We have written extensively about the resurgence of both traditional and outlaw country music that has found a new home in Saskatchewan these days, citing artists such as Blake Berglund, Belle Plaine, Colter Wall and The Dead South as ambassadors of their genre. So when rising singer-songwriter Colter Wall added PA as a stop on his current tour, we quickly paid attention. When fellow SK artists Kacy & Clayton were added to the bill in support, we knew that this was a night we did not want to miss.
I must confess that given my lack of interest in the current wave of country-pop music churned out by the Nashville music machine, I really have no clue as to how much exposure a traditional country and western artist like Colter Wall generates here in the US. Last Thursday evening, a packed house of lively country music fans at the Ardmore Music Hall near Philadelphia provided the answer, flocking to this corner of the Keystone state to experience some classic country sounds. Seated in the balcony overlooking the stage, we learned that a couple next to us had driven from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia just to attend this show, and I quickly understood that Colter Wall was clearly no stranger to traditional country music fans in the lower 48 after all.
Of course, we were equally excited about the prospect of finally catching a live set from the retro-folk duo, Kacy and Clayton, whose 2017 “The Sirens Song” album remains a strong favorite here at Team GDW. Hailing from Wood Mountain, SK, second cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum took this opportunity to tour with Colter Wall and road-test some new material from their upcoming “Carrying On” album, set for release on October 4th. With their 35 minute opening slot, the duo would share tunes both new and old, although sadly, no material from that album that we love so much (even though Clayton teased with the intro to “The Light Of Day” whilst tuning his electric guitar). Performing older hits such as “Brunswick Stew,” and new cuts such as “High Holiday,” the duo delivered each and every song in their trademark fashion, with Kacy’s soothing, yet mesmerizing vocals balanced perfectly against Clayton’s eclectic fingerpicking guitar style. Not only did we enjoy their opening set, but we had the good fortune to chat briefly with both cousins later that night too.
At an almost full crowd capacity, the Ardmore Music Hall is a loud and vibrant place, as friends gather together, congregating on the main floor and around the bar areas; definitely more of a bar-room atmosphere than a music theater. Yet the moment that the gentleman from Swift Current, SK, stepped onto the stage, with just his acoustic guitar in hand, you could hear a pin drop as a wave of silence washed over the room. Dressed in his trademark western shirt, jeans and hat, Colter Wall was the sole focus of everybody’s attention, even whilst simply adjusting his tuning at center-stage. Thanking the audience for coming to the show, he commenced with the traditional tune, “I Ride An Old Paint,” one of many popular cover versions of classic country songs he would mix into his set on this evening. “It’s a song about a horse,” he explained after the thunderous applause died down. “I [once] had some fellow wondering why I was singing about paint. It’s about a horse.”
Seemingly immune to demands being called out for popular songs that would naturally be included later in the set, Colter Wall maintained a low-key, easy-going demeanor during this momentary solo-acoustic segment. Performing four tracks before inviting his band to join him on stage, I took delight in the inclusion of “John Beyers (Camaro Song)” from his most recent “Songs Of The Plains” album, being performed in this intimate style. “I’m gonna play you this song about a couple of guys in my hometown who used to run around and cause trouble in a pair of matching ’69 Camaro’s,” he shared. “It’s kind of a long and convoluted story about these two guys and their friendship; and there’s a woman that enters into the tale at some point. Sounds like a ballad, right?”
With the support of his full band, while both the tempo and volume were elevated, the established intimacy between artist and audience remained in place all evening. Commencing with “Thirteen Silver Dollars,” the band would crank out many of Wall’s self-penned compositions, including “Kate McCannon,” “Me And Big Dave,” and of course, “Motorcycle.” Wall and his band were flawless. The band were incredibly tight, yet played loose, oozing with confidence in their musicianship. In particular, the pedal steel and flat-dobro from Patrick Lyons was outstanding, as was the “mouth harp” offered by the talented Jake ‘The Snake’ Groves. The sounds and the vibe proved very nostalgic; was I really in 2019 Ardmore, or time-hopping back to the honky-tonks of yesteryear rural America, before such sounds and genre moved towards the mainstream? Such questions were only intensified by some phenomenal covers of country classics that Wall holds close and personal to his heart, from the Townes Van Zandt hit, “White Freight Liner Blues,” to the western swing of “Big Balls In Cowtown.”
“Speaking of Cowtown, there’s a big Cowtown in Western Canada, where they hold the largest rodeo in that part of the world,” Wall announced after this Bob Wills track. “It’s called the Calgary Stampede [and] is the biggest in the whole world.” He would go on to perform “Calgary Round-Up,” from his current album, to which he declared writing about the early days of the Stampede. Some brand new, un-released tracks were incorporated into the set too, with “Have You Met My Friend” and “Western Swing & Waltzes” receiving encouraging feedback from the room. Of course, many had waited patiently for his all-out, guns-a-blazing finale, “Sleeping On The Blacktop,” and fans were not disappointed, joining in at the key points of this popular song. Receiving a boisterous ovation as the band bid farewell, Wall would naturally return for an encore number, satisfying everybody with another popular live favorite, a cover of the Ray Wylie Hubbard penned/Jerry Jeff Walker sung classic, “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother.”
Colter Wall and his four bandmates entertained the Ardmore Music Hall for a solid 75 minutes, cranking out 21 tracks in total. Not only was this a fantastic evening of music, it was also a sentimental journey for many, enjoying the escapism offered back to a time where names such as Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard had their names in lights on the venue marquee signs. And just like these pioneers before him, the raw and authentic sound offered by Wall defies convention as a stark contrast to the mass-produced, bubble-gum pop found on most mainstream country stations. Artists like Colter Wall, and his contemporaries from SK, are giving this brand of country music a whole new lease of life, providing not only a sense of nostalgic charm for those old enough to remember those days, but also preserving such traditions for our current and future generations of country and western audiences. Thank you Colter Wall for your outstanding night here in PA, and for giving Team GDW a wonderful, if only brief, trip down memory lane.
- I Ride An Old Paint (Traditional)
- The Trains Are Gone
- John Beyers (Camaro Song)
- When The Work’s All Done (Tex Ritter Cover)
- Thirteen Silver Dollars
- Saskatchewan in 1881
- Have You Met My Friend ***New Track***
- Railroad Bill (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott cover)
- ***Unknown Title***
- Thinkin’ On A Woman
- Big Balls In Cowtown (Bob Wills cover)
- Calgary Round-Up
- You Look To Yours
- Kate McCannon
- Western Swing & Waltzes ***New Track***
- White Freight Liner Blues (Townes Van Zandt cover)
- Me And Big Dave
- Cowpoke (Eddy Arnold cover)
- Sleeping On The Blacktop
- Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother (Jerry Jeff Walker cover)