever lyrics with sensational style, it was immediately apparent everyone in attendance was in for a treat with Benjaman on lead guitar, Fullbright playing keys, Aycock’s lap steel and a quality rhythm section (bass, drum kit) to back them up.

Benjaman was up next with Tovar exiting, taking his turn to shine in the spotlight. Sharing a few songs of his own, the combination seemingly flourished as the night unfolded. In sharp contrast to Tovar, his tone was more low key and groovy, displaying the versatility of each performer.

Fullbright concluded the show with a few solo songs and group performances. Able to command the focus of an audience with his songs, there were multiple moments during his set where the crowd was seemingly hanging on every word or simply amazed at his musical talent.

Closing out with Tovar and everyone else rejoining Fullbright on stage, the group concluded the evening with a hearty rendition of ‘Saved‘, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and performed by a variety of artists including Elvis Presley and The Band.

It’s a safe bet that while not everyone in attendance may have known each of the group’s members before the night began – Fullbright, Tovar, Benjaman and Aycock each earned some new fans by turning Asheville – known for its own vibrant music scene – into Tulsa for one extremely special night.

MerleFest 2019: Three Best from Thursday and Friday

Highlights from the first two days of MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

The 2019 installment of MerleFest greeted music lovers with passing rain showers and high winds during the first two days before near perfect conditions rolled in over the weekend. Despite the less than stellar weather, fans packed the festival’s multiple stages and braved the changing elements to hear a stacked lineup of artists.

Fortunately, neither day was a complete wash out and the breaks often offered a pristine setting for listening in the mountains. There were numerous items to report on including the wide array of food options, vendors, artist access via an autograph tent, sound quality in an outdoor setting and the logistics of putting everything together but after thirty-plus events it’s apparent those responsible for MerleFest have a vast majority of the details figured out.

Following are the three best things witnessed over the festival’s first two days.

American Aquarium

Lead singer B.J. Barham expressed his gratitude from the MerleFest Dance Stage moments after kicking off his first of two performances. The North Carolina native and band that was founded in Raleigh, made their debut and immediate impression all within a relatively short time frame.

Following their first 45-minute set, a festival representative commented that it was apparent the crowd on hand wanted them back one year from now. The energy behind each song of the initial show, including a few off their latest album, “Things Change”, made midday on a Friday feel like an epic Saturday night.

Moments later, the band was completing sound check on the always popular Hillside Stage for an encore. Many of those in attendance followed the band to catch a second show, interrupted momentarily by one of the passing showers but a majority of the crowd hung on to hear Barham’s stories and songs. A long time coming, the rising trajectory and momentum for this group continues as their case for a future Watson Stage performance was made.

Tyler Childers

Kentucky singer-song writer Tyler Childers also made his MerleFest debut by headlining the Watson Stage on Friday night. From the moment he opened with ‘Whitehouse Road’ until his set was over, the entire audience was focused on his talents. Appearing poised and confident, Childers impressed with his song style and tales.

Truly a crowd appreciative of the musical aspects, it was one of the best sets witnessed over the course of two days. From the patrons seated up front to those across the valley on blankets and in camping chairs, experiencing one of the best currently in music grow his fan base was fun to watch.

Family

Founded in memory of Eddy Merle Watson, the family experience at MerleFest is unmatched. The influences of Doc Watson and others extend to this day from the traditional-plus approach of musical styling to the commitment of giving back and full fledged community support.

Not only was the presence of family a familiar feature, as it is each and every year, but it extended to the stage as well. While there were many different families performing over the course of the festival, two in particular shined on Thursday night.

Junior Brown and his wife Tanya Rae Brown were on the Watson Stage ahead of Wynonna Judd and her band the Big Noise, featuring Cactus Moser – Judd’s husband. Both pairs discussed dealing with medical issues and returning from struggles to continue doing what they love. The family roots of MerleFest run deep and they were on full display as each of the final two groups on the Watson Stage Thursday evening helped kick off an amazing weekend of music across the campus of Wilkes Community College.

