For at least the next six weeks, Charley Crockett remains the reigning Country Music Artist of the Year. And what a year it has been for Charley Crockett, who recently transitioned from the club circuit to full-fledged theaters. And in country music, there is no greater theater than the mother church of country music, the Ryman Auditorium. Playing Ryman is a rite of passage. Selling it is even more important. Selling it on a Monday is an even bigger feat, and that’s what Charley Crockett did on Monday, November 14th.
“I always wanted to play on this stage” Crockett told the crowd. “but I never thought it was possible.” Then he squarely blamed the customers who filled the Ryman to capacity for everything to happen to him.
The Ryman Auditorium is a great place to see any artist, regardless of genre. But with the way Charley Crockett is reviving the allure of country music’s golden age – an era that originally took place on the Ryman stage – the legendary venue is the perfect place to witness a show by Charley Crockett.
For Crockett, they exhausted the limelight that Johnny Cash once chased and got him banned from the Grand Ole Opry for a while. The stage backdrop was gold velvet, as were the outlines of the band’s risers. Stepping foot in the Ryman on Monday night was like taking a trip back to the 1950s.
Charley Crockett opened the set with a near-text rendition of the first half of his new album, The Waco Man. Next, he played a few George Jones and Johnny Paycheck covers before launching into the title track from his previous 2021 original record, “Music City USA.” It’s not exactly a country protest song, but it’s one with a machine-sharp Nashville message about the welcome many strangers and genuine souls receive when they arrive in town.
Something about that song, at that time, and in that place, created such an incredibly singular moment, after Charley sounded the final note, the crowd rose to their feet, burst into thunderous applause, and no didn’t stop for what seemed like an eternity. It felt like all the pent up frustrations people have with the state of country music today and the way the genre treats artists like Charley Crockett came out in one big spontaneous exhale.
You rarely if ever get a randomly generated standing ovation in the middle of a set like this. The only reason people stopped clapping and clapping is because Charley Crockett wanted to stay on time and play the next song. But rest assured — and those in attendance will attest — Charley Crockett and his rendition of “Music City USA” at the Ryman Auditorium on Monday was a moment they will never forget.
Then, Charley Crockett launched into the James Hand part of the set, paying homage to what he calls “The Real Deal.” Crockett started the night on acoustic guitar, then sang a bit without an instrument. You knew he was when he brought out the banjo for a few songs, but Charley Crockett always seems more comfortable with a Danelectro guitar in his hand, moving around the stage with hip swings, boot scoots and raising the neck of the guitar above his head. like Dwight Yoakam.
All the while, Charley’s backing band The Blue Drifters are behind him, gliding seamlessly across genres and eras as they follow Captain Crockett on a journey through the roots of American music, focusing primarily on country sounds and influences, but unafraid to explore blues, soul and jazz modes, punctuated by trumpet blasts and beefy beats.
Charley Crockett made sure to rock some of his biggest hits towards the end of the set; songs like “Trinity River” and “I’m Just a Clown”, the latter of which spent a dozen weeks at the top of the US radio chart. He also performed Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” and “I’m a Honky Tonk Man” – a version of Loretta Lynn’s “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in tribute to Loretta who launched her own career from the Ryman scene.
Charley Crockett began his career playing on street corners and hiding in alleyways. “The alley is just outside, but it’s a long way from here,” Crockett said, referring to the famous driveway between the Ryman and legendary Lower Broadway haunts like Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World. This is where you can feel the ghosts of country legends the most.
Even though Crockett never tops venues like The Ryman, he’s accomplished something spectacular in getting there. Some like to criticize Charley Crockett as a spectacle or a shtick. Well, of course it is. But it’s a show better than most, bringing all the goodness of classic country and American roots music to life, and making it feel alive again in the souls of modern audiences.
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The Austin, Texas Greyhounds opened the set. Find a full list of sets below. Photos by Eric Ahlgrim.
The Waco Man Theme
just like honey
The Waco Man
Who Will Turn Out the Lights (George Jones cover)
City of Music United States
Midnight Run (James Hand cover)
Lesson on Depression (cover by James Hand)
Don’t Tell Me That (James Hand cover)
Welcome to hard times
Name on a notice board
Jamestown Ferry (cover)
I feel for you (Jerry Reed)
Travelin’ Blues (Reprise)
Lily my dear
Around this world
I’m just a clown
I’m going back to Texas
Valley of Tecumseh (cover of Townes Van Zandt)
I’m a Honky Tonk Man (tribute to Loretta Lynn)
Paint it blue