It’s fair to say that COVID has totally wreaked havoc on the music industry. Tours were canceled in 2020 and have been faltering to get off the ground again this year. Acts were left at home for a year with nothing to do but record albums that they can’t promote on the road, the only place to truly get an audience if you’re trying to make a living as a musician.
For us fans it’s been equally tough not participating in the ultimate form of the musical experience – seeing live music. No shows, then limited capacity events, and now in some places full on attendance while others still have restrictions due to the pandemic. For fans who find shows to go to sometimes just to have something to do, the removal of live music left a void that can’t be filled with anything else.
I have spun down how many gigs I attend, even before the pandemic made that a necessity. It’s a pain to put a bunch of money together and travel somewhere, which is necessary when the town you live in doesn’t book a lot of what you listen to. I used to be a fixture at local shows but the scene has moved on and also I’m old and don’t feel like it nearly as much.
But coming out of the pandemic (or I guess just still going through it) I did wonder what my first show back would be. It would need to be something noteworthy, either a familiar to me act or someone new that captured my attention. I missed a handful of local shows due to ever-shifting work schedules or conflicts with other events.
On Wednesday, October 20, I finally took in my first gig of the post-2020 era. While metal isn’t booked in spades where I live, country is. And my first show back was one of country’s emerging stars with a reputation for delivering the goods on stage – Charley Crockett.
Crockett has come up through country’s independent scene, releasing 10 albums in 6 years (!) and building a reputation as a road warrior through relentless touring across the country. He offers his brand of “gulf and western” sound that criss-cross country, blues, R&B and other genres.
I was very happy that he was coming to where I live – not a lot comes around here that I’m into and I had been considering traveling a fair distance to see him later in the year. But if someone wants to play like 2 miles from my house then I’m all about it.
The venue is a very nice theater downtown that holds a fair crowd and has a lot of history behind it. I’ve been to a few shows there and have always enjoyed the experience. One thing I will say – if your venue is hosting a country show, you better be ready to sell some beer. They had to open a second bar to sate the demand for alcohol. No harm, no foul in the end but that was some pretty funny stuff watching several hundred people try to buy beer in one line at one small bar.
The concert opened with Brennen Leigh, an artist I was totally unfamiliar with until the show. She has an extensive history in the business and quite an impressive catalog of tunes. It’s always cool to see an opener worth the price of admission themselves and Brennen was certainly that. I was told that I missed her best song while I was in the comically long beer line, but everything that I heard was pretty great and I’ll be exploring more of her music.
After a brief set change, Charley Crockett took the stage. The crowd in this theater piled up front to witness the action. Charley ran through a number of noteworthy songs from his already-extensive catalog. It was a rapid fire approach, with Charley and his band simply storming out one song after another. One of the advantages of country music is a generally shorter song length and a lot of Charley’s tunes run the 3 minute mark, so it’s easy to fill a set with a lot of variety.
Some highlights included The Valley, the title track from the album that really saw people far and wide begin to take interest in Charley’s work. A few cuts from his newest album Music City USA, including the title track and lead single I Need Your Love were aired out. And early on the band threw out Welcome To Hard Times, the 2020 single from the album of the same name that marks where I came across Charley and a landmark song in his catalog.
Charley also took time to pay tribute to a friend and influence of his, Texas country artist James Hand. Hand passed away in 2020 just as Charley was entering new heights with the release of Welcome To Hard Times. Ever quick to the recording studio, Charley cut an album of covers in honor of Hand, and several of those songs were given the live treatment.
Charley finished up with a few solo acoustic cuts, which I guess are songs he just keeps up his sleeve. He even changed his mind on one, I guess it’s hard to decide what to play when you’ve been recording for 6 years but are about to already catch Iron Maiden in terms of number of studio album releases. The band and opener Brennen Leigh came back out to join Charley and close the show.
Although gigs have been going in my state since back early this year, I’m glad I waited until this one for my return to concert going. Charley Crockett put on a spectacular show and Brennen Leigh was a fantastic discovery. I know the future of touring has been questioned with the pandemic, but at least for country music’s newest-minted star, the future looks bright indeed.