Tyler Childers – Red Rocks- Sept 30 Red Rocks Amphitheatre
September 30, 2019
If you’ve not noticed the meteoric rise in popularity of Tyler Childers since the release of his 2017 album “Purgatory”, you’ve missed out on one of the coolest stories in the recent history of country music.
The story goes….An unassuming but supremely talented singer songwriter from eastern Kentucky goes road-warrioring and releases his first independent album at the age of 19. He gains a rabid following in his local region and seven years later gains the notice of fellow Kentuckian and Grammy award winning artist Sturgill Simpson, who helps produce his breakthrough album. On the strength of that album and years on the road, he starts selling out venues and winning his own awards, culminating in 2 sold out appearances at The Ryman Auditorium in 2018 with Margo Price.
Flash forward to fall 2019 and our hero is now riding an even higher wave of popularity thanks to his second major album release, “Country Squire”, and on September 30, 2019, he and his band The Food Stamps bring their road show to the famed Red Rocks Ampitheater near Morrison CO, along with old running mates from North Carolina, bluegrass band Town Mountain, and one of his biggest influences, legendary Texas singer songwriter Robert Earl Keen, to open the show.
I arrive in Denver day of the show, check in to my hotel, then hustle over to The Thirsty Lion, where my shuttle to Red Rocks will leave. In the outdoor patio, the place is filled with TC and Kentucky shirted folk all heading to Red Rocks for the evening. I sit with a group of friends that I recognize, and the excitement is palpable.
After some food and libation, we board the buses and a half hour later arrive at Red Rocks. In the parking lot, The Wooks, a popular Lexington KY bluegrass band, are doing their Wooky thing, and the folks are loving it. After a few minutes, I head on up to the top entrance and am greeted with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and desert. After a quick stroll through the Museum, I head to the concessions area and get my first glance of the stage. It’s a beautiful natural amphitheater framed in amongst the red rock formation… really a stunning sight.
Next it’s time to stand in the half hour line of hundreds of people to buy merch! After walking away with a very nice show poster (available for purchase on Tyler’s website), I head to one of the many concessions to grab a snack and a beer, then head to my seat. I’m fortunate to be on the 16th row, near one end, with a great view of the stage. Everything around me seems otherworldly, as I’m now surrounded by majestic rock formations, and an awful lot of Kentucky accents.
After making some new friends with the folks seated next to me, I run into some more folks that I know, then settle in to wait for the show. At 7:00 on the dot, North Carolina’s Town Mountain takes the stage with their brand of modern bluegrass music. They warm the crowd up with a 10 song set, culminating with Tyler joining them onstage to sing a song he co-wrote with banjo picker Jesse Langlais, “Low Down”. Needless to say, the crowd goes crazy when Tyler appears. The performance of the song is outstanding and when Town Mountain leave the stage after a crowd-please 45 minute set, there is a sense of anticipation in the air.
After a mere 15 minute wait, Robert Earl Keen and his crackerjack band take the stage to rip through a gem-filled nearly hour long set, hitting highlights from his 35 year recording career. I have been an avid fan of Keen’s for 25 of those years, and this set takes me on a memory filled journey of that time. The 11 song set is filled with Keen standards such as “Gringo Honeymoon”, “Feeling Good Again”, and “Comin’ Home”. By the end of his set, much of the crowd, mostly there to see Childers , and many not familiar with Keen’s music, are on their feet and singing along to “I Gotta Go”. Keen and band exit the stage to a rousing ovation.
The stage clears and one by one, the individual members of Tyler’s outstanding band, the Food Stamps, appear on stage to prep their instruments.
For the record, they are:
Guitar and Steel Guitar-James Barker Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, Fiddle-Jesse Wells
and are currently one of the best live bands working stages today.
The Food Stamps are on stage, the lights go down… and the familiar strains of (surprise!) “Party Line” start up as Laid Back Country Picker (David Prince) takes the stage! An old friend and former school teacher of Childers’, looking bigger than life in his black cowboy shirt, white boots, cowboy hat, and Telecaster, he expertly leads the group through one of his signature songs, culminating with the introduction of Tyler Childers over the “party line” onstage telephone.
Tyler comes onstage to a roaring ovation and proceeds to preach the gospel of Eastern Kentucky. In his high lonesome voice, he evokes images of the coal mines, roads winding through the wooded hills of Appalachia, colorful characters from all walks of rural life, one room churches, moonshine runs, the glorious beauty and the shady underbelly of mountain life, and the comforts of family and home.
Throughout the show we are graced with artwork by Colonel Tony Moore and Jimbo Valentine from the new album jacket, projected behind the band, giving the rocky amphitheatre a down home feel.
Tyler starts us off with “Whitehouse Road” from his “Purgatory Album”, an ode one of the roads near where he grew up and a nod to his days delivering appliances via van truck. He then hits us with several songs which pre-date “Purgatory”, highlights being “Deadman’s Curve”, and his near perfect “Shake the Frost”. This crowd knows its Tyler, and sings along to every song.
Next he hits us with songs from the new album “Country Squire”, playing them suite-style with no breaks. We get the title song, “Bus Route”, “Creeker”, “Gemini”, and “House Fire”, which are the first 5 songs on the album in order. Throughout the show, the Food Stamps are in top form, but they really hit their peak on this suite and the extended jam intro to “House Fire”.
We then get a few that he’s not recorded yet, before playing one of his more popular songs “All Your’n”. After that, he goes back to “Purgatory” for “I Swear (To God)”, “Honky Tonk Flame”, “Feathered Indians”, and “Universal Sound”, and finishes off the band portion of the show with their extended version of the Charlie Daniels song “Trudy”.
The band leaves the stage, and Tyler stands alone with acoustic guitar for crowd-pleasers “Nose On The Grindstone”, “Lady May”, and “Follow You To Virgie”.
At this point he calls his band back onstage, along with Robert Earl Keen and his band, and Town Mountain vocalist Robert Greer, for a rousing show-ending romp through the ever popular REK song “The Road Goes On Forever”. Keen, Childers, and Greer trade lead vocal duties, and everybody in the bands gets a shot at throwing a solo in. One of the highlights of this song for me personally was to see drummer Rod Elkins in the background playing maracas with one of the largest grins I’ve ever seen!
All leave the stage at this point to a tremendous roar from the crowd.
This is one of the highest profile gigs Tyler has had to date, and he and the Food Stamps absolutely nailed it. I feel as though I witnessed something very special this night. And judging from crowd reaction and social media afterwards, I’m not alone.
LBCP and Food Stamps
w/The Food Stamps:
Shake the Frost
Take my Hounds to Heaven
I Swear ( to God)
Honky Tonk Flame
Nose on the Grindstone
Follow you to Virgie
The Road Goes on Forever (with Food Stamps, REK and band, and Robert Greer of Town Mountain)
I Gotta Go
TOWN MOUNTAIN set
Won’t Be Satisfied
New Freedom Blues
Snowin’ On Raton
One Drop In The Bottle
Life and Debt
Lines On The Levee
I’m On Fire
Down Low (with Tyler Childers)