While I was driving up Route 17 to attend the Chris Stapleton “All American Road Show” at Bethel Woods, the rain was coming down like cats and dogs and squirrels and rabbits. With my windshield wipers on high, I started thinking of August 1969. Back then the heavens had opened up on a little music event at this same location. Maybe this was a good sign.
The “Road Show “, which started in July, has been fluid with its opening acts. On this night Kendal Marvel, a gray bearded Honky Tonker, greeted the early attendees. He and his band delivered a short and driving set. “Low Down and Lonesome” had you moving your feet while “Gypsy Woman” took it down a notch reflecting on a transient love.
Grammy nominated Margo Price followed. Price reached out to all in the house and took control of the stage. As she moved seamlessly between vocals, guitar, and percussion, Margo maneuvered from one end of the stage to the other in her knee-high black suede boots. Price’s set included “Tennessee Song” from Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and a cover of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” Backed by a full band, including a three-guitar army and pedal steel, her execution was top notch reinforcing her well-deserved musical status.
Stepping out from the wings with a flashlight directing his path, Chris Stapleton centered himself on a dark stage. A man and his guitar. Then, a single spotlight illuminated him from behind setting the tone for his set. This was not about him, but about the music.
Stapleton opened with “Whiskey and You,” a raw look at the struggles of the heart. His full band then joined him on an elaborately constructed stage, which was not pretentious but built to enhance the journey. To his left and lending vocals, was Stapleton’s wife, Morgane. Randomly through the show, she would snuggle up close to Chris and caress the tall Kentuckian’s beard bringing about a joyful glow.
No BS. No fireworks. Just Chris Stapleton and his songs.
The two-hour set maneuvered through Stapleton’s catalog, and included songs from his 2020 Starting Over album.There was not a lot of banter from the singer songwriter enabling each song to resonate fully before the next began. Throughout the night a continuous flow of guitar changes and band configurations afforded each song the opportunity to shine brightly.
You could feel the depth of Chris’s deep, raspy timbre as he shared the challenges of the common man. With Stapleton’s encouragement, the house joined in on “Starting Over” giving this audience of sixteen thousand the opportunity to be one with the artist. At one point, Chris teased the crowd with a snippet of Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” before breaking into “The Devil Named Music.” Taking creative license with the iconic “Tennessee Whiskey”, Stapleton melodically introduced his band and brought the set to a close.
The night concluded with a two-song encore. Beginning with the title cut from his debut album Traveler, citing “this was where it all began.” To close Stapleton chose “Outlaw State of Mind.” The song built up in intensity while performed. As it concluded, each musician with their instruments feeding back put them down on the stage floor and walked off. Sending the music into the ethos.
The deluge leading up to the show did not deter the sold-out audience. What they experienced was a well-constructed night of musical purpose. No BS. No fireworks. Just Chris Stapleton and his songs. Unadulterated for all to consume.