Jessica Bray is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.
Last night was almost a homecoming for Sturgill Simpson, who was born in Breathitt County, but raised in nearby Versailles, Kentucky. It had been over 3 years since Sturgill had played in Lexington. Back then, it was to rooms with a few hundred. However, after three albums released and worldwide recognition, Sturgill Simpson came back to two sold out shows at the Lexington Opera House.
With no opener or no cheesy introduction, Sturgill Simpson walked out onto stage alongside his band with the crowd cheering loudly for the state ambassador of what Kentucky country music is about. They kicked things off with “Sitting Here Without You,” followed up with “Time After All.” He would surprise with his wonderful rendition channeling Keith Whitley on the Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shaver co-written song “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”
Sturgill Simpson showcased his vocal potential filling the room with strong emotional lyrics that empowered and mesmerized those listening. One thing is for sure, Sturgill Simpson does not need lights, smoke, big screens, and other gimmicks that other so called country music acts must use to get the audience’s attention.
For the first half of the show, Sturgill Simpson showcased selections from “High Top Mountain” and “Metamodern Sounds of Country Music.” The final hour was reserved for playing the entire “Sailor’s Guide to Earth” album just recently released. Every song was played as if it was the last time they would be playing those hits.
During “Voices,” Sturgill was surprised himself as the crowd sang along, and continued to sing as he took pause. The song flowed fluidly just like a stream rolling through the mountains of Appalachia that many call home here in Kentucky.
There were little snippets of humor from Sturgill throughout the show. At the beginning, he joked, “I know that this is the Opera House, but you don’t have to be so formal,” to the attentive crowd. He encouraged folks to get up and dance, but to be respectful to those that are unable to see or choose to sit. After the crowd responded loudly at the saxophone solo during “The Promise,” it shook Sturgill up and he lost his place. He responded by mentioning “have you seen the movie Blue Valentine?”
For this tour, Sturgill added a 3-piece horn section, Scott Frock (trumpet), Brad Walker (saxophone), and John Ramm (trombone), that hailed from New Orleans. His bass player, Chuck Bartels and keyboard player, Bobby Emmett, were from Detroit. Fellow Versailles native, Miles Miller, proudly showed off his Kentuckian shirt while singing backup and playing percussion. He would even have garnered a standing ovation from the audience when he was introduced. Laurs Joamet of Estonia, but now “a card carrying American” as Sturgill would note, would ease into playing guitar and steel guitar.
Every journalist and fan has tried to explain what type of music Sturgill Simpson plays and everyone has their own opinions. Personally, I feel that it is back to the early roots of country music that blended in the wailing blues, Appalachian lonesome sound, soul, bluegrass, and so much more. If you blended the musical selections of Merle Haggard, James Brown, Ray Charles, Bob Segar, Ralph Stanley, Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison, and Keith Whitley, you would get the product of Sturgill Simpson.
In the end, Sturgill Simpson blew the roof off with his powerful “Call to Arms” that really made everyone stand up and pay attention to what is being sung. With the end, he bid farewell to the fans who supported a great night of musical entertainment with an enthusiastic standing ovation that lasted over five minutes.
Sturgill Simpson at Lexington Opera House Set Let 5/16/2016
Sitting Here Without You
Time After All
I Never Go Around Mirrors
I Have to Be Crazy
Turtles All the Way Down
Life of Sin
Living the Dream
Long White Line
When the Levee Breaks
A Little Light
Just Let Go
It Ain’t All Flowers
You Don’t Miss Your Water
Welcome to Earth
Keep It Between the Lines
Brace for Impact
All Around You
Call to Arms