When Tyler Childers first announced a show at the Charleston Music Hall near the end of last year, I honestly did not expect it to sell out. Tickets went on sale about a week later, and they sold out almost instantly. A second show was added later, and that one sold out almost instantly, too. On Tuesday, April 23rd, and Wednesday, April 24th, Tyler played those shows, with Ona opening both nights, and now it’s easy to see why they were sold out.
I had seen Tyler Childers at Bonnaroo in 2018, after his Stugill Simpson-produced 2017 album Purgatory infected my ears for several months. At Bonnaroo, Tyler was a ragged, bearded country boy playing to a blistering hot daytime crowd that may or may not have ever heard of him. I brought a few of my reluctant, “anything but country” friends to his set, and several of them caught the bug and spun Purgatory religiously afterwards. That album already feels like a country classic, and Tyler is only 27 years old. His songwriting is spreading around the country enormously fast, and he still has plenty of songs left to write. Going from a daytime set at Bonnaroo, to selling out the Charleston Music Hall two nights in a row less than a year later is huge.
At the Charleston Music Hall this week, Tyler was still a bearded country boy, but he was looking a lot less ragged. The beard was relatively tame, and his hair was cut short and styled. He even tucked in his shirt. That’s a pretty stark difference from the mane on his head and face, with an oversized t-shirt and flannel look that he had been rocking in the past. Tyler looked like he meant business, but his demeanor was relaxed and comfortable as ever.
Tyler & the boys started off strong with the honky tonk party anthem “Whitehouse Road”, and thus set the bar high for what we could expect from them that evening. “Deadman’s Curve” was up next, and then theyt jumped into the unreleased track “Country Squire”. It seems Tyler Childers has more unreleased songs than released songs, and with an hour and a half to play we got to hear the whole spectrum, and even a few covers.
Over the course of the night, Tyler took time to introduce each band member one at a time, and the common thread running through all of them was being from either Kentucky or West Virginia. Tyler himself is from Kentucky, and he has a real love and appreciation for his band and his home, and stories to tell about each of them. James Barker on electric guitar and pedal steel was especially strong, but the whole gang came together to push Tyler’s songwriting to a level that you can’t hear just by listening to Purgatory.
Midway through the set, the band left the stage and Tyler stood up there alone with his acoustic guitar and showed us that he wasn’t just a singer who could play a few chords. Tyler’s fingers were all over that fretboard, and he even stepped back a few times to rip a solo. He did a few songs like this, including the beautiful “Feathered Indians” and “Follow You to Virgie”. Tyler also threw in a solo cover of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain”.
For “Matthew” and “Lady May”, Jesse “The Professor” Welles came out to play along with the fiddle, helping to keep things interesting. The two played off each other nicely, trading short solos and improvised licks.
The crowd was mostly laid-back all night, but the energy picked up significantly when the band returned to the stage for “I Swear (To God)”. Tyler made a comment between songs about how much more tame the crowd was than the last time he played in Charleston, which was on a Saturday night last year at The Pour House. I’m sure you can imagine how much more drunk and ready to party that Pour House crowd was than a Tuesday night Music Hall crowd. Tyler made clear that he wasn’t complaining, but I’m sure he was stoked to see the crowd up and moving when the band got going again.
Childers closed out with an energetic full band cover of “Trudy” by Charlie Daniels, and by then the crowd was dancing around and shouting out the words. When the band finished that song, they left the stage and did not return for an encore. That didn’t stop the crowd from sticking around to beg for more, but no matter how loud the people shouted, Tyler wouldn’t come back out. He must have been saving that for Wednesday night.
See a gallery of photos from the night below. All photos by Mia Naome Al-Taher. Follow her on Instagram: @mianaomephotography
All photos by Mia Naome Al-Taher. Follow her on Instagram: @mianaomephotography