Rising country star Tyler Childers turned the Ryman Auditorium into a rowdy East Kentucky roadhouse on Sunday night (February 16), wrapping up a milestone four -show residency with a mix of captivating songcraft, gritty roots-rock attitude and even some psychedelic flavor.
Arriving onstage in all denim and a rusty red handlebar mustache, the Grammy nominee applied a similarly-styled workman’s approach to his set, saying little to the crowd as he rolled from one vividly cast story song to the next. Childers spent the first 30 minutes or so onstage alone, with his high-lonesome vocal and straightforward acoustic guitar proving all he needed to bring a batch of hard-living Appalachian blues to life.
High resolution character studies seemed to conjure their subjects in real time, with tracks like “Matthew” from his acclaimed 2019 sophomore album, Country Squire, capturing a young war vet home from overseas but struggling to rediscover purpose. Meanwhile, “Bottles and Bibles” from his independent debut rang with the 100-proof refrain, “Oh Lord, if you care, send your angels down here / Cause the preacher’s been drinkin’ again” — a fitting theme for “The Mother Church of Country Music” which had the Nashville crowd hooting and hollering between each verse. A pristine cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” also felt right at home, while “Lady May” from Childers’ 2017 breakout, Purgatory, offered tough tenderness.
But as gripping as Childers’ solo work proved, he had more up his sleeve, bringing out a full five-piece band for the rest of the show which pushed the already-raucous audience out of their seats and into the Ryman’s aisles to dance. And the Ryman, with its century-old oak pews dominating the floor, is not well-suited to dancing.
That mattered little to a crowd who gleefully pestered venue security all night, flitting up and down the aisles like fireflies through melodic-mountain dirges like “Creeker,” “Bus Route” and the drug-fueled sinner’s delight, “Whitehouse Road.” Likewise, “Country Squire” bounced happily like the blown suspension on a 53-year-old camper, sending hats and beers literally flying up into the air, and a pair of guests offered added texture — singer-songwriter William Matheny and guitar virtuoso Billy Strings.
The latter helped usher in a wave of muted psychedelic sonics with a cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Trudy,” while Bonnie-and-Clyde romantics like “Feathered Indians” and the current single, “All Your’n,” proved to be crowd favorites, and “I Swear (to God)” brought the half-crazed burnout out of every fan in the audience.
View this post on Instagram
My first concert was Ricky Skaggs at Poage Landing when I was 5 years old. I told him I’d just got a guitar, and he told me to stick with it. Last night we played a buncha songs together. Lawrence Co was well represented last night. 📸 @emmadelevante and my dad back in ‘96
Reluctantly, the night finally began to wind down, with Childers exiting in the same unassuming style with which he arrived. Rather than end on a crashing high-note, he chose to take a musical deep-breath with “Universal Sound” and then say his thanks, before propelling fans into the crisp February night with a quiet cover of Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues.”
“It’s been an absolute honor just to play one minute here,” Childers remarked. “Four nights is … I wish we could stay here forever. That would be longest I’ve been in church for a long time!”
Childers hits the road with fellow standout Sturgill Simpson on A Good Look’n Tour starting February 21 in Birmingham, Alabama. They’ll return to Nashville for a two-night stand at Bridgestone Arena May 21-22.