Depot District Music Fest Highlights Lexington, Music and Fun

Depot District Music Fest registers impressive second-year effort.

A little rain wasn’t going to stop this train as Depot District Music Fest fans began crowding onto the hillside in front of Breeden Amphitheater just after gates opened at noon. Downtown Lexington was abuzz with festivalgoers from all across North Carolina, the southeast region and even the United States. A solid lineup drew folks from all around gathering together to share in some fellowship, food, fun and an appreciation for live music.

Grey skies and rain greeted On the Border – The Ultimate Eagles Tribute Band when they first took the stage a little after 1:00pm but by the end of their two-hour set, it seemed the rain had subsided. Those in charge did a great job of helping to keep folks dry by allowing umbrellas into the venue and setting up tents for both VIP and general admission fans.

As Sister Hazel took the stage, a few moments of sunshine lit up the festival grounds and although temperatures were a bit cooler than anticipated, it was a nice reprieve from the rain. Midway through it cleared up entirely as the remainder of the event took place under overcast skies. The crowd began to swell as the rain subsided and many were on hand when the group broke into their 1994 hit song, ‘All For You‘.

Turnpike Troubadours fans crowded onto the front rail prior to the band from Oklahoma making their way on to perform. Not everyone was standing by the time the 5:30pm set time rolled around but midway through their first song much of the crowd joined those in the first fifteen plus rows. Ultimately, the entire audience was up and singing along with lead singer Evan Felker, who gave an energetic performance through ‘Every Girl‘, encouraging crowd participation during ‘Long Hot Summer Day‘ before giving a shout out to ‘The Bird Hunters‘. It’s a safe bet that if anyone in attendance didn’t know who the Turnpike Troubadours were before, they left as fans.

To end the evening, Delbert McClinton and his blues style rock band headlined the solid lineup constructed for Depot District Music Fest. Packing a full slate of musicians with drums, keys, guitars, bass and horns onto the amphitheater stage, McClinton sang his numbers into the evening before wrapping things up just after sunset. Closing out what was an incredible full day of music orchestrated by those responsible for the festival and the city of Lexington, which should have plenty of returnees for a potential third installment next year.

Robert Earl Keen and Adam Hood light up NoDa

The NoDa district in Charlotte was the place to be on Thursday night.

The opportunities to support live music have grown significantly over the past few years throughout North Carolina but the NoDa (North Davidson) neighborhood in Charlotte has long been a hot spot for live entertainment. Housing multiple restaurants hosting a live band every now and again to arguably the best listening room in the state, The Evening Muse and Neighborhood Theatre – committed to bringing in countless national touring acts and locals each year – this area has become quite the destination.

Thursday proved to be such a night as the stars aligned for two of the best in the business – one a long-time stalwart in his music and troubadour stemming from Texas and another storyteller in his own right with more of a blues feel, by way of Alabama. Robert Earl Keen has been paving the way for decades, traveling around the country and is no stranger to the North Carolina market – booking four dates on this trip alone while Adam Hood hadn’t toured through in quite some time but was greeted with two shows at near capacity.

Hood began on Wednesday evening out in Surf City on the coast, before bringing The Sea, The Sea to perform ahead of him in Charlotte at The Evening Muse. Having only witnessed Hood play solo acoustic shows previously, his backing band and shift to an electric guitar brought an entirely different level of depth and sound to his songs. While the lyrics continue to tell the tales, it was an interesting change of pace and something that was well received by those in attendance.

Making his way through a few songs off his latest album, ‘Somewhere In Between’, released last October and some aged favorites, Hood’s soulful mix and laid back tone bring an easy listening feeling to even the most complex of subjects in his songs.

Across the street at Neighborhood Theatre, Darrin Bradbury earned a humorous introduction and jokingly lifted the spirits of an enthusiastic crowd. Once Robert Earl Keen walked on stage it was guaranteed to be a memorable evening listening to one of the greatest perform his own comedic interpretations and storied songs through a set list packed with many recognizable hits and a new song or two.

