Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
It was good to see a “big” show in Baltimore. Most artists go to Philly, skip Baltimore completely, and head right to DC. It happens all the time, so much so that it hardly registers. But maybe the tide is turning. I was surprised to see a sold out crowd on a Tuesday night right here in Baltimore, hon. Especially an artist such as Tyler that gets no airplay on terrestrial radio. He is played on Sirius XM Outlaw Country. But this movement is grass roots. It’s word of mouth and it is very powerful now that it has built up momentum. The crowd last night was not your typical Federal Hill crowd. People traveled for this show coming from distances over 60 miles. On a school night!
Ona opened with a perfect blend of Laurel Canyon country, a touch of George Harrison, and a dab of Pink Floyd. These guys hail from Huntington, WV, in Tyler’s backyard. Ona’s very powerful musical presence was a perfect way to get the evening started, they really got the crowd loosened up. The musicianship displayed by Brad Goodall (keys), Bradley Jenkins (vocals/guitar), Zach Johnston (bass), Max Nolte (drums), and Zack Owens (guitar) was praise worthy. The chemistry displayed last night would make Walter White proud.
Now for the star of the show, Mr. Tyler Childers. The crowd was ready and anxiously awaiting the band’s arrival to the stage. It seemed to take a little longer than normal to get the stage set up and the crowd was ready. Actually, the longer space between sets seemed to make the crowd a little more frenzied and just put a little more on the energy level. And then, here they come on stage to a roar that was 500 people strong. Not a lot of dilly dallying once Tyler and the boys hit the stage, it was all business at that point.
When I gazed at Tyler for the first time, I noticed something different. He cut off all of his hair! Well not all of it, but he now dons a modified “high and tight”. Nothing to read into anything here, just an observation. And he has had short hair before. It seems to follow a two to three year cycle.
Enough about Tyler’s hair. I know everyone wants to know about the show and I am getting to that right now. From the first notes of the tune up, I thought I heard them getting ready to play “Whitehouse Road”, and that is exactly what they did. You have to have supreme confidence in your ability in order to play arguably your most popular song as an opener. Tyler and the boys definitely have that confidence and a little swagger. Well deserved.
As soon as the band goes into “Whitehouse Road”, the crowd responds with a cheer that was louder than the playing. What happened next is astounding, nearly everyone in attendance started belting out the lyrics and it was hard to decipher what sound was coming from the audience vs vocals from the stage. That is a testament to how powerful the lyrics and music are. That is the sign of a very fervent and committed fan base. I was just taking it all in, really trying to put myself in the moment.
So the bar was set very high, but Tyler and company were able to clear that bar time and time again. The band was feeding off of the crowd and the the crowd off of the band. It bears repeating, the playing by all the personnel was amazing. Tight and loose at the same time. Tight meaning these guys are locked in on each other. Looking, listening, observing and anticipating where each musician is going and meeting them there. That is the definition of chemistry. But, they are also loose enough to make a change in musical direction at a moment’s notice. Really, the best of both worlds. Let’s hear it for the band: Craig Burletic on bass, James Barker on pedal steel & electric guitar, Rodney Elkins on drums, and Jesse Wells on fiddle & electric guitar.
The band played for about an hour and a half and the crowd never got tired or lost interest. In fact, most people were singing with Tyler all night long. I am still amazed at the power of this word of mouth movement. I truly hope that this was a litmus test to prove that Baltimore is a great music town for country music and Americana, even on a Tuesday night!