Chris Stapleton never truly fit into the mold of contemporary country music even before his very public breakup with the Nashville music scene on his 2020 album Starting Over. With his gritty, blues-tinged rockabilly sound, Stapleton has always stood apart from the many bland pop anthems churned out from the country music Mecca. And on his first-ever solo tour, Stapleton is delivering a resurgence of the outlaw country sound that genre purists have been desperately missing.
Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show came to Hard Rock Live this Saturday with full rollicking swagger, much of which actually came from opening acts Morgan Wade and Elle King. Wade led the show with an eclectic mix of soulful acoustic ballads and heavy rock numbers from her 2021 release Reckless, including an extended performance of “Mend” which featured a grunge-y, mind-bending guitar solo that would have felt out of place at a traditional country concert, but fit right in to the night’s show.
Elle King took the stage next, with a presence that in some ways outshone the headliner. Clad in a pink rodeo jacket, King’s delightfully brash performance (complete with hilarious expletive-ridden asides to the crowd) kicked off with the riff-laden “Good for Nothing Woman,” and didn’t slow down one iota for the entire set which included obligatory selections such as “Ex’s & Oh’s” and “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”, but also deeper cuts like “Little Bit of Lovin’” and an electric cover Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy.”
After a surprisingly brief intermission, Chris Stapleton came onstage to rapturous applause and, after a heavy blues rendition of “Nobody to Blame,” the thunderous drum beats and twangy riffs of “Parachute,” and the rock n’ roll-infused “Second One to Know,” the affable country star addressed the crowd for the first time short and sweet. “I won’t do a whole lot of talking, I’ll play as much music as I can in the time that we have.” And he did just that.
Stapleton’s set lasted a little more than two hours, and was jam-packed with songs from his entire catalog. Like his opening acts, Stapleton would move from slow and soulful to loud and heavy at the drop of a hat, but the transitions never seemed jarring or abrupt. If anything, it only enhanced the flow of the performance. Playing the mid-tempo, BIC lighter-friendly “Millionaire” before the booming honky-tonk grooves of “Hard Livin’” gave the crowd a chance to catch their breath before losing themselves once again in jumping, clapping, and foot stomping. The audience’s fervor reached an all-time high during a 10-minute jam of “I Was Wrong,” which oscillated between mellow grooves and manic riffs and amounted to one hell of an addition to the night’s setlist.
Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of Stapleton’s set was the interplay with his wife, Morgane Stapleton. Though an accomplished songwriter and performer in her own right, her soft harmonizing vocals added the perfect complement to her husband’s deep, gravelly sound. This complementary vocal arrangement was in full display when the band briefly left the stage midway through and, after a couple of solo songs from Stapleton, the couple performed a duet of “Traveller” on a softly-lit stage. The scene evoked the warm nostalgic imagery of Johnny Cash and June Carter on stage together, with the two delivering a heartfelt performance while stealing glances at one another from across the stage.
Despite saying he wouldn’t do much talking, Stapleton did have a few interactions with the crowd, all of which reflected the charm and decorum one would expect of a Kentucky-born southern gentleman. He offered water to those standing in the pit section, checked to make sure all sections were able to hear him, and humorously took notice of the pot aroma wafting throughout the venue (“Must be a lot of glaucoma in the crowd tonight”). During the performance of “Fire Away,” he paused, encouraged the crowd to light up their phones and wave them as they sang along to the final chorus.
Stapleton capped off his set with “Tennessee Whiskey,” an almost unavoidable conclusion given the song’s enduring popularity. But as a treat for the real outlaw country fans, the band came out one last time for a headbang-able delivery of “Outlaw State of Mind.”
- Nobody to Blame
- Second One to Know
- Starting Over
- Hard Livin’
- Worry B Gone
- What Are You Listening To?
- Whiskey and You
- You Should Probably Leave
- Midnight Train to Memphis
- Might as Well Get Stoned
- Free Bird / The Devil Named Music
- I Was Wrong
- Joy of My Life
- Fire Away
- Broken Halos
- Tennessee Whiskey
Encore: Outlaw State of Mind