It didn’t take me more than half a verse into Chris Stapleton’s set to know exactly what I wanted to do at Tampa’s Amalie Arena last Saturday night. I wanted to walk across the tops of some heads, camp out at end of the stage, prop my face up with my elbows and just drink in whatever he had to let out.
The hour he got to share with us seemed a couple too short. His was a voice that sounded like the twin forces of whiskey and honey brought to life, a sweet familiar brand of syrupy perfection. I’d heard his record. I knew what I was in for. I’d gobbled up Traveller and learned all the words to all the choruses. I’d reached into his back catalog and played The SteelDrivers’ twangy debut until we became good and intimate.
It’s just increasingly rare when a performer exceeds all previously set expectations you had. That’s what a packed house (no, ARENA) got to witness last weekend.
Nobody needs to take my word for it. In line for overpriced beers, they raved about Chris. In the hallways that led away from said beers, they continued doing the same. At the urinals, men were breaking with “vow of silence” traditions and actually talking to whoever was peeing right next to them. They were that excited. They wanted everyone within the sound of their voices/pee to know Chris’ songs weren’t just good or classic in their overall feel, but that he’d written all the songs himself. He wasn’t just that elusive, bearded real thing, but he was on his way up. Was his praise earned? Was it deserved? Yes and ohhhh, yes.
Why he was stuck in the middle of two other bands as part of 103.5’s Throwdown by the Bay is anybody’s guess. I don’t have anything against the others on the bill, not really (Maddie and Tae, Little Big Town). But if you’ll pardon this 100% awkward comparison, the event was a whole lot like the best hamburger you can remember inhaling. And a burger might need a bun on each side—that’s what tradition will have you believe—but the middle, the medium rare patty you adore and long for, that’s the only thing you really need. That’s what makes you drool and want to sink your teeth in. Chris Stapleton was the burger we never knew we always wanted.
There were no bells or whistles to his show. It was talent undiluted. He sang. He thanked the crowd and sipped a little on his drink in between songs. And his gaze rarely seemed to stray from looking directly at wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton from set start to set finish. Her voice paired so well with his, it’d just be hard to hear his music without her voice attached. She took to the microphone alone just once, turning in a fairly dramatic—and largely unnecessary—cover of “You Are My Sunshine,” but we won’t debate that she can sing.
Chris’ set was deeply, deeply satisfying. From his squeezing 10 songs into an hour (like “Nobody to Blame,” “Fire Away” and “Tennessee Whiskey”) to tossing in a line of “Free Bird” (before anyone had the chance to yell out the tired request) to offering up off-the-cuff singing introductions of each of the five members of his band, it was practically over before it’d started. We didn’t even get an encore. We were left wanting so much More (yes, with a big capital M) and we were going to share that fact with whoever would open up his ears wide enough to listen. Or we’d just talk a whole lot about how good he was.
We just, you know, needed to get upstairs to the bathroom, and quick. They were sure to listen to us there.
Chris Stapleton Live Review by Dainon.
Chris Stapleton Live Concert Photos by Jeff Roach.
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