Keen visits quite frequently at different times of the year and never fails to entertain. On the second of four different dates this time around, REK and his band’s professionalism were on full display behind many years experience and too many live shows from which to draw inspiration to count. Knowing when to lead and then letting the audience take over singing the chorus and even verses back to him at times, watching one of his events is like watching any master of their craft. Appearing to effortlessly convey a two hour set that somehow manages to leave fans only wanting more.

Two great shows on one epic night happening just a few steps apart from one another.

Live Review: Mike and the Moonpies in Greensboro, 03/28/2019

Mike and the Moonpies prove country music is alive and well during a recent stop in Greensboro.

From the moment Mike Harmeier stepped on stage at The Blind Tiger in Greensboro, it was clear the crowd was in for an awesome show and The Moonpies didn’t disappoint. Playing songs off their latest album, “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose”, some older classics, plus the yet to be released – ‘You Look Good In Neon‘ and ‘Danger‘ – fans were treated to one of the most authentic sounds available in all of music today.

Harmeier may not care if ‘Country Music’s Dead‘, but his songs and backing from a band that seems to get tighter with every set they play proves otherwise. In a musical world where mainstream country music has drifted far off the long beaten path from the Nashville sounds of the 80’s and 90’s, The Moonpies are a refreshing personification of what once was and can be again.

Alongside lead guitarist Catlin Rutherford, bassist Omar Oyoque and drummer Kyle Ponder keeping everyone in line, is the prominent sound of pedal steel created by Zachary Moulton. It is here where the most eminent licks are established during ‘Road Crew‘ and the title track from “Steak Night…”, produced by Adam Odor, who is also accompanying the band throughout this portion of This Means Tour, currently ongoing across the midwest and northeast, with a few southeast stops sprinkled in as the group returns to Texas.

In true Honky-tonk style, Harmeier has been ascending bars throughout the different venues on tour, while continuing to play and entertain fans. Although the set up at The Blind Tiger wasn’t really conducive for such an event, The Moonpies managed to pull it off. Exiting the stage momentarily before reappearing atop the back bar, Harmeier continued to electrify the crowd before returning front and center for a grand finale.

Originating as a dance hall band and maturing from the experiences of playing three to four hour sets, you can’t help but get up out of your seat and enjoy this group’s live performances. Whether playing for an audience of less than 100 or over 1,000 this band pours their heart and soul into every strum, slide, beat and lyric.

A much anticipated performance lived up to the billing as Mike and the Moonpies made their lone tour stop this time around, leaving those in attendance hoping for a return trip soon.

Live Review: Todd Snider in Asheville, 03/24/2019

Always ‘Working On A Song’, Todd Snider took the stage in Asheville Sunday night.

Asheville welcomed singer, songwriter Todd Snider to The Orange Peel stage as he and fellow musician Reed Foehl concluded a three day weekend run across North Carolina. Beginning in the capital, Raleigh, with a Winston-Salem stop in between, the two played before a near capacity crowd on Sunday night.

Foehl began his first trip to the city on a bit of a somber note, having received some personal news he shared with the crowd before dedicating ‘Goodbye World‘ to a friend. His set was a perfect balance ahead of Snider as the two appeared to be seemingly cut from a similar cloth. Two true troubadours who are so dedicated to their craft, they enjoy nothing more than sharing their songs with the world.

On Sunday night, those in attendance and anyone who made it out to any of these three shows were blessed to hear the stories and turn off the world for a few hours of solid entertainment. After Foehl’s set, Snider took the stage following after his dog, Cowboy Jim, who does accompany him from time to time and appeared to be no stranger to the spotlight.

Telling a few tales (that are every bit as enjoyable as the songs themselves) from his participation with Hard Working Americans to Jerry Jeff Walker hearing ‘Mr. Bojangles‘ late night on a street corner, Snider engaged with the audience.

