Chris Stapleton Captivates Knoxville!
A cold, rainy fall evening couldn’t keep throngs of fans from crowding into a packed house to catch Chris Stapleton and his all-star Nashville band churn through a barn-burning set of country, rock and soul during his All-American Road Show tour stop at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Friday night, October 26.
The show opened fast and furious with rip-roaring outlaw country from up-and-comer Brent Cobb, touring behind Providence Canyon, his second major-label album release on the Low Country Sound label, an imprint of Elektra Records. His first major label album Shine On Rainy Day (2017) was nominated for a Grammy and peaked at Number 17 on Billboard’s Top Country charts. Later in the night, Stapleton brought Cobb back out during his set for a rousing rendition of “I Might As Well Get Stoned,” Stapleton’s party hit from the 2015 Traveller album.
Once Cobb and his band had the crowd nice and warmed up and late-comers continued to arrive, filling the arena towards capacity, it was country, bluegrass and Americana legends Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives who took the stage and whipped the eager crowd into a frenzy with hits like “Lesson in Love,” “Honky Tonk is What I Do Best” and rousing covers of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “Orange Blossom Special” complete with an intense mandolin solo, along with a rowdy rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” The audience was wowed as well by the Fabulous Superlatives’ Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Paul Martin’s deft ability to take over the mic for lead vocal duties on various eclectic surf rock, rockabilly and gospel songs and Stuart’s sizzling lead electric rock riffs, acoustic guitar and mandolin finger-picking, and all-around showmanship and panache on stage. Stapleton brought Stuart back up later for a rocked-up rendition of Stuart’s “Now That’s Country” where the two traded hot licks, as well as a wild Waylon Jennings cover: “I Ain’t Living Long Like This.”
The lights went down low during the final change-over and excited murmurs rippled throughout the sea of Stapleton devotees excited to see the longtime Nashville songwriter, who recently came into his own as a major solo artist after the explosive success of his 2015 solo debut Traveller, which went triple platinum and reached number one on the Billboard Top 200, scoring him the Grammy for Best Country Album and Best Country Solo Performance for the titular song.
Major performances of “Tennessee Whiskey” with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 Country Music Awards, where he also won Album of the Year, and a recent SNL performance with Sturgill Simpson, catapulted the songwriter–who’d already penned hits for the likes of Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Sheryl Crow, and more– into the national spotlight for his passionately soulful voice and incendiary rock soloing. He’d toured opening for artists like Eric Church and then began touring with his current All-American Road Show format as an undisputed headliner in his own right. His 2017 album Songs from a Room: Vol 1 again won CMT Album of the Year and Volume 2 is selling well currently.
The house lights went black and the house PA blasted The Band’s beloved Southern-funk hit “Cripple Creek” as the band walked on stage in silhouette to tune. The lights hit and Stapleton blasted into “Midnight Train to Memphis,” “Them Stems,” “Nobody to Blame” and “Hard Livin,'” all from the Songs From a Room Vol 1 and 2 albums.
Stapleton welcomed the crowd, saying “We’ve played here a few times before,” listing barrooms like Cotton-Eyed Joe’s, Barley’s and Preservation Pub where he played either solo or with the Jompson Brothers, and the WDVX Blue Plate Special gig he did several years back with his old bluegrass outfit The Steeldrivers. He then paused for a minute, seemingly to appreciate how far he’d come, surveying the vast arena crowd in front of him, adding, “there’s a lot more of you now.”
The band then tore through “Millionaire” and “Fire Away,” the duet from Traveller with his wife Morgane, a successful songwriter in her own write who he met when they worked at adjoining publishing houses. The band played the aforementioned songs with Cobb and Stuart, and a few other highlights including “Broken Halos,” “I Was Wrong,” and “The Devil Named Music” with a special “Freebird” intro, before Stapleton eventually introduced the band in humorous extended sing-song tributes over the “Tennessee Whiskey” bass and drum groove before launching into the crowd favorite to end the set.
The crowd gave Stapleton and his band a standing ovation and for the encore they returned to rock hard once more on “Outlaw State of Mind,” setting guitars down in front of amplifiers at the end of the song to let audience members walk out in the dark to the emanating feedback fuzz, ears ringing with rock.
Written by Luke Brogden
Photos by Eli Johnson