Remember in the movie “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” when the guys saw the women at the river? One of them exclaimed “I seen them first!” These days, there are so many music acts that we each have had that moment of seeing them before their career took off. Here are a few of my personal favorite memories over the years.
Sturgill Simpson at Zanzabar
In April 2014, I ended up going to see Sturgill Simpson at Zanzabar in Louisville. This place is cool to see for any concert, or just to grab a bite to eat. The place is surrounded by pinball machines and other video games. It is also where you will find the best tater tots this side of the Mississippi. There were only 20-30 people in attendance, which also included Sturgill’s dad. This was just weeks before his album, “Metamodern Sounds of Country Music" was released. It was just Sturgill and his guitar surrounding by a group of faithful music fans. I was fortunate to talk to him afterwards about living in Versailles and folks that we knew. Fast forward to two years later and he has 2 sold out performances at the Lexington Opera House and another at Louisville Palace Theatre. He also sold out multiple night engagement at the Ryman Auditorium. A few years earlier, he performed with his band, Sunday Valley, at the London Thursday Night Live series.
Chris Stapleton at the World Chicken Festival
It was September 2013 and Chris Stapleton was fairly new to some and his album wouldn’t be released until about 8 months later. Stapleton, along with his wife Morgane, and their band took over the World Chicken Festival in London with a set list that ranged from country to jazz to rock. I interviewed Chris prior to the show and could tell he was proud to say he was from Kentucky, but also a talented individual that many would need to turn their ears to. A couple of years later, he is winning awards from the CMA, Grammys, and had a standout performance with Justin Timberlake that people are still talking about.
Blackberry Smoke at Renfro Valley and NIBROC
To this day, folks cannot believe me when I say that I saw Blackberry Smoke at Renfro Valley and at NIBROC (which is Corbin spelled backwards). I interviewed them at the Renfro Valley show in 2011 and it was the first time my oldest nephew got to do a meet & greet and be a part of an interview. I don’t think there were 200 people at that show, but they played like there were over 2,000. At NIBROC in 2012, a lady cussed out Charlie mid-performance for reasons I have no clue. It was comical what his reaction was. These days, they are selling out theatres much larger than Renfro Valley, and headlined the Froggy Field Party a couple of years ago.
Sunny Sweeney at Bluebird Café
Back in 2010, I ventured down to Nashville as my pal Sunny Sweeney was performing at the Bluebird Café. Also on hand were Karleen Watts, Lisa Torres, and Danielle Peck. Sunny and I finally met in person that night. This was right before her album “Concrete” was to be released. I was in the middle of a failing marriage at the time. That night, as Sunny was singing “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” along with a few other songs, tears streamed down my face. I knew my marriage was over and I needed out. I finally got divorced and later on found the true love of my life and married him. It also started a great friendship that is also tied to our love of mullets. (Long story).
Randy Houser at Madison Theatre
I have seen Randy Houser quite a few times over the years, but this particular night was comical. It was back in 2011 and I did an interview with him before the show. The opener that night was Christian Kane and the room was full of older women wearing “Kaniacs” or something like that shirts. When he was done, all of a sudden the room was emptying. My friends and I are looking around shaking our heads. We told several that they should stick around and see Randy. I honestly had never heard of the Kane dude before. In the end, there were probably ended up being maybe 50 people left in the room for Randy. We ended up right next to the stage and he put on a very strong performance that night. He even joked that it looks like maybe he should have opened since folks left. I bet those folks are wishing they would have stayed now that he has had several number one hits.
Jamey Johnson at the Lexington Opera House
It was in 2008 and there was an acoustic jam at the Lexington Opera House. I think Jo Dee Messina was the headliner and Jamey Johnson was opening. I ended up with front row seats. Jamey came out quietly with Cowboy Eddie Long, Jason Cope, Jim “Moose” Brown, and Wayd Battle. From the very start of “High Cost of Lonesome,” the crowd went wild and started singing along. Jamey was taken aback and said that this show was the first sold out show he had performed and couldn’t believe everyone knew the words of every song. I took several photos that night, which in turn led me into doing concert photography again. I made several photo books over the years for Jamey.
Fan Fair 2008
I just mentioned Randy Houser and Jamey Johnson and remembered seeing them at Fan Fair in 2008. Or should I call it CMA Music Fest? It is still Fan Fair to me. Both were performing at the Riverfront Stage. Randy Houser had just released “Anything Goes” as a single and was on David Letterman tv show. Jamey Johnson’s new album hadn’t been released yet, but was available via Myspace back in the day. One of my friends and I went down to the front of the stage in the photo area and there was no one else. Folks were not paying attention, but oddly I knew every song he performed. I bet those that were there that day wished they had paid more attention to these two!
Chris Janson at Froggy Field Party
Every year, WFKY hosts their annual Froggy Field Party. It always seems to be a good match of showcasing new talent just before their career takes off. This particular year, they had Chris Janson as an opener with Rhett Akins headlining. In the end, it should have been flipped around! I interviewed Chris Janson before the show and will say he was such a humble guy to talk to. His wife was also very sweet, along with their sweet newborn, Georgia. Chris Janson got up on stage and lit it up like it was the last time he would ever perform. He had the crowd dancing as he wailed away on his harmonica. I have been fortunate to see him at the Grand Ole Opry a few times as well and predict one day his name will be called to become a member. Fast forward and he released “Buy Me a Boat.” It shot up to number one and name recognition in 2015. He’s worked hard for quite some time and deserves this much success.
There are so many other concert stories that I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’ll try to write them down and share them with you. Who is someone that you’ve seen perform early in their career before everyone else took notice?