After playing a few from his latest project, “Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3” – there is no (at least released) Volume 1 or 2, Snider hit on some old favorites and even took a few requests from the crowd, who offered plenty of suggestions. All were solid and his new material is reminiscent of these older hits, of which there are plenty with similar potential – including, ‘Like A Force of Nature‘, ‘Working On A Song‘ and ‘The Blues on Banjo‘.

Just prior to the end of his set, Snider asked long-time friend Casey Kristofferson, who calls Asheville home, to join him on stage. The two paired for an excellent rendering of ‘Me and Bobby McGee‘, written by her father – Kris Kristofferson. A surprise twist providing the epic end to an evening with a solid bill in a great venue.

Both Foehl and Snider were on top of their game throughout the performance, making new fans, surprising old ones and thriving in their element.

Todd Snider returns to NC on Thursday, June 20 at Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte – Click Here for Tickets

Live Review: Sean McConnell in Charlotte, 03/08/2019

Sean McConnell performed for a sold out crowd Friday night.

Between songs, Sean McConnell expressed his gratitude to those in attendance for showing up but it was the audience who was ultimately treated. Explaining that he played to a small crowd during his first stop at The Evening Muse in Charlotte a few years ago, he followed it up by entertaining a larger group but a third time was the charm as McConnell took the stage in front of a standing room only, sold out venue last Friday night.

Prior to his appearance on stage, Louisiana native Caleb Elliott celebrated his debut album release with a few songs and stories of his own. After years of backing other musicians, including performing with McConnell as one of only two other contributors in his latest venture, Elliott put “Forever to Fade” out into the world.

For the entire night a focus was on the music in arguably the best listening room across the state. McConnell took attendees on an emotional journey sharing tales behind some of the songs and even a few dedications – one to his sister and another for a couple who had recently gotten engaged, all of whom were in attendance.

McConnell’s latest album, “Secondhand Smoke”, is barely a month old as he embarks on a nationwide tour. Beginning the day prior in Carrboro, a sold out night two displays the impact he’s making through hard work and a dedication to the craft. Featuring songs like the heart wrenching ‘Beautiful Rose‘ and the more recent ‘Shakey Bridges‘, which relates to personal journey, McConnell concluded the evening in epic fashion.

Going solo and stepping away from the microphone, McConnell put his talent on full display with a true acoustic finale – no sound, no flashing lights, no tracks – just a man and his guitar.

NORTH CAROLINA UPCOMING TOUR DATES

April 26 – Wilkesboro at MerleFest (Tix Available Here)
April 27 – Charlotte at Tuck Fest, US National Whitewater Center (Free Admission)

Live Review: Sarah Shook and the Disarmers in Asheville, 03/07/2019

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers begin tour in Asheville.

Last week at The Grey Eagle in Asheville, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers kicked off their ‘Into the Fray Tour 2019’. Visiting 18 states over 29 dates, including a few more stops in North Carolina, things got started with a bang last Thursday night and continue until the end of May.

In support was Asheville’s own Gold Rose, who got things started and kept the growing crowd entertained with a lively set. Highlighted by their song, ‘Stuck in Appalachia‘, Gold Rose front man Kevin Fuller was in his element on stage at a hometown venue sharing his repertoire of sad songs.

Following, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers hit the stage amid a cheering crowd and proceeded to rock the night away for a solid roughly two hour set. Battling broken strings on both her primary and back up guitar, Shook calmly turned it over to her band for a brief moment as she fixed her first and stepped back up the mic without missing a beat.

Almost a year (April 6, 2018) since Shook released “Years”, her critically acclaimed sophomore album, the set was a quality mix of both the elder “Sidelong” and a few hits from her latest masterpiece. Comprised of in your face, honest songs that command attention and appreciation – even more so when performed live, the message and meaning behind each lyric was delivered loud and clear.

