By Matt Wickstrom, SmileyPete.com
LEXINGTON, Ky. — The arduous and wildly unpredictable musical journeys of Kentucky musicians Tyler Childers (Lawrence County) and Sturgill Simpson (Breathitt County) came full circle on Friday evening during a high-octane homecoming show at Rupp Arena. The gravity of the moment was not lost on either artist, with each taking a pause from their performance to acknowledge their local roots and how much the experience meant to them.
“I’ve played several places within walking distance, well, stumbling distance from [Rupp Arena],” said Childers after wrapping up a rendition of “Nose to the Grindstone” to end his set. (The song was performed solo, with his band leaving the stage, though a large percentage of the 15,000-plus-member audience sang along.) Childers continued, “My first show in Lexington was at Al’s Bar. It’s pretty crazy. Me and my crew and Sturgill and his crew have cut our teeth for a long time in Lexington, so it’s quite a trip to get to play here at Rupp Arena.”
With a groove-laden countrified rock sound that comes closer than any other touring act on the circuit to a modern day reincarnation of Goose Creek Symphony, Childers and The Food Stamps had the sold-out crowd hanging in anticipation onto every word and note he sang. Childers churned through his deep catalogue of tripped-out Appalachian tales, beginning with “All Your’n,” one of the warmer tracks and a torch bearer for his newest album, Country Squire.
The album – produced by Simpson, as was his 2017 debut album Purgatory – had its compositions front and center throughout the show, with an extended run mid-set going through “Country Squire,” “Creeker” and “Bus Route” before diving into an extended, foot-stomping instrumental that saw each member of The Food Stamps go through a roundabout of solos before transitioning into “House Fire.”
Songs from Childers’ debut studio effort were present throughout the night as well, from a sweltering “I Swear To God” – accompanied by enthusiastic participation from the capacity crowd (“Fire in the hole!”) – to the ever-enchanting “Universal Sound.” Other highlights included unrecorded gems “Redneck Romeo” (“Lexington’s a city, but it ain’t so big it freaks me out / And if I need a breather I can hit the parkway”) and the poignant “Shake the Frost,” along with covers of “Tulsa Turnaround” (originally recorded Kenny Rogers & The First Edition) and “Trudy” (a Charlie Daniels cut that’s been part of Childers’ repertoire for years).
A stark contrast to Childers, Simpson began his performance by running through workings from his latest eerie, dystopian rock ‘n roll project Sound & Fury. Looking more comfortable and at peace than ever before, Simpson churned out one hair-raising solo after another to go with his monstrous howling vocals on “Remember to Breathe,” “Sing Along” and “Make Art Not Friends,” before taking the time himself to try to capture the gravity of the moment.
“This is where I met and fell in love with my wife,” said Simpson of Lexington. “I got married here. This is the most dream come true s**t that’s happened in this whole crazy ride. It’s been a weird couple of years for us… Sometimes you’ve gotta make the entire world think that you might be crazy to convince two or three people that you really are to get what you want.”
And with that Simpson forged a bridge back to the early works than earned him the ‘outlaw country’ moniker he’s since shunned, with a cover of Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy” that eloquently fused together the artist’s present day rock’n roll mindset with his country roots. He later dove into his prior works, presenting many of them in newly acquired rock lens, starting with the slow and savory “Oh Sarah” and “Breaker’s Roar,” before returning to the show’s initial high-flying antics for “Brace For Impact (Live a Little),” all from his 2016 Grammy- winning effort A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
Simpson later went on to present reworked versions of fan favorites “Long White Line” and “Turtles All The Way Down” (“Marijuana, LSD / Psilocybin and DMT / They all changed the way I see”) before ending with a chaotic “Call to Arms” into a cover of T. Rex’s “The Motivator” – all the while illustrating why he’s one of the baddest musicians around, as he continues to carve out his musical journey on his own terms.
This story was originally published at SmileyPete.com.