Kentucky native, Chris Stapleton brought his All-American Road Show Tour with Brent Cobb and the incomparable Marty Stuart, to Cincinnati to close the summer concert season at Riverbend. The rain held off and it was a fitting end to a pretty great run of shows on the river in 2018.
The relatively constant and seemingly ongoing debate of what is authentic country music has been around since the beginning of country music. Every generation has a savour or two who come up through the ranks to be hailed as current authentic voice of Nashville. Chris Stapleton’s name gets bandied around fairly often. You can take a side and engage in the debate...or you can just enjoy the music. Mr. Stapleton makes it easy to forget the debate and just enjoy the music because his songs are so good. They’re even better live.
Mr. Stapleton opened the night with a driving Midnight Train to Memphis and maintained the energy with a run through crowd-pleasing party songs like, Them Stems, Hard Livin’ and Might as Well Get Stoned (with Brent Cobb accompanying). Mr. Stapleton’s songs’ subjects are a little simpler than his contemporaries, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson--but the songs are catchy as hell and translate so well live, you immediately understand how Mr. Stapleton and his band sell out so many large venues across the country.
The show is big, with a mix of old and new lighting and staging that meshes well with Mr. Stapleton’s overall sound. His music is Nashville country through and through, but there’s some Wilson Pickett soul in his voice, and hard-rock--almost metal--to some of his guitar playing. The staging of the show adds to the music without ever distracting. Hat’s off to the team running the mix--it was one of the best sounding shows of the year.
The crowd was into it from the start and sang along with all Mr. Stapleton’s hits like Traveler and Broken Halos. But the highlight of the show was a two-song run with Mr. Stapleton and Mr. Stuart--with extended dueling guitar solos that bridged two different generations and iterations of country music.
Mr. Stapleton’s trademark cowboy hat and big beard often hide his face. It’s not entirely certain he’s quite made himself at home in being the leading man in his own band--muchless for country music. But his personality shined through during an extended band introduction leading into his hit, Tennessee Whiskey. Over a slow, walking, bass-driven line; he sang the names and some interesting facts about each band member. For instance, drummer, Derek Mason--does not like tomatoes, but he does tike tomato-related products like ketchup and salsa and such. It ran a little long, but it was a funny moment that elicited some laughs from the audience, the band and Mr. Stapleton himself.
The band was tight and teetered between laid back and rockin’ out depending on what the song demanded. Super producer, Dave Cobb, demonstrated he can play guitar nearly as well as he can produce records. Missing from the night was Mr. Stapleton’s wife and backing vocalist Morgane Stapleton. The chorus in a song like Up to No Good Livin’ lacks a little something without her.
With new twin babies at home--you have to wonder how long Mr. Stapleton can--or will want to--maintain his steady touring schedule. For our sake, I hope he keeps making CIncinnati a frequent stop.