From ‘New Ways to Fail‘, ‘The Bottle Never Lets Me Down‘, ‘Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t‘ to the older ‘Dwight Yoakam‘, fans were anticipating what would be next and after an encore return to the stage, her finale capped an entertaining evening. Shook has a few more upcoming North Carolina dates as a part of this run and if Thursday was any indication, it may be her best tour yet, so make plans and step ‘Into the Fray’ with Shook and the Disarmers when they return.

NORTH CAROLINA UPCOMING TOUR DATES

April 4 – Greensboro at The Blind Tiger (Tix Available Here)
April 26 – Charlotte at Tuck Fest, US National Whitewater Center (Free Admission)
April 27 – Carrboro at Cat’s Cradle (Tix Available Here)

Live Review: The Steel Woods in Greensboro, 03/01/2019

The Steel Woods made a return trip to NC in Greensboro on Friday.

A full house greeted The Steel Woods on a rainy Friday night in North Carolina as the band made a stop in Greensboro. Just after doors, the area in front of the stage was lined with patrons ready to ring in the weekend by supporting live music and Tennessee Jet was up first.

Closely associated with The Steel Woods and having shared the same bill before in the past, many of the fans on hand were just as familiar with the solo, one-man-band as they were the headliner. After a few acoustic songs, Jet unleashed his drumstick and kick drum for a rocking good time. An entertaining cover of Hank Williams’ ‘I Saw The Light’ peaked when Jet asked for the house lights to be turned up as the crowd sang along at full throat.

Next up was The Steel Woods who continued the furious pace set by Tennessee Jet without missing a beat. A brief break in the action wasn’t enough to cool the crowd who was ready and singing along with nearly every lyric from Wes Bayliss. Flanked by fellow guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope and bassist Johnny Stanton with vocals and a smooth beat provided by Jay Tooke, it’s hard to believe the group is just a few years removed from inception.

Less than two months after releasing their second album, “Old News” out January 18, there is no denying the momentum behind this quartet of entertainers. Mixing southern rock and blues, this band has cultivated a sound and following unique to their own true identity.

An enjoyable set highlighting some of the new with ‘All of These Years’ and fan favorites ‘Wild and Blue’, among others, it’s a safe bet to assume The Steel Woods achieved their goal to #GrowtheWoods with their most recent stop – gaining new fans along the way.

Live Review: Read Southall Band in Charlotte, 02/06/2019

Read Southall Band made their NC debut at The Gin Mill in Charlotte last Wednesday night.

Hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma and fresh off the release of their first live album, Live at Tower Theatre, Read Southall Band took the stage at The Gin Mill in Charlotte before an engaging midweek crowd. On the rise and expanding their reach, many were on hand who were already familiar with the lyrics within Southall’s songs but witnessing a full live performance is an entirely different experience.

Originally scheduled to perform as part of the re-opening of Amos’ Southend, construction delays forced a change in location. Staying within the same building but moving into the restaurant portion, Southall and his band acclimated from performance venue to bar scene nicely.

Ahead of Kody West, the two bands joined forces for a two week span of their winter tour through the south and up the east coast. With stops in Tennessee, Georgia, both Carolinas, Washington DC and New York City, it’s safe to say both groups made many new fans along the way.

Heavy on drums and punishing guitar, the combination of Read Southall (lead vocals/guitar), John Tyler Perry (lead, rhythm guitar), Zac Copeland (rhythm, lead guitar) and Jeremee Knipp (bass) create a southern rock feel paired with penetrating lyrics while Reid Barber (drums) keeps everyone in line, in addition to creating some powerful openings.

Following a strong line of performers from the same region with a similar sound, Southall continues to forge his way into the scene with a proven track record and his own twist on story telling. The group featured fan favorites, ‘Why‘, ‘Clean Slate‘ and ‘Beautiful Eyes‘ in addition to ‘Animals‘ and ‘Gunshy‘ within their set list.

Entertaining bands continuing to build momentum, hopefully both Read Southall and Kody West make a return trip back